Ambassador Nicholas Burns: We’re better able to manage these differences between Washington and Beijing responsibly… that’s progress.


Ladies and gentlemen, greetings from Beijing!

My name is Nick Burns, I am the American Ambassador to the People's Republic of China. My thanks to the China-United States Exchange Foundation Chairman John Zhao and the China Center for International economic exchanges, its Vice Chairman Bi Jingquan. Many thanks for the invitation to speak this afternoon.

Warm greetings from Beijing to my U.S. counterparts who are joining you there in person, including my predecessor, former ambassador Max Baucus, as well as former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, along with the many distinguished participants attending your forum.

I'd also like to acknowledge my counterpart, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Xie Feng, who spoke to you just now. Unfortunately, I couldn't be with you in person in Hong Kong due to my obligations here in Beijing this week. But I welcome the opportunity to speak to you today about the U.S.-China relationship, which is and always has been both exceptionally consequential and extremely complex.

As we approach the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China, there's no doubt that a stable bilateral relationship is critical to both of our countries, and to the broader global community. I can report to you this afternoon, that the U.S. China relationship is more stable, and there is certainly better communication between our governments. That wasn’t even the case just six months ago. That does not mean that the relationship is not competitive, because it still is. It does not mean we don't have major differences, because we still do across the board. But it does mean that we're better connected and better able to manage these differences between Washington and Beijing responsibly. In my world of diplomacy, that's progress.

Consider what we've accomplished since early this summer.

We've seen visits by secretaries Tony Blinken, Janet Yellen and Gina Raimondo; our Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry has visited, as did Henry Kissinger; our National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Foreign Minister Wang Yi met in Malta, where I joined those discussions that lasted more than 13 hours in a weekend in September. Our Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led a bipartisan congressional delegation to China in October, the first such delegation in more than four years, and California Governor Gavin Newsom recently spent eight days in China and Hong Kong.

The recent visit by Director and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to the United States, where he met President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken and National Security Adviser Sullivan was also consequential.

And there are other visits to come, including by Vice Premier He Lifeng, who will be traveling to the United States later this week for meetings with our Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen.

We've also seen some progress in our work on trade and investment. China is the third largest U.S. export market. China is the third largest trade partner globally for the United States, after Mexico and Canada. In fact, U.S. China bilateral trade in goods reached an all-time high in 2022 at $690 billion. Overall, the US Commerce Department estimates that U.S. exports to China directly support 750,000 American jobs. Our leaders, President Biden, secretaries Blinken, Yellen and Raimondo, and I have all made clear — we want that full trade relationship with China to continue. We do not seek to decouple our two economies; in the words of Secretary Yellen, that would be disastrous, and it would run counter to our national interests.

We want to see the U.S. business community here in China succeed. At the same time, we are for de-risking in our China strategy on trade. We've learned much from the pandemic, the need to secure supply chains in critical minerals and critical materials. And we've also committed to insulating our partners from economic coercion. In addition, we've taken trade measures to protect our national security, export controls on dual-use technologies to protect our country. These are non-negotiable, as Secretary Raimondo made clear publicly during her recent visit. China, by the way, has adopted nearly identical policies.

We've also created eight new bilateral working groups to communicate on economic issues and work out our differences, including Treasury's economic and financial working groups, the Department of Commerce's commercial issues working group and information exchange on export controls, and the agricultural working groups between our two governments. The purpose of these groups is to provide ongoing channels for our teams to drill into the substance of economic, trade and financial policy issues. We're focusing on specific high-priority economic topics on which we can make tangible progress. These are important developments to position our two governments to support a continuation of robust trade.

We are engaging China. We hope productively on other issues as well. Climate, global health, food security and counter-narcotics are issues of global concern that our two presidents identified a year ago in Bali as areas where our two countries can and should work together.

Despite these areas of progress, however, the U.S.-China relationship is complicated and complex. We cannot ignore the differences and frictions between our two countries. China, we believe needs to open its markets further and provide a level playing field for U.S. businesses. We want to see progress on intellectual property rights, forced technology transfers, and subsidies to domestic firms in China that tilt the playing field against American companies.

We will also not back down from advocating for our values, including freedom of navigation and rule of international law in the South China Sea, peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and the need for all to be committed to a peaceful solution, our deep and cherished commitments to human rights and human freedom.

These objectives do not need to be mutually exclusive. Our two countries can manage our differences responsibly, and cooperate on issues of global concern. As our Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in an excellent op-ed earlier this week, we are pursuing a pragmatic strategy that protects our vital national security interests while seeking a stable and healthy economic relationship with China.

Organizations like the China-United States Exchange Foundation, which is dedicated to building mutual understanding and promoting bilateral exchanges, play an important role in bolstering people-to-people ties between our two countries. We need to create greater people-to-people contacts. We need more students, more business people, more tourists going back and forth between the two countries and more direct flights. These connections are critical to our relationship.

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you today. I wish you all the best for your conference and I look forward to hearing about the results and about your recommendations.

Thanks again.