Keynote Address by Chargé d’Affaires Xu Xueyuan at the Final Conference of the First Fudan-Harvard China-U.S. Young Leaders Dialogue
2023/03/01 17:54

26 February, 2023

Students and Friends,

It is a real pleasure for me, a Fudan alumni, to join you at today’s dialogue. Being here makes me feel youthful and vibrant.

Your dialogue in two days focuses on AI, Internet, Space and biotech. These are important topics critical to the world’s future. This global perspective and future-orientation are required in handling the China-U.S. relationship. Dr. Kissinger has recently published a book — The Age of AI: And Our Human Future. He focuses on AI’s implication for mankind, while most others are looking at its application. Indeed, the topics of your discussion are exactly the global issues that demand joint efforts by China and the United States.

Students and Friends,

The recent incident around a wandering Chinese balloon  drifted into U.S. airspace epitomizes the U.S. misperception about China. The balloon might be an unwelcome guest, appearing at a wrong time and a wrong place. But it is an unmanned airship, owned by a Chinese company, of civilian nature and for meteorological research. Driven by the Westerlies and limited by its self-steering capability, the airship drifted far away from its planned course. It is an accident caused by force majeure. Despite that we made all these clear to the U.S. side, it still characterized the airship as a “spy balloon” of the PLA and shot it down with missiles.

This was over reaction that put the U.S. in an awkward position. Is it going to shoot down all those meteorological balloons? The World Meteorological Organization recently had to issue a statement which says that worldwide, everyday, there are nearly 1,000 weather balloons equipped with radio-sondes. They are an important part of the global observing system. When they fly in the sky, it is hard to tell where they are from and for what purpose.

The misperception of some U.S. politicians about China and the policies thus adopted are outrageous. This has, unfortunately, made some Chinese public opinion and narratives about the U.S. more sensational and simplistic. To bring this relationship back to normal, we first need to bring mutual perception back to normal.

As the young generation, you are the future of the two countries and front runners of bilateral people-to-people exchange. To play your critical role in the future China-U.S. relationship, a global vision and a future-oriented mindset would serve you well. It also means that you need to understand more and partner with each other. With that in mind, I propose four qualities for you to consider: broad-mindedness, curiosity, empathy and aspiration. Let me address each of them:

First, broad-mindedness. Be willing to recognize and even appreciate mutual difference. Harmony without uniformity has enabled different civilizations to prosper together, and the human civilization as a whole to thrive for millennia.

Difference brings diversity. The world is as diverse as it is beautiful. The Chinese civilization is splendid because it is encompassing: cultures of various Chinese ethnic groups reinforce each other. Similarly, the strength of America is attributable to its openness to people coming from all over the world, bringing the best parts of their own cultures.

Difference is not the excuse to criticize. Harvard, Fudan and Peking University are top-notch institutions. Students are from rich and humble families, all here to advance themselves and shouldn’t be treated differently. American educational institutions also stress that migration, ethnic or religious background is no excuse for discrimination.

In the same vein, China and the U.S. should view their difference with a fair mind, instead of insisting on sameness. For example, the U.S. has the American-style democracy, while China has its whole-process, Chinese democracy. We might learn from each other, rather than monopolize the definition of democracy. That is in itself undemocratic. Calling one’s own choice as democratic and the other’s authoritarian, defining success as remolding the other side — such practices are divorced from the facts and unpractical.

Perhaps, I could invite the young American friends to think about this: Western media and politicians paint China as an authoritarian country that oppresses its own people. But the reality is, before the COVID, Chinese people made as many as 150 million overseas travels per year. They all came back after seeing the beauty of foreign countries. If they are truly suppressed, why would they return?

Second, curiosity. Be willing to learn more about each other. Young people have an inquisitive, open mind. You refuse to be confined by conventions, and would like to explore new frontiers. It is important that our two countries strengthen educational cooperation, especially to encourage American students to explore China, a country both old and young.

As we meet, over 290 thousand Chinese students are in the U.S. but less than a thousand the other way round. The Obama administration set the goal of sending 100,000 American students to China, only to deliver a small part of that. The pandemic has limited two-way visits during the last three years. Now, with China upgrading its COVID policies, more American students are welcome to visit China.

I hope you will visit not only Chinese metropolis like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but also towns and villages. Meet not only government officials, academics and business people, but also workers, peasants and courier boys. Not only see the famous scenic spots, but also experience traditional, local cultures. Feel not only the timeless charm of terracotta warriors, but also the pulse of modern life in China through its bullet trains and apps like the alipay.

Of course, we also encourage more Chinese students to study in the U.S. But we hope those unreasonable restrictions will be lifted by the U.S. side sooner rather than later.

My young friends, go to each other’s country, and you will see a true and full picture of China and the U.S.

Third, empathy. Be more understanding toward each other. Peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy and freedom —these are shared values of all humanity, including the Chinese and the Americans. We all want peace and tranquility. We all want to live with security and no wars or conflicts. We all want a better life, better jobs, more reliable social welfare, better health care, better living conditions and a beautiful environment. We all want our personal rights to be protected and live our life to its full. But given our differences in history, culture, social traditions and development stage, we won’t perceive and realize all these things in the same way.

Take human rights for example, the West stresses that every man and woman is an independent individual in front of the God. So, human rights are usually seen in the prism of individuals vis-à-vis the government. As we have seen in the gun shooting accidents in the U.S., even when citizens’ right to possessing a gun contradicts others’ right to life, the individual freedom often gets more protected.

In China, individuals live in the context of the society. We maintain that human rights include both individual and collective rights. The government is duty bound to respect, protect and promote human rights. 

The formation of human rights concept in the West was accompanied by expansion and colonization. The rights of the people in colonized territories were severely undermined, and the wound can not heal for centuries. Similar tragedies of asserting one country’s rights at the cost of others’ still occur in our times. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not so distant.

In China, the approach to human rights has its origin in the cultural tradition that values prosperity and harmony for all. We believe that all countries can become partners and friends. China does not bully or bring war to others.

Fourth, aspiration. It means taking up your responsibilities to humanity’s future. I studied linguistics as a post-graduate. I read Noam Chomsky a lot. In The Responsibility of Intellectuals, he pointed out that intellectuals are responsible to speak the truth and disclose falsehoods.

When a few politicians attempt to define China-U.S. relationship by competition, we should speak up about the mutually beneficial nature of such cooperation. After all, our two countries have broad common interests and share major responsibilities.

When a few politicians allege that win-win means “China wins twice”, we must refute that claim by displaying the mutual benefits flowing from China-U.S. cooperation over the past four decades.

When a few politicians demonize the people-to-people exchange between China and the U.S., we must bring to light their cold-war mentality and let people know the truth.

When a few politicians clamor for trade war and tech-war with China, we must reveal that such a war only impedes global economic and science cooperation, hurting China as well as the U.S. and the whole world.

In addition, we must take actions, and with greater courage and enthusiasm, promote two-way educational, scientific and cultural interactions. That will bring our peoples closer, enable us to know more about and learn from each other. With the two peoples becoming friends, the bilateral relationship will enjoy a stronger social basis.



Both China and the U.S. face the daunting task of economic transition and more balanced development. This is an important reality confronting the world, among many other challenges, from public health, climate change, to peace and development deficits. The world looks to China and the U.S. to step up, shoulder their responsibilities, stabilize the bilateral relationship and advance global cooperation.

Whether or not our two countries can properly handle the bilateral relationship bears on the future of our world. It is a question of the century that our two countries must answer well. President Xi Jinping has made many important observations about this relationship, and has provided us the key to handle it well:

First, history is a fair judge. China-U.S. relationship must develop well and not be mishandled. This is not an optional choice but a compulsory question.

Second, China-U.S. cooperation benefits both sides and beyond; while their confrontation harms both and the rest of the world.

Third, China-U.S. relations should not be a zero-sum game where one side out-competes or thrives at the expense of the other. The success of China and the United States are opportunities, not challenges, for each other.

Fourth, the world is big enough for the two countries to develop themselves and prosper together.

When we follow the strategic guidance of our leaders and work together in the same direction, we will find the way to get along and promote world peace and prosperity. This won’t be easy. It requires concerted efforts by all sectors of the two societies, and in particular, the active participation of the young generation.

American poet T.S. Eliot once wrote, “to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” Today’s session is the last of the first Fudan-Harvard China-U.S. Young Leaders’ Dialogue. But I hope and I believe, the students of our two countries can use this platform to expand communication, thus adding more fresh impetus and greater momentum to the friendship between our two nations.

Thank you.

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