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Ambassador Jon Huntsman's remarks at Clean Energy Forum

Jon Huntsman, Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China
Clean Energy Forum
January 18, 2011

Ambassador Huntsman:   

I want to thank so many of my friends from China and from the United States who are gathered here.  We have so many excellent leaders.  Zhang Guobao, my good friend and former Ambassador Zhou.  Zheng Bijian, my excellent friend.  Just to name a few.  And I’m so very, very delighted that this session through the Brookings Institute is able to shine a spotlight on something as important as clean energy within the U.S.-China relationship.  I want to thank John Thorton, who himself is a one-man think tank, for his friendship and for his vision and for his guidance, in particular [a thank you for] bringing us all here today.

Winston Churchill used to say famously, “You never kiss a person who’s leaning away from you.  You never climb a mountain that is leaning toward you.  And you never speak to a group that knows a hell of a lot more about the subject matter than you do.” This is the cardinal rule that I am violating this morning.  My friends in China have another way to say it, “showing off one's skill or talent before an expert. You know more about this policy.  I'm just learning from you.” [Tāmen jiùshì shuō, bānménnòngfǔ, guān gōng miànqián shuǎ dàdāo, nǐmen dōu gèng zhīdào zhège zhèngcè, bù zhǐshì lǎobǎixìng zhèyàng zi, wǒ zhǐshì gēn nǐmen xuéxí] [Laughter]. 

In just a few hours President Hu will arrive in Washington.  This is the first State visit by a Chinese leader since 1997 when Jiang Zemin visited Bill Clinton.  Strobe Talbot remembers that.  My good friend Ken Lieberthal who we all read and follow closely remembers that.  Mack McCarthy, my friend, remembers that as well.  Think about it.  Almost 15 years has passed.  The world has changed a lot since then.

We all remember when Deng Xiaoping visited the United States in 1979 and the vivid images that came from that visit.  He helped set the course for a new and revitalized U.S.-China relationship.  And I believe President Hu’s visit will have a similarly significant impact on where this relationship will go in the decades ahead.

Where this relationship goes is important not only for the United States and China, but also for the rest of humankind.  You see, no two countries are more prominently positioned on the world stage today.  The United States and China are the world’s two largest economies.  We have two of the largest militaries.  We are the two largest energy users and carbon emitters.  For so many reasons, this is the bilateral relationship that touches every country on earth.  And if you pick any of the most critical issues of our day from the economy to the environment, from national security to nuclear proliferation, the way forward must include joint action by both the United States and China.

To be sure, the United States and China do have important and fundamental differences that we need to be honest about and confront openly and respectfully, and believe me; neither side is shy about that.  In my opinion that is the best way to develop a friendship, especially among friends and partners.  Building trust the old fashioned way, just as we have done now for almost 40 years since the Shanghai Communiqué was signed in February of 1972.  It’s not always easy, it won’t always be smooth, but the reasons for close collaboration with both countries are just too compelling.  And if either country wants to succeed, both countries will have to work together.

So as we move forward I believe increasingly we need to demonstrate the tangible benefits of this relationship.  We need to highlight how this relationship helps improve lives here in America from Wall Street to Main Street, and believe me, in this age of instantaneous communication I believe the same will be required of my friends from China.  This is what makes today’s gathering so timely and important.

Cooperation on clean energy is a prime example of where we can further our common interests and benefit not only our people but also many throughout the world for decades to come.

Our two countries have had some successes in this area.  You’ll hear about them through the day.  The problem with those successes, which are often accomplished in the context of a JCCT or an S&ED or some other acronym, they don’t necessarily resonate with average Americans or average Chinese.  We have to humanize these accomplishments.  We have to make them real in ways that citizens on both sides better see the benefits of supporting a strong U.S.-China relationship.

What does that mean?  It means we can’t just discuss these topics as abstruse or technical issues because they aren’t.  Ultimately we need to make clear that the U.S.-China relationship is one of the best opportunities we have to improve the quality of life for average American families and businesses, big and small, because the economic opportunities are increasingly very real.

So when people ask me why we should cooperate with China on clean energy initiatives, I say it’s very simple.  We are embarking on a technological revolution in clean energy like the space program or electronics of the 20th Century that will dramatically expand high quality jobs, living standards, and our economy in the United States.  We’ll get better products, lower prices, and more jobs in both countries.  I believe the possibilities in this particular area -- clean energy -- are unlimited.

Here’s a good example.  A few months ago I met the legendary innovator and philanthropist Bill Gates in Beijing.  Now generally when Bill Gates mentions he has an idea for a new product, I listen.  This time the product is a new kind of nuclear reactor, something that could operate for 40 to 60 years without refueling.  Compare that to what we have today where reactors need to be opened up and refueled every 18 months or so.

So if this technology works, we would need a lot less uranium to create a whole lot more energy with far less nuclear waste.  And keeping the uranium inside the reactors means we don’t have to worry about terrorists buying it on the black market.  You can see why this would be of such great interest to so many people.

But why China?  This is an American company, but the simple reality is right now the regulatory environment here in the United States means it would take decades just to certify the design.  So by partnering with the Chinese they can move ahead and then commercialize the technology around the globe when it is proven.  The end results -- countries around the world would get cleaner, safer energy, and a joint U.S.-Chinese company could lead the world in nuclear reactor construction.  That is a very big deal for so many involved.

Today with jobs being so very needed, our cooperation on clean energy development is creating tremendous opportunities for new employment throughout the United States.  Westinghouse is a prime example.  I’m sure many of you are already familiar with their work in China where they’re focused on four next generation nuclear reactors.  What you may not know is those four reactors in China have already either saved or created 5,000 high quality jobs here in America and across 13 different states.

So as long as we continue to produce cutting edge technology and maintain our competitive advantage in management, services and education, the China market will loom very large. And as China continues its efforts in renewable energy, we’re beginning to see Chinese companies launching operations in the United States, and that means even more investment and job creation here for us.

More broadly, our cooperation on clean energy is important and timely because of its impact on the environment, health and quality of life.  This is a global challenge and it cannot be resolved unilaterally.  We need to cooperate across ideologies and across borders, and we are. 

Both countries have committed $150 million in public and private support for a new clean energy research center which will help generate new ideas and new products in at least three critical areas with vast potential.  Efficient building codes, carbon capture and sequestration, and electric vehicles.

Why do I think these are such critical areas for research and cooperation?  Well look at the numbers.  Seventy percent of China’s energy comes from coal.  China currently uses half the world’s cement every year and if current building trends continue, will probably build enough floor space in the next 30 years to pave the entire United States of America.  In one year, that’s all of New York.

Last year in Beijing there were more than 700,000 new cars on the road.  That’s 2,000 new cars every day in Beijing alone.  That might be hard to imagine, but take it from a guy who makes the commute daily.  My travel time has almost doubled in the last year.

The challenge now is where do we go from here?  We’re moving in a similar direction.  The question is how do we ensure a common pathway for both the United States and China? 

And that puts us back to where I started.  These cooperative efforts will only work if we have the public behind us.  We have to be relentless in demonstrating the benefits and speaking honestly about the challenges.

In closing, let me suggest three ways we can broaden the public’s understanding of the importance of our relationship with China and the need for greater cooperative efforts.

First, we need to continue to expand and promote mutual understanding country to country and people to people.  We are already moving toward our goal to send 100,000 U.S. students to China, which is perhaps the greatest investment long term that this country could be making.  I know we’re working overtime in our embassy in Beijing and our consulates throughout China to process a record number of visa applications for China’s business delegations, students, performers and tourists heading here to the United States. 

We just recently confirmed that China currently is the number one country in the world in terms of sending students to the United States -- 130,000 in total.  An increase in just one year by 30 percent.  And by the way, in terms of job creation let me just add that pretty much every one of those 130,000 students is paying full tuition which means every time we issue one of those visas we are either saving or creating a job in the United States.

Second, we need to continue our cooperative effort to protect intellectual property rights in China.  This is a critical issue in the high-tech sector including clean energy, and it generates a lot of concern in both U.S. and Chinese companies.  We spent the past 16 months in particular working hard to convince Chinese businesses that this is not a U.S. versus China issue.  This is an issue that affects anyone developing new ideas and new products.

I was lucky enough to address a room full of Chinese entrepreneurs last year at Jack Ma’s conference in Hangzhou where the U.S. relationship started in 1972.  I can tell you this next generation of Chinese innovators and strategic leaders get this better than just about anybody, regardless of nationality or business affiliation.  Increasingly, they have at least as much to lose from IPR violations as their American counterparts.  So I’m very optimistic we’re starting to gain a little ground on this.

I should also note that the Chinese government recently launched a six month crackdown on counterfeit technology and is making sure every government office is buying legal software only.  No bootlegs.  We greatly applaud this effort.

Third, we should expand our official points of contact.  Tomorrow’s state visit should help us usher in a new era of bilateral cooperation and not just at the top, but across the board.  We need to encourage our governors and provincial leaders, our mayors and local officials to spend a little more time comparing notes.  The future of this relationship will be more Alabama and An Hue or Salt Lake City and Shijiazhuang.

Last September we organized a visit by over 20 Chinese mayors to U.S. West Coast cities to exchange views with their U.S. counterparts on deploying green technologies in cities in both our countries.  Ultimately that is where the relationship will flourish -- at the grassroots.  Where we live and where we work.  On Main Street and around the family dinner table.

It is the opinions generated in every home and every hutong that will determine the long term success of this relationship.

As I said at the outset, President Hu’s visit is as important an opportunity as we have had in years to bring this relationship into our daily conversation.  Our Presidents are talking; our businesses are growing and expanding; even our militaries are starting to reengage with one another as they did last week with Secretary of Defense Gates while he was in China for yet another very important exchange.

Our job, whether it’s about clean energy or energizing the private sector, is to make the benefits of this relationship as clear as possible for the people of each country.  We have to improve the lives of ordinary Americans just as the Chinese have to improve the lives of their citizens.  If sustained common ground is to be found in the U.S.-China relationship, there is no better impetus than the strong desire on both sides to aggressively pursue a clean energy future.  And by doing so, we will likely better understand the meaning of my favorite Han Dynasty aphorism. “Help each other, learn from each other and progress together.” [Hùxiāng bāngmáng, hù xiàng xuéxí, gòngtóng jìnbù].

Thank you all very much.

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