Ambassador Huang Ping on U.S.-China relations in a fraught era

Foreign Affairs

Huang Ping, the consul general of the Chinese Consulate in New York, appeared on the Sinica Podcast to discuss China's perspective on relations with the U.S. He answered all kinds of questions, including on “sensitive” topics like Taiwan and human rights in Xinjiang, but his answers probably won’t surprise anyone.

huang ping, chinese consul general in new york
Image courtesy of the Chinese Consulate General in New York.

This week on the Sinica Podcast, we feature an interview with Ambassador Huáng Píng 黄屏, the consul general of China’s New York Consulate. Ambassador Huang previously served as China’s ambassador to Zimbabwe and was, prior to that, a consul general of the P.R.C.’s Chicago Consulate. He has had a long career in the Foreign Ministry, much of it spent in the United States and stretching back to the late 1980s, when he was the attaché and third secretary at the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

To be transparent about the process leading to this interview: The consul general was happy to tape this interview, but in a prior conversation with his press office, I was asked to share my questions with the consulate’s team in advance. I agreed to do that. I’ll often do a pre-call with an interview subject to go over general topics and themes, but I don’t ordinarily share questions in advance. Nor, however, do I ordinarily have the chance to interview a serving P.R.C. diplomat — certainly not one of Ambassador Huang Ping’s rank, and certainly not in a time as tense and fraught as this one.

So I put together a list that I thought was fair but firm — questions about the bilateral relationship that are on the minds of many Americans. To my surprise, I was only asked to strike one of them. I had hoped to ask about the legacy of Ambassador Cuī Tiānkǎi 崔天凯, who recently left the United States after the longest posting as Chinese Ambassador to the United States of any ambassador. But Ambassador Huang’s office said that he’d rather not comment on another diplomat’s work. I thought that was reasonable, and I obliged.

To their credit, Ambassador Huang and his colleagues didn’t push back at all on questions about Xinjiang, on wolf warrior diplomacy, on Taiwan, and so forth. However, I am sure that many listeners are going to conclude that his answers were predictable, that he didn’t really engage on the difficult questions, and that he stuck pretty doggedly to the Party line.

Next week, Jeremy and I will be talking to Peter Martin, a Bloomberg journalist, who has written a book about the history of Chinese diplomacy since the Party’s early days in Zhejiang. It’s called China’s Civilian Army: The Making of Wolf Warrior Diplomacy. And as Peter will have listened to this interview by then, we will include some discussion of Ambassador Huang’s interview in that conversation sharing Peter’s take, Jeremy’s, and my own.

With that said, click here to listen to the podcast episode with Huang Ping or read a lightly edited transcript of the podcast below:

Huang Ping: Thank you, Kaiser. Nice to meet you. Hello, everyone. It’s good to be with you here.

Kaiser: Thank you. Thank you so much for making the time to join me. Ambassador Huang, you have served as consul general in New York since 2018, and have also spent some years in Chicago, as I said, from 2007 to 2010, I believe. During that time, I imagine you’ve gotten to know many Americans and have developed quite a sense of this country. What are some of the things that have surprised you most about Americans?

Huang: When I first came to America in the 1980s, I was in my twenties, very young, and that was my first trip abroad. And I had the chance to come to America. So my trip to Washington was quite impressive. I saw so many things that you have, but that we don’t have in China. I saw the big difference in economic development, culture, and many other things. For example, the supermarket. At that time, back in China, we were buying things using a coupon issued by the government. You needed to use a coupon to buy almost everything. At that time, China was quite underdeveloped. And also I saw the highways. At that time, there were no highways in China, not even a mile in China. Quite impressive. And also I saw cars riding on this highway. At that time in China, bicycles were the main transportation vehicles. And it was hard at that time for people to think that one day we would be able to have our own cars, or drive our own cars to work — not even able to think about that. There are many other things like Hollywood — the movies from Hollywood — like Disneyland, like sports such as the NBA, baseball, football, and all those things. Also, Universal Studios, eating in McDonald’s, Starbucks Coffee, or Pizza Hut. By the way, Pizza Hut is my favorite fast food from America. So, at that time, I could feel the gap between China and the U.S. was very, very big. In comparison with America, we were still quite underdeveloped. And I wished at that time that someday Chinese people would be able to live the same standard of life as Americans do.

And my second surprise, or I felt so impressed, is that we differ a lot — American and China — in terms of history, culture, values, and many other things. But at the same time, we have a lot of things in common. For example, we all want to have a better life. We want to have a good job. We want to send our kids to a better school to let them have a good education. And we value friendship. And on both sides, the people are diligent, and people are open and inclusive, and many other things. Those were the things we shared together. So, I feel although we have so many differences, we are brothers and sisters. We can live together peacefully.

Kaiser: Sure.

Huang: And the third one. I found some very good chances to do business, because at that time, you have a lot of things we don’t have. And we have a huge big market back in China. When I was the consul general in Chicago, I traveled a lot. When I was sitting in the back of my car, going from Chicago to Minneapolis or somewhere in Missouri or Kansas, the driver just kept driving there. I was so impressed by the vast land of all those corn, soybeans, and all those things. And you get tired of that by looking at that all the way! So, I fell asleep when I woke up after two hours, it was still the same. So, I couldn’t imagine how big this land is and how much grain you can produce. And back in China, we didn’t even have enough food at that time. So, we can buy from you. We can buy it from you and you don’t need that much food, so you can export it to China.

And I also found a lot of interesting things like the NBA, people like basketball, I played a little basketball, but we don’t have an association like the NBA. So, I was thinking maybe someday a Chinese player could come to the NBA, or maybe the NBA can go to China. And it’s very good entertainment. Of the ping-pong, hmm? You play with big balls, we play with little balls. And Chinese are very good at those little balls of ping-pong, badminton, all those, and maybe we can do some exchange. And also Chinese like tea, you like coffee. Maybe Starbucks Coffee can go to China. And Chinese cooking is very, very complicated, so fantastic. But you have to learn, you have to receive training. But sometimes people get tired of cooking. Maybe then there’s some fast food, so McDonald’s can go to China and all those Pizza Hut can go to China. So we can do business. So, that’s a win-win cooperation and both sides will be beneficial. So, I found lots of chances of doing business together. That’s fascinating. Yeah. So, immediately, I feel, “Okay. My job is a very good job. I’m in a very new front, and I can do a lot of things to promote this mutual understanding and a win-win cooperation.”

Kaiser: I certainly agree with you that there are plenty of things that Americans and Chinese have in common. In fact, I think that Americans and Chinese are very much alike in some of the things that you’ve said, in this fundamental belief that hard work and application will get you ahead in life, and this value that they place on family. And a lot of these things that they have very much in common. I wonder if, though, there was anything about the American character, about American people that you weren’t prepared for, that surprised you on arriving? That in dealing with Americans you found to be challenging, or even difficult?

Huang: You mean this time?

Kaiser: No. I mean, across your years here. You’ve interacted with many Americans. Is there anything about the American character, about American people that has really surprised or frustrated you?

Huang: It’s not really frustrating. I know we have differences. But we don’t know each other very well. Up to now, I can still see this. The strongest impression for me is about this misunderstanding. We really don’t know each other as we think we are. When I was in Washington that was the beginning. And early in the ’80s, not many Chinese were over here, and not many Americans were there in China. So, you must remember, when you’re going to China — a foreigner is going to China — they will be surrounded by lots of people on the streets, looking at them curiously and full of curiosity, say, “Why don’t they look like us? They look different.” And there are a lot of ways we are different. Like Americans are always going to be very straight: when you have an issue or something, you will speak out. And for the Chinese, we might talk another way to “save face.” I hope you understand this “face” is a big issue in China. We don’t want to make an embarrassment or something. There are many differences. But, I think the challenge is how we increase this mutual understanding. That’s the most important thing. I know we are great people. We can do a lot of things, but we need to work together to increase this mutual understanding, build this mutual trust.


Kaiser: One of the issues around which there is a lot of misunderstanding is around the leadership of China itself — the Chinese Communist Party. The Party just observed its 100th anniversary since its founding. Especially in recent years, I think many people in the United States have really made the Chinese Communist Party the focus of a lot of their anger, of their fear, and of their dislike. But, my sense is that they don’t have a very good idea of what the Party is as an organization. How would you try to convey to Americans your own understanding of what the Party is?

Huang: Yes. Actually, Americans came to know the Communist Party some 80 or 85 years ago when Edgar Snow went to Yan’an — that was the headquarters of the Communist Party at that time. And he interviewed Mao Zedong and many other high-ranking Communist Party officials. And he published the book, Red Star Over China — that was in, I think, in 1936. So, American people began to know a little bit about the Communist Party. The Communist Party, I think, it’s a great Party. It’s quite a different Party. Lots of people call it “CCP,” but actually, it’s wrong. We call it the “CPC.” Why is it different? Because we want everybody to know that Communist Party of China, CPC, is independent and different from any other parties like the Soviet Union, the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.

Let me tell you — I will share with you a story. I know American people’s understanding of the CPC — lots of them are from the impression of the Soviet Communist Party. I once went to a U.S. state, and I got a chance to talk with the Secretary of State. And he told me he ended up in that state because his mother worried so much about the safety of him and his brother in the ’50s or ’60s, early ’60s, when the Cold War was high up there. They were in Chicago. So his mother worried too much that someday a bomb, an atomic bomb, will be dropped on that big city and they had nowhere to hide. So, his mother worried too much. She decided to take the kids somewhere, to hide in the forest. That’s why they came to the Northeast part, running away from the big city like Chicago. At that time, when the Cold War was there, the Communist Party was depicted as evil, trying to drop bombs to kill the Americans in some way. So, you got scared about that.

But, to the CPC, I think it’s quite a different Party. CPC was founded in 1921 at a time when China was struggling for its survival. It’s a Party of mission and responsibility. It represents the overall interest of the Chinese people. The mission of this Party is quite clear. Three things: number one was to deliver a better life for the Chinese people; number two is striving for the rejuvenation of China as a nation; and number three is striving for the common good of the world because it’s a Party representing the overall interest of the people. So, they can do a lot of things without worrying about the elections, without worrying about their base in elections, like the situation in many countries which have this multi-party political system.

So, you see the CPC kept its promise and has done a great job. Twenty-eight years after its founding from about fifty-nine people. Only fifty-nine people started this Party in 28 years, by 1949, they got the People’s Republic founded. So, Chinese as a nation stood up. And after that, in the 70 years following that, we achieved lots of achievements. You can see now China is the second-largest economy, and we’ve got 850 million people out of poverty. We are the largest trader in this world. We do a lot of things to benefit the people. From 1952 to 2018, China’s GDP grew 174 times. The per capita GDP had a 70 times increase. So, I think that’s marvelous. It’s a kind of miracle in human history. And the second thing — very, very important — is not only do we have this fast economical growth, but we have a long-term stability, social stability in China, which means you make the cake big, increasing the wealth for the country, but in the meantime, you need to distribute them fairly to the people. It’s not an easy job. In China, we’ve got 1.4 billion people, which means no matter how big this cake is, when you divide them with 1.4 billion people, everybody gets a very small share. On the other side, when you have a tiny little problem and when you multiply it with 1.4 billion people, it’s going to be gigantic, a big challenge for you. So, to maintain the economical growth together with the fair distribution of this wealth is not an easy job, but the CPC has managed to do this. And it has garnered the support of the Chinese people.

The second thing you need to know about the CPC is it’s based on the fundamental or basic doctrines of Marxism. But, CPC is not just another Marxist. We don’t just copy and paste those doctrines and apply them to China. It won’t work. The CPC has been combining those doctrines, the basic doctrines, together with the Chinese reality. And we keep inventing, we keep this practice going. So, finally, we got our own theory. We call it “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” That’s the theory. I think that has enriched the Marxism theory and worked very well in China. You must’ve heard about Deng Xiaoping’s famous story about the cat: white cat or the black cat. There was a big debate when we started the opening and the reform. Deng Xiaoping, and the people who are doing that, considered whether we should stay with a planned economy or the market economy from the West. And Deng Xiaoping said, “Black or white so long as the cat catches the mouse, it’s a good cat.” That’s a vivid way to say we could be quite flexible in terms of making the policy.

And we can use both the results of the civilization from East and the West, combine them together, making them work in a better way to improve or to develop a Chinese economy and benefit the people. So, you will see the CPC is different from any other party in Western countries. It’s not another — it’s different from the Communist Party in other countries. And it’s quite unique. There is one big thing, if you are asking for the secret of the CPC, it’s the ability and the courage to face up to its mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. This Party makes mistakes too. In history, we made a lot of serious mistakes. Like the Cultural Revolution, like during the wartime that left mistakes and many others. But, the CPC has the courage, the confidence, to face up to it. And they corrected them. Seriously start self-improvement or self-reform so as to stay vibrant and resilient. That’s very, very important. It’s painful. We are correcting our mistakes. It’s very, very painful, but no matter how painful it is, it’s good for your body. So, you have to do that. It’s like surgery. You have to do the surgeries. And the CPC was able to do this.

So, in general, CPC in the past 100 years, as President Xi Jinping delivered his famous speech in Tiananmen Square, he said, “Under the CPCs leadership, we have accomplished a lot. That achievement, that accomplishment, of the first centennial goal of building a society of moderate prosperity in all aspects in China.” Now we are marching towards the second centennial goal with more confidence. And I believe if you want to understand China, you have to understand the CPC and without the CPC, there would be no new China. So, that’s quite, quite important.

Kaiser: What is it then that you think so many Americans find to be so threatening about the CPC? Why has it become such a fixation for so many Americans? Why are they so hostile to the Party? You’ve spent a lot of time here in the United States. Give me a sense of how you think American views of China have evolved over the years. If you look back during the early period of reform and opening, there was a lot of overt friendliness towards China, as we certainly both remember well. But that has evolved, especially just in the last decade, to quite overt hostility. We’re now in a very difficult period of the relationship. And it’s really at moments like this, that it’s important for each side, I think, to understand the perspectives of the other. So, can you put yourself in the shoes of your American counterparts and explain what you think the American perspective is on the U.S.-China relationship, specifically? Why has it come to view the CPC as threatening? How does the U.S. side think the relationship has changed just over the last ten or fifteen years?

Huang: Yes, I think China and the U.S. established diplomatic relations some 40 years ago. But, the re-engagement with China started fifty years ago when Dr. Kissinger made a secret visit to China. And we had ups and downs in the past five decades, but we managed to keep this relationship moving towards a healthy and stable way. But, in recent years, since it’s changed, I think this relationship has deviated from the normal track. The basic reason, I mean, the main reason, is the previous government. I mean, the U.S. government that had the misunderstanding of China’s future path and its policy. And based on that, the government took lots of measures to surprise and attack China. This has cost lots of damage for this bilateral relationship.

So right now, to get this relationship back on track, I think it’s very, very important to start from this understanding. As you said, the misunderstanding about the CPC, and the misunderstanding of China’s intention. Where are you going to go? What are you going to do? So, I think there are a few things I want to say here. Number one: I think it’s democracy. American people say China is a totalitarian autocracy, a nation without a democracy. Actually, that’s wrong. We believe democracy has its own form. Democracy is not a kind of patent that only Western countries have. It’s a value. Everybody wants democracy. In China, we have democracy. It’s just a different kind of democracy. Whether this democracy is good or not, should be judged by whether it works for this country and serves its people. So in China, this democracy is a whole process. We call it “the whole-process democracy.” And when those important decisions are made, it has to go through a very careful deliberation and with public opinion being there and participating. We did this 14th Five-Year Plan in China, that’s very big, and we got millions of recommendations and suggestions through public opinion. So that they have this channel. People can express their point of view on how to make this. So, this final decision must be made in a scientific way to guarantee this is a good policy to go with. And also this democracy is vastly, I think, the most representative one in China. So, that’s been working very well. It’s a unique type of democracy. But, we believe democracy has many types. There is no patent. There is no set model. So you have yours, we have ours.

Kaiser: But —

Huang: You can’t use your standard to judge whether this is a good democracy or not. This is one thing. And the second is about human rights. Human rights: we are always criticized by Western countries saying, “China does not have human rights.” Actually, we’re committed to the protection of human rights in many ways. You have to remember China and the U.S. are different in many ways. We are in a different developmental stage. China is the largest developing country. As the largest developing country, we have to put subsistence and development as paramount importance to the human rights. So, you have to feed the people, keep them warm, let them have the money to send their kids to school. And we’re doing all those things. And I think we have done a very good job. I just mentioned before that we managed to get 880 million people out of poverty, and now things in China have improved greatly. And I think we have done a great, great job in terms of human rights.

And also there’s a misunderstanding about China’s intention to develop, saying, China’s development is a threat to America in many, many ways. But, if you see what happened in the past seventy years, since the Communist Party came to power — since a new China was founded in 1947 and 1949 — we haven’t started or provoked a single war. We did not take one inch of the foreign land or the land from the foreign country. We are always committed to the independent foreign policy of peace. So, what we’ve been doing is to improve people’s lives, to deliver a better life for the people. We have no intention to replace America. We’re competing against ourselves. We want to become a better version of China. We want to deliver a better life like you have here in China. And I think that’s very important.

And number four: “China is ripping off America,” like lots of people say. That’s not true. In the past forty years, you’ll see this relationship, this good relationship, delivered a lot of benefits for both sides and for the international community. I just want to say, the trade reached US$630 billion before the pandemic, even with the pandemic last year, I mean, in 2020, the trade between us is US$580 billion. It’s rising, going up by more than 8 percent. And the investment, we started from scratch, before the pandemic that number goes up to US$230 billion. Lots of American companies, 70,000 American companies, are right now operating in China. Nobody forced them to go to China. They went there because they think it’s profitable and they can make money. And lots of Chinese companies are operating here. In my council district, for example, Fuyao —

Kaiser: Fuyao the glass company.

Huang: Yeah, they are making glass, but this company has invested, I think, US$600 million. And they hired more than 2,000 people in Dayton, Ohio. There are other companies like the Nine Dragon Paper mill in Maine. They started their business there and hired lots of people there. It’s big news there. And also CRRC, it’s a company making cars, trains. They are making cars for the Boston Orange Line in Springfield, Massachusetts. Those were mutually beneficial. So, we always stay on this “win-win cooperation” not only with America, but with all the countries. The BRI, you heard about that, the Belt Road Initiative?

Kaiser: Of course.

Huang: In the seven years since we launched the BRI program, we have this trade volume going up to US$7.8 trillion. I mean, this is a trading goods between China and partners — all the partners are along this BRI. And also China’s investment is US$110 billion: we invest money, we build lots of roads, ports, airports in those developing countries, the poorest of the countries. I think everybody benefits from BRI. And right now China is implementing a kind of — we started to have a new version development. We call it “dual circulation,” which means we bring the domestic market and the international markets, and let them reinforce each other, but with the domestic market as a mainstay. This will further open China’s markets to the outside world. And we share the results of this development with all the countries. You heard about the Shanghai Expo? We have hosted that successfully for three years. Shanghai Expo is aimed to buy things, to import things. It’s not intended to export products from China to the outside world. We hosted that purely for importing to share the Chinese domestic markets with the outside world. I think that’s a win-win that fully demonstrates our commitment to this win-win cooperation.

And China has also been blamed as undermining the international order, which is not true. We always uphold the multilaterals. We team up with countries with a win-win cooperation, but we’re not ganging up with countries to form a small bloc, targeting the third party. We support the UN. We want to see the UN play an important role, a more important role. We’ll also support them. And China is the second-largest contributor in terms of the UN budget and the peacekeeping assessment and we are the largest contributor for UN peacekeepers among the five permanent members. I mean, in terms of personnel, we’re the largest contributor. I can give you many, many other things, other examples. I just want to make my points clear that the misunderstanding of this perception about China has been a big, big problem, and fanned up by the media here in the Western society. People just don’t get this right impression or right perception of China. I think this is dangerous. This is very dangerous. So, we need to start from this.

Kaiser: I think it’s encouraging that you’re able to enumerate the various points on which the U.S. and China differ. You talked about different definitions of democracy, about different priorities when it comes to human rights. You talked about allegations of China cheating in terms of intellectual property and things like that. You talked about China being disruptive in the international order, all these things. I think that you’ve made some very, very good points. But, I also would urge you to recognize that some of these things like definitional problems with democracy, it’s going to be very difficult for you to ever convince anyone that democracy that falls short of actual ballot boxes, of voting, and of being able to remove leaders from office through popular vote all constitutes democracy. And you may say that, yes, the United States, the West, doesn’t have a patent on democracy, but I think that’s also beside the point. It’s going to be very, very difficult to persuade Americans of that and that there’s going to continue to persist this very large chasm on a lot of these issues that you enumerated on.

One of the things that you said that I thought was very interesting was that you seem to place most of the blame on the previous American administration, the Trump administration. And there’s no question in my mind that, yeah, there was a lot of disruption to the U.S.-China relationship that happened during the Trump administration. A lot of it was, I think, completely gratuitous and completely unfair and very much one-sided. What about during the seven months, so far of the Biden administration, how are you feeling so far about how things are progressing now that we have a new party and a new president in office?

Huang: To tell the truth, personally, I feel a little disappointed. I was hoping that the new administration can correct the wrongs of the previous administration. But up to now, after half a year, I think right now the Biden administration hasn’t gotten out of the shadow of the previous administration. China is still being portrayed or being seen as this serious threat or serious challenger. You heard about this divided approach that says America and China can cooperate in some areas, but in most of areas, we have to compete against each other — and even confront, we would have confrontation in some areas, if necessary. Actually, the basic tune of the present government is still, I think, they put too much weight on competitiveness and also on confrontation, which is wrong. As I said, China and America we are very, very different. But we can manage this difference. From the first day, we started this re-engagement or established diplomatic relations, we focused on the common interest, and the common interest of all the countries. We focused on the common interest, we focused on our responsibilities as a major country should have on their shoulders rather than focusing on these differences. China is not going to change, America is not going to change. You can’t change us. We are both major countries. Why should we change? This is quite simple. You have seen China’s change in the past 100 years since the country’s Party came to power. And you have seen the great achievements we made. That has proved that the way the Communist Party governs China is right. Right? So, if we have this right way, why should we change? We will proceed with the right way, I think that’s just natural. So, there’s not going to be a change in terms of the leadership or the governments of China.

Kaiser: Understood. From the Chinese perspective, Taiwan has always been an issue of paramount importance in the bilateral relationship. But, it’s also one that many Americans feel very strongly about at a personal level. And it’s important, I think, that Beijing should also have a clear understanding of why this issue is of such importance to so many Americans. Can you talk about the American perspective on the issue of Taiwan, as you understand it? What’s your understanding of how Americans perceive Taiwan?

Huang: To tell the truth, I don’t think many Americans know where Taiwan is. And so, I think I need to start by telling everybody where Taiwan is and how the relationship is across the strait — the relation between Taiwan and the mainland. Taiwan is an island so close to the mainland. How close? In the southwestern part of China, the Taiwan Strait is at the widest point. It’s 200 kilometers. The narrowest is 130 kilometers, which in miles is just 80 miles in the nearest points. So, 80 miles only. So close. And in culture, Taiwan has a population of 23.6 million, most of them, 97% of them were Han nationality in nature. So, they are just brothers and sisters. We are from the same family. And in history, Chinese people were the earliest developers of Taiwan. If you check from the history. And starting from the Yuan dynasty, which is 800 years ago, Chinese government started to set up these administrative bodies in Taiwan to exercise a jurisdiction.

Kaiser: But really, I mean, I want to ask you more, how do you understand the American perspective on Taiwan? Not, I mean — I think most of us are familiar with the PRC’s position. I don’t think it would be a really great use of our time to just repeat the Chinese position on why China still lays claim and sovereignty on Taiwan. But, why do you think it is such an important issue for the United States? Why are so many congressmen and senators so committed to the continued defense of Taiwan? Why did the prior administration and continuing in this administration seem to want to change the status quo on Taiwan? What do you think is driving American policy on Taiwan, in other words? And why are so many Americans so emotionally committed to the preservation of Taiwan’s de facto, if not de jure, autonomy?

Huang: Yeah. Americans, I think they should have a clear — from my understanding, mainly Americans don’t know the history of Taiwan. They don’t know the relationship between the mainland and Taiwan, and they don’t even know Taiwan is part of China. It’s an inevitable part of China. They think that they’re protecting a country, that they are doing the right thing. But for some politicians, I think they know the things there. But, why do they do that? They just want to use Taiwan as their own political agenda. So, this is confusing to many Chinese. We believe Taiwan is a purely internal affair of China. Why should American put their hands, put your hands to meddling in this internal affairs of China?

Kaiser: Okay, let’s move on from the issue of Taiwan. Something that I think has been largely absent from American understanding is how the last year and a half, since the outbreak of COVID-19 has felt from the Chinese perspective. I know I’ve been asking you a lot to talk about your understanding of the American view on some of these contentious issues. But, I think it’s really important that Americans have a sense of what it has felt like for Chinese people to watch how the pandemic has unfolded, to hear the rhetoric that came out of the Trump White House, using racial epithets, using all of these things, to be blamed for the outbreak of the pandemic. Even today, we’re still seeing all this discussion about the so-called “lab leak theory.” What should Americans know about how it has felt for Chinese people to watch this happen over the last 18 months, to experience this, to be blamed?

Huang: Since the pandemic broke out the Chinese government has taken all the necessary steps to quickly control this disease and to restore this economy. I think we have done a very good job. But, in the meantime, we have been working with the international community, WHO, on how to prevent this disease from spreading or how to contain them. I think we have fulfilled our commitment as a responsible major country. But, China’s efforts have not been fully appreciated and recognized by the U.S. We’re being accused in many ways with slandering. And I don’t have to say all of those things. I think they’re wrong, people just don’t understand this. So, we urge the U.S. government to stop using this pandemic as an issue to slander China, to attack China, and to do all those things, to harm the bilateral relationship. This is a crucial time. I think the virus is a common enemy of everybody, all the countries. We need to work together. Scapegoating China will not help solve the problems. So, right now we are facing the challenge of the pandemic and also the economy, economical recovery, and together with some other big issues, like climate change and many other things. So, we need to work together rather than attacking each other.

As to the lab leak theory, I think the WHO has sent two batches of experts to China. Especially the recent one in January, the WHO joined the team. The experts came from many countries, including America, to China to conduct the research for 28 days. And in early March, I think they published the report saying that the lab leak is extremely unlikely. They called for more attention to the early cases globally, and also the role of the cold chain and the frozen food in the transmission of these viruses. I think this is a scientific issue, which we need to stop politicizing this issue, and let the scientists do their job. This administration’s way of asking the intelligence department to do the investigation, I think, is totally wrong.

Kaiser: Let me ask you about a very difficult question now, about Xinjiang, and what Beijing calls the re-education centers. Now, this issue has over the last three years, grown into something really contentious in the bilateral relationship. The U.S. has used the term “genocide” as have some key U.S. allies. The Department of Commerce has a long and growing list of Chinese companies that are being sanctioned for their alleged role in the internment of Uyghurs and other Muslims. And it just added 23 more companies to the so-called “entity list.” The Chinese side has predictably accused the U.S. of meddling in what it regards as an internal affair, has pointed to American hypocrisy, and has denied many of the atrocities of which it stands accused. But, the issue only seems to loom larger. Now we have a threat of an Olympic boycott that seems to be growing. Many Americans with deep personal ties to China who are very empathetic to China, who sincerely hope for improved relations between China and the United States are nonetheless highly critical of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang. I would certainly include myself in that category. There are many, many people like me. What would you tell people like me who want better U.S.-China relations, who care very deeply about China, who see the Chinese view on many issues, but cannot get behind Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang? And tell me what you think is a possible resolution of this?

Huang: There are lots of lies here, fabricated by some people with their own political agenda. There are a few issues here. Let me do it one by one. First is the concentration camp. The so-called concentration camp. I don’t think this is the right way to see vocational education and the training center as a concentration camp. I don’t want to see that myself. I can quote the expert called Graham Perry. Graham Perry is an arbitration lawyer and China expert in the United Kingdom. He said that the word genocide or camps in Xinjiang evokes images of the systematic mass murder of 6 million Jews of Nazi concentration camps. But in Xinjiang, there is no evidence. There are no killing camps, mass graves, crematoria, death squads, streams of refugees, chaos at the borders, mass excursion, or victim killing by falling into the self-dug narrow pits. The image of the Nazi genocide in World War II at Auschwitz and other concentration camps.

Kaiser: No. So, I certainly would agree that I don’t use the word genocide myself for exactly that reason, because I think that it’s heavily loaded, that it does evoke something. I think that it should be left in reserve as the most, right, something truly beyond the pale. I’m persuaded by that argument. But, just looking at what we know exists. So, we do know that there are these extra-legal, involuntary camps into which people are coerced and forced to undergo patriotic education, reeducation, vocational skills training, Mandarin language. So what about that? I mean, even that itself, I’ve been very careful. I always avoid using words like genocide or even concentration camp.

Huang: So, as I said, there’s no genocide, not a single evidence to prove that there’s a genocide or something there. It’s just slandering. As for the vocational and the education training center, I think these centers are set by the law. They are the measures provocative and the preventive, de-radicalization to counter terrorism measures aimed at targeting the terrorism and the religious extremists. They are the same as a DDP. You heard about that in the U.K., the DDP, the Desistance and Disengagement Programme, and the deradicalization centers in France. They’re almost the same. And I see these centers as a campus, rather than camps. We get these people there to be educated. And this has been quite effective in terms of countering terrorism and in de-radicalization. Up to now, there has not been a single terrorist attack in exactly four years. No cases have occurred in four years. In Xinjiang, I think it’s very important you understand it’s a very big province, or autonomous area, in China. It takes up one-sixth of its territory. Very, very big. And I think to address this area, it’s a western province or area and the economic development there is not that good. So, we have been focusing on economic development and I think we have done very well. In the past 60 years, we have managed to raise the life expectancy of the people. I mean, all the people, including the ethnic people, Uyghurs included, from 30 to 72 — their life expectancy doubled in the past 60 years. And their GDP increased 160 times. And the per capita GDP is 30 times from 1955 to 2020. So, I think to counter terrorism, or to do the de-radicalization, you have to address the root causes. The reason why we set up these schools or the campuses, I mean, the recreational education and the training center, is to wipe out this breeding ground for terrorists. You need to educate the people to obey the law, right? Killing is a crime.

Kaiser: But isn’t it the case that —

Huang: Terrorism is a crime. And also you need to equip them with skills so they can find a good job. They can start a business.

Kaiser: I think that if you were only interning people who had committed acts of terrorism, if you had only included people who had made public expressions of support for separatism or something like that, that would perhaps be different. I think maybe you would come in for less criticism. But, there are people who are in there only because of foreign travel. There are people in there who only are in there because of expressions of religiosity, of their Islamic faith, and who have no criminal record, who have done nothing illegal, and who are nonetheless being coerced into these camps though. Is that not true?

Huang: It’s not true. We educate the people. So, they know they need to obey the law. We educate the people or equip them with a skill so they can find a good job. That’s a very good thing. And so I think it’s quite necessary. You talk about this religious belief, how many mosques in Xinjiang? In America, you have only 2000. In Britain, I think 1,075, something like that. But in Xinjiang is 24,400, which means every 530 people have a mosque. So, I think that tells a lot of — and also we recently published a white paper detailing all the things the Chinese government has done to improve the situation, to protect their rights, like guaranteeing religious belief and the diversity of a spoken and written language. Almost ten different kinds of language of those ethnic minority people used there. Are being used in school, in teaching, and in radio programs. And women’s rights, especially have special attention. And they’re well protected. There are many things like that. I hope you can go to Xinjiang someday to see for yourself. Xinjiang is open.

Kaiser: Yeah, I hope so too.

Huang: Yeah. Xinjiang is open. I hope you can go there to see with your own eyes, not just looking at, or get this information from this disinformation fabricated by those people who have a political agenda. And there’s another issue called forced labor, right.

Kaiser: Right.

Huang: You heard a lot about this, the U.S. even imposed sanctions on that. And I want to say that there is no forced labor there. People can choose whatever job they want to do. Do it or not is on their own will, and they can just sign the contract and their interests that can be protected by law. And they can enjoy the fruits of their labor. And I know lots of people know that Xinjiang produces lots of cotton. And they say, we use forced labor in cotton picking seasons, which is also not true. Do people know that 100 percent of the cotton plant in Xinjiang, and 70 percent of the cotton-picking are all done by machinery rather than human labor? And they are mainly, I mean, people from outside Xinjiang, who go to Xinjiang to help pick cotton. Why? Because you get a good pay for that. That’s a very hard job to do. So, people from outside Xinjiang, other provinces are going to Xinjiang seasonally to pick this and they get a good pay. There’s no forced labor at all.

Kaiser: Okay. Thank you, Ambassador Huang.

Huang: So, those were not true. And I really hope you can go there. People can travel in Xinjiang with no problem.

Kaiser: Okay. Thank you very much. Ambassador Huang, your consular mission in New York and China’s diplomats in the U.S. more generally have faced real challenges as the tone of Chinese diplomacy has shifted, especially in the time since the pandemic broke out. It’s become common to speak of wolf warrior diplomacy, zhanlang waijiao [战狼外交], is what they’ve called it, which has been, as I understand it, a source of controversy within the Chinese diplomatic community. What are you able to say about the rise of so-called wolf warrior diplomacy, and how much are you able as a representative of your government to set your own tone in the way that you engage with the public?

Huang: I must say that China always follows a principle, an independent foreign policy of peace, and the Chinese nation has been widely accepted as a nation of moderation, or being modest. So, aggressiveness is not our tradition at all. So, we follow this. China is a nation, we put our foreign policy in the five-thousand years of our history and culture. China is a nation that values peace, harmony, sincerity, and integrity. We never pick a war. We never pick a fight, or bully anybody. But, having said that, we have bones, we have principles, we have guts. So, when our national interest, dignity, honor, and all those things are being deliberately insulted or attacked or slandered, as the diplomats of this nation, we will push back. I think we have this right to push back and to tell the truth about what has been happening. If you look at all of those accusations on those issues recently happening, you heard lots about China’s diplomats as a wolf warrior. Can you tell me which one or what time it is because of China’s provocation? We never started this quarrel, we never interfered with other people’s internal affairs. So, you have to take a look at who caused this? I think that is very important.

Kaiser: Yeah, I think in so far as who started it, I think it’s fair to say that even people like Zhao Lijian were in response to things that were said from the presidential podium. And that I do, insofar as that, I do agree with you. Yeah.

Huang: Yeah. I think this is another, just another version of the “China threat.” It’s tailor-made to be a discourse trap by labeling this wolf warrior on China that will make China just stay back, rather than fighting back. You must remember what Chairman Mao said, “We’re not going to attack if we’re not attacked. But, when we are attacked we have to counter-attack, fight back.” China is a major nation, and I think we have this responsibility to defend our national interest and national honor, dignity, and all of this. We also have the right to tell the truth, to safeguard international justice, and fairness. That’s what we have been doing as a major country. I think we have this responsibility.

Kaiser: Okay. Ambassador Huang, during the last two years of the Trump administration and especially during the final year, we saw, as we’ve talked about a lot of actions taken against China, often provoking reciprocal responses from Beijing. In this long litany of issues, it seems to me that at least some of these could be fairly easily reversed and that such moves might help to lower the temperature. My sense is that Beijing would still like to see the temperature lowered, and I hope I’m right. What are some of the relatively easier first steps that both sides could take toward a lowering of the temperature? I’m thinking about maybe things like student visas or the Peace Corps, and Fulbright programs returning to China, or maybe restoration of journalist visas, or perhaps the reopening of the Houston and Chengdu consulates. Is any of this possible? Is any of this under discussion? What would you like to see prioritized?

Huang: Yes. China wants to have a good relationship with America. As we have learned from the past history of opening up and the reform. We know we have to become a part of the world. We have to open our door and work together with the international community to further develop our country. So, that’s why we want to have this good relationship with everybody, especially America. It will be crazy for us, we want to further develop ourselves, we will come to challenge the most powerful country in the world. It’s not logical. So, we see we want to develop this relationship with America, featuring non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect, and the win-win corporation. This was our policy towards America. This is our policy towards America. This will be enough, you know. It’s consistent, never changed from day one we had this good relationship. We still want to do that. But, right now there are so many disturbances and distortions. So, I think to further develop this relationship there are a few things we need to do together. The first is mutual respect, and not to interfere with each other’s internal affairs. I think this is the norm governing international relations. As major countries, China and the U.S., we need to do the same. China is a big country. America is a big country. We have different ways to develop our country and nobody’s going to change the other. China does not — we have no intention to replace America. We have no intention to be the number one or to dominate the world. We have no intention — we’re not seeking hegemony because we know that hegemony will lead to failing. This is the old wisdom of Chinese culture. So, we are not doing that. We just want to have a good relationship so we can coexist peacefully with everyone. So, we hope that America will respect China’s core interests, and not interfere with China’s internal affairs. We never interfere with America’s internal affairs. We hope America will do the same. And America will stop slandering the Communist Party of China and China’s political system. That’s one thing. So we can gradually build up mutual trust.

The second important thing is to enhance a dialogue and properly manage our differences. As I said, we are different in many ways, but this should not prevent us from working together. We should base this relationship on cooperation, win-win cooperation, rather than on these differences. The door of China for dialogue is always open. And we hope that America will do the same for us.

The third one is to move in the same direction and raise that cooperation, as you just suggested. There are so many things we can do together. And as major countries, we have this responsibility to work together. Right now is fighting this pandemic and reviving this economy, and dealing with issues like climate change and regional spots. There are so many things we can do together. We should have a list of this cooperation and start working immediately.

And the fourth one, I think is very important. Is to clear the path for the resumption of bilateral exchange in all areas. You have mentioned a lot, like the student visa, recently 500 students couldn’t get the visa to come to study. And there are many restrictions, many, many restrictions. So, we should move this to let the people-to-people exchange, or the people-to-people flow get restarted. I think this will help build up this mutual trust and help to pull this relationship back to the normal track.

Kaiser: Ambassador Huang, it’s a real honor to be able to speak to you. And thank you so much for taking the time to join me on the Sinica Podcast.

Huang: Thank you so much for giving me this chance. I enjoy the conversation with you. And I hope someday we can meet so that we can have a face-to-face talk together.

Kaiser: I look forward to that. Thank you very much for your time.

Huang: Thank you.

Kaiser: Thank you very much, sir.

Huang: Bye-bye.

Kaiser: The Sinica podcast is powered by SupChina and is a proud part of the Sinica Network. Our show is produced and edited by me, Kaiser Kuo. Drop us an email at sinica@supchina.com. Follow us on Twitter or on Facebook at @SupChinaNews and make sure to check out all the shows in the Sinica Network. Thanks for listening. And we’ll see you next week. Take care.