Interview With Beijing TV's Yang Lan

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
September 24, 2015

QUESTION: Well, Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for accepting my interview. I know that U.S. and China has been considering a BIT, Bilateral Investment Treaty, since 2008, yet the talks have not as yet produced results. With the downward pressure on China’s economy and economic instability in the world, if not now, when? If not BIT, what kind of economic breakthrough can we expect from this visit?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we’re committed to the BIT, and I think President Xi is also committed to the BIT. So I think we’ve very hopeful we will make the significant progress necessary. Both of them at the last meeting – both presidents – committed to try to get the BIT done. We’ve been working on it very hard, and we hope we can make progress in the next few days.

QUESTION: Wow, wonderful. Look forward to that.

SECRETARY KERRY: So do I. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Before President Xi’s visit, Meng Jianzhu, the head of our domestic security, was here to carry on a quite in-depth discussion on cyber security, including the red lines. Is it very likely that the U.S. and China top leadership will reach a bilateral agreement, called by the media as the arms control accord in the cyber space, which can also offer an international standard of behavior that other countries can look to as a benchmark?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, we absolutely hope so. And I had the privilege of meeting with Secretary Meng when he came here. I met with his delegation. We spoke at some length. It was a very constructive conversation, and he came committed to try to really work through some of the difficulties, and we’re very appreciative of that. I think President Xi made the right decision to send him, and it was productive. Our teams stayed up very late working on the issues, and there are a couple of things still where we have some disagreement. We need to work through in the next hours and see where we are. I look forward to the dinner that we’re having with President Xi shortly, and that will begin the conversation and we’ll see how far we can get.

But I anticipate some positive steps with respect to cyber, and it’s positive for everybody. This is not a China-United States – shouldn’t be a China-United States bilateral issue. This is a global issue. Every country has an interest in making certain that people have a right to have access to the internet, that people have privacy protected, their freedom is protected, that they have the ability to do business and to know that people aren’t stealing their secrets or coming in and taking commercial advantage of people because they’ve violated internet privacy and rights.

I think if we establish those rights between two enormously important economies and countries, China and the United States could again, as we did on climate change, set an example that could have an impact for the world. And I think that would be very constructive.

QUESTION: Well, one word about the issue of climate exchange. With the APEC announcement and in the context of the UN Assembly’s discussion on sustainability, what will be the next step to carry out the commitment that both governments have made?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s going to be announced by the presidents, and we have been working very, very hard on the next steps for climate. We’re very appreciative that China has stepped up and is engaged in this discussion. It’s important to the citizens of China, as it is important to the United States and citizens all over the world; and if the two largest greenhouse gas emitters – the United States and China are the two largest, and China has now passed us so China is now number one – but if we take that kind of a step to lower our greenhouse gas emissions and lead the world towards Paris, and we come up with an agreement in Paris, I think it’s a victory not just for everybody, but China and the United States will have shown we have an ability to cooperate, we have an ability to work together in the interests of everybody, including ourselves. And I think that’s a very positive step.

QUESTION: If we look at the bilateral relationship with the bigger picture, with the rising of China’s economic power and with the possibility that it may bypass America’s economy as the biggest one in the next decade or so, there have been debates about the general strategy from the U.S. towards China. The Council on Foreign Relations issued a paper earlier this year by saying the U.S. should revise its grand strategy towards China, centering on balancing out its rising power instead of assisting its ascendency. But of course, at the same time you have voices calling for strengthening and deepening the interdependence of those two countries, which is vital for future of the world. So what’s your idea on this? Is it the time to revise the general strategy from U.S. to China?

SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think – I think we have the right strategy. I think that it would be a mistake for the world for China and the United States to engage in a kind of new cold war over China’s economy. You said something about China’s rise as an economy to number one, possibly. It’s not possible; it’s certain. It’s absolutely certain China will be the number-one economy in the world because China’s already number two. China has 450-500 million people yet to come into the modern economy, and just by virtue of 1.3 billion people and the room for growth, China will be the largest economy in the world. That doesn’t frighten us; we welcome that as long as everybody is playing by fair and sensible rules.

China’s rise has come about because of the global financial system that the world set up after World War II. And the United States has helped China in its rise and the rest of the world – Germany, Japan, with whom we fought a war. We helped them turn around and become strong economies because that helps the world. As long as China uses that power for good purposes and sensible purposes in terms of its regional influence and impact, there’s no reason to get into a confrontation which nobody benefits from. China and the United States are already deeply entwined in our economies and it will grow more so, I am convinced.

So our view is that we welcome the rise of China, but we also want China to play by the rules, the global rules of the financial system. So if China doesn’t allow companies to have access, then China’s inviting the potential of sanctions; or if China manipulates its currency, then China is playing with the global financial system, not playing by its rules. And that’s a very important distinction.

And so our hope is that China will prove what we want it to be, which is a key partner sharing responsibility – global responsibilities. China is a member of the P5, has a veto in the United Nations. China has just played a very constructive role in the Iran nuclear talks. We’re very grateful for the cooperative effort that produced that. Why can’t we do that on many more things? We should be able to. And I think it’s key to leaders not to allow themselves to be pushed into a confrontational status but to work to find the ways to cooperate and to resolve the differences where they exist – and there are differences. We have differences of approach to the South China Sea, differences about some aspects of cyber use. We need to resolve those peacefully and by rule of law. And if we do that, the world will benefit.

QUESTION: When responding to The Wall Street Journal question on China’s attitudes towards the changes of the world order, President Xi said that China has no intention to overturn the existing global governance and has no intention to set up a parallel system. But given the fact that we do need to improve the current global governance and given the rise of China’s influence, so how can we build a mechanism and a process to accommodate such change and manage the risk?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, that’s exactly why President Xi and President Obama are sitting down in these next – in these days. And that’s why I have made many visits to Beijing. That’s why Deputy Secretary Blinken has been engaged in personal diplomacy with China. And we will stay deeply engaged because we think that the way you build it is by bilaterally working together to understand how we define our power as two nations that have such reach in the world and have such impact. Our economy will be the world’s number one economy for some years yet to come, until, obviously, the moment comes where by sheer population growth China will pass. But that doesn’t change the fundamentals of the relationship. We still will be selling to each other, buying from each other, working together on climate change – I hope – doing research and development, hopefully clean energy solutions and other things. There’s a world of opportunities which China and the United States can lead the rest of the world in demonstrating how people can take advantage of them.

QUESTION: What’s your impression out of your previous contacts with President Xi about his personal leadership style?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, he’s a very strong leader. He’s a very capable leader. He has a very clear sense of direction. He has proven to me that when he gives his word, he keeps his word. He says he will do one thing or another and I’ve seen him do it. And I’ve found him thoughtful and listening carefully when there is something important to try to fix or take note of. So my hope is that both China and the United States can work to manage differences and find those areas where we can cooperate effectively to improve life for millions of people in the world.

QUESTION: How would you think of the trust between these two countries? Is it greater or weaker as compared to, say, 10 years ago?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think it’s greater because we have arrived at an understanding with respect to certain issues and we’ve been able to progress to announce very significant agreements, and we’re working towards others. Now, on the other hand, there have been some missed opportunities, I think. There are elements clearly – I mean, this is not a relationship yet built on pure trust. It’s a relationship built on a clarity to the things we’ve chosen to work on together and to try to build trust. And over time, hopefully that will happen.

There have obviously been elements of distrust with respect to some issues because of what’s happened in cyber; what’s happened in some sectors of the economy – on currency, on market access – some challenges on human rights, where we obviously have some differences; and, needless to say, maritime security and so forth. I hope we can work those out. We’ve always found a way to be able to dialogue about these things, talk about them, and hopefully we can make some progress.

QUESTION: And manage the risks before it goes too far.

SECRETARY KERRY: Manage – well, you have to manage them, sure. Of course you do. But powerful nations that have been at odds over one issue or another historically – the United States, former Soviet Union, an example – others in other circumstances – have found ways to do arms control; found ways to work together on major global issues, whether it’s a disease or peacekeeping or something. That’s the mark of leadership, and we hope that China’s leaders will continue to make choices that move in that direction.

QUESTION: Well, knowing the full cost of war on the human level and based on your personal experiences, how do you approach issues in this world such as the Iran deal and the refugee crisis differently as the top American diplomat?

SECRETARY KERRY: Differently from?

QUESTION: Otherwise, understanding the cost of war and going through war yourself.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I think that – look, I think that – I mean, war is the failure of diplomacy. War represents the inability of people to find a common ground and to resolve an issue. And inevitably, war is shockingly destructive to innocent people, and it usually winds up with everybody at the end trying to rebuild and find a way forward. It makes a lot more sense to avoid all of that pain and suffering and loss and see if you can’t find a way to resolve an issue without it.

And that’s exactly what we set out to do in Iran. Now, I can’t tell you that Iran will live up to every component of the agreement. We’re – but we’ve created a structure whereby if Iran is indeed absolutely intending to have a peaceful nuclear program, they have an opportunity to prove it to the world. And we can do so in a safe way that gives us assurance that we will not be unknowing of what they’re doing. If they don’t do that, we will know they have chosen to move in a different direction, and the world will understand that it’s not because we weren’t willing to try that we didn’t avoid a conflict. I think that’s responsible. I think that’s the way – and President Obama shares this belief – that you avoid war and conflict that’s unnecessary. But in the end, people have to make the right choices. And what we’ve done is create an opportunity for people to do so.

QUESTION: My last question. You grew up from a Foreign Service family, traveling around the world with a father who worked in the Foreign Service, and spanned much of your Senate career with – in the Foreign Relations Committee. Some people said that it seems that your whole life have been preparing you for this job as the Secretary of State. But with that said, what has been the biggest unexpected challenge after you took the office?

SECRETARY KERRY: The single biggest challenge has been the chaos of radical religious extremism and the terrorism that has come out of that radical extremism. In many different countries it’s taken shape in ways that challenges rule of law, challenges state actors. One of the interesting things about this early part of the 21st century is that it appears there is less chance for violence and war between big states and more – much more chance between non-state actors who are represented by these extremists who have no respect for anything – no respect for law, no respect for history, no respect for culture, and in fact, no respect even for religious truth, for the truth of Islam or the truth of Christianity or the responsibility of all of us.

And so our challenge is millions of young people in these countries who don’t have jobs, don’t have an education, whose minds may be grabbed by these extremists, and who then represent a challenge to rule of law and to the safety and security of people in those countries. That’s been – it’s amazing how that fire got just lit and raged out of control in certain places. It’s amazing how some leaders have placed themselves individually above all sense of responsibility to citizens and to decency. And it is also really amazing how many countries are on the edge of failing or have failed, and how we now have a global responsibility to try to bring them back from the brink.

That’s why this meeting of the United Nations – its 70th meeting – is really such an important meeting. And I think there is a lot of focus in New York on the violent extremism and on how to deal with this challenge.

I’ve also been surprised by the level of tribalism and the degree to which sectarianism, at a very basic level, combined with tribalism, has defied the ability of states to be able to create order. So we have to do a better job of that. That is our challenge, and I think this UN assembly is a very important meeting for that reason.

QUESTION: Well, thank you very much.


QUESTION: Can we still have one quick note? The last one. Well, as someone who ran for presidency before, what’s your take on the current presidential campaign – (laughter) – which cost billions and seems to elevate candidates who are more colorful than substantive?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to comment on the substance or color of the race at all. But I will comment on something I spoke about many, many times previously. The United States must reduce the amount of money that is in our elections and taking a real debate and a legitimate democratic process away from the people. And I believe very strongly that the amounts of money in our politics is a very negative event, and we have to find a way to change that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for your time.