Ambassador Sun Guoxiang, the Consul General of the People’s Republic of China in New York said that the “Chinese Dream” is “by no means a nationalist, nor an aggressive imperial dream” during a special lecture at Stony Brook University on Friday, Oct. 18.
“The rise of China is an opportunity, not a threat, to the rest of the world,” Sun said. “It will not only bring benefits to its own people but people all over the world; China cannot develop in isolation from the rest of the world, and nor can the world enjoy prosperity without China.”
An ambassador for over thirty years, Sun spoke about the “Chinese Dream” and what it means for both China’s emerging position as a global power and Stony Brook students, who he described as potential ambassadors in China-US relations.
But a question and answer session and subsequent interviews revealed limits to the ideology he emphasized in his lecture. Sun navigated and challenged questions concerning China’s stance in the East and South China Sea territorial disputes, freedom of the press, China’s one-child policy, China’s environmental impact and China’s trade relationship with African countries.
Of these, the most lengthy and controversial subject was China’s stance in the highly contested East and South China Sea disputes. China is currently competing with Japan over the Senkaku (Japanese)/Diaoyu (Chinese) Islands in the East China Sea, and with the Philippines in the South China Sea.
Sun said that China has sovereignty in both areas and that recent international claims that China is the “trouble-maker” are untrue. He said that “until the 1960s, there had not been any issue with the South China Sea,” and that only after oil and natural gas resources were discovered in the 70s did other countries begin challenging China’s sovereignty.
He said that, while “China is the victim here, in order to maintain stability and peace in the region, it has proposed to solve this issue through peaceful negotiation.”
He did not, however, provide any definitive information on China’s military history in the area, such as its infamous seizure of the Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974.
Sun positioned China as mostly innocent in its dispute with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, which was reignited last year when Japan attempted to buy the islands from their disputed owners, the Kurihara family.
The ambassador cited China’s discovery of the islands during the Ming dynasty as evidence of its sovereignty and that Japan definitively relinquished its ownership claim in its post-World War II treaty, the Potsdam Declaration.
The Japanese government dismissed this argument, which cited the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 as evidence that in renouncing areas including Taiwan, it kept the Senkaku Islands.
“The Chinese government’s position has been very clear,” Sun said. “And we hope Japan will return to its previous position so that the issue will not comprise the larger picture of China-Japan relations.”
He also notably admitted that China’s economic development has come at an environmental cost. “We have a high-energy consumption method, which has come at the expense of future generations,” Sun said. “Now, to protect the environment we have asked all our enterprises to use clean energy and modern technology so we can achieve harmony between man and nature.”
He cited one company’s three-year environmental approval process as evidence of the Chinese government’s commitment, though he did not name the company.
In a later interview, Sun said that he supported freedom of the press, defining the media’s responsibility as showing “what is best for society.” However, he largely emphasized journalists’ roles in presenting positive stories, and did not touch on China’s strong censorship of both foreign and domestic media.
“When American newspaper correspondents are in China, of course you can see a lot of pictures,” Sun said. “Some good, some not so good, and correspondents should find some positive things to tell the people.”
“I always encourage the media to play a positive, active role in developing the relationship between countries,” he said.
Similarly, Sun was quick to highlight the positive effects of China’s one-child policy, listing China’s decreased fertility rate rate as a sign that it was working and should be kept for now.
He briefly addressed the policy’s effects on gender imbalance, despite figures showing that around 30 million more men will enter adulthood than women in 2020 because of the nation’s preference for boys.
“It’s about 50-50,” Sun said. “In the rural areas the males are more but in the cities, maybe girls are more.”
Sun also said he had a son but, smiling, added that his wife would “prefer a daughter.”
Stony Brook’s President Samuel Stanley approved of the lecture, describing Sun as eloquent in his responses and the questions as both “penetrating and important.”
“I think that’s what he expects when he comes to a university like Stony Brook,” Stanley said. “We expect people to ask tough questions, and I think that’s what he was ready for.”
“I’m pleased that our students and faculty have been thinking about these issues,” he said.
The event was hosted in conjunction with Stony Brook’s Confucius Institute, which promotes Chinese culture at Stony Brook. More than 1700 Chinese students attend Stony Brook University.