High-Level Plenary
Mogens Lykketoft: U.S. and China have much more in common than opposing interests when it comes to humanity's most existential issues
January 15, 2024

Mogens Lykketoft

President of the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Excellencies ladies and gentlemen, my dear old friend, James Chau. Thank you for the invitation to address this extinguished audience in the China-United States Exchange Foundation. When I received President Hu Jintao as a speaker in the Danish Parliament in 2012, he called me an old friend of China.

It is true that I have for a lifetime argued for the best possible, both bilateral and international relations with China and for China's strong participation in maintaining a peaceful global order. This is China 18 times since then, that Autumn of 1978, James just mentioned when the New Economic Policy was announced by Deng Xiaoping, the policy would have increased China's GDP more than 30 times and lifted so many 100 million people out of poverty. Over time, I've had different official capacities being here and had in-depth conversations with Chinese leaders such as Zhongxu Xi, Yang Jiechi, and Wang Yi. Thus, I stand for you as a witness from Denmark for Europe, of China's truly incredible transformation over the past 45 years. This doesn't mean that I am apologetic about China's policies. But I am convinced that in this century, we will see only two global superpowers, the U.S. and China in a multipolar world, of course, alongside Europe, Japan, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and other big economies.

But I observed already this development as President of the United Nations General Assembly, in the optimistic year of 2015. When we approved the Sustainable Development Goals, and adopted the ambitious climate agreement in Paris, the SDGs showed us the urgent action needed to meet with the challenges of today. Because since 1945, the year before I was born, the world population has tripled, while production, pollution as well as our impact on nature, and the atmosphere and climate temperature has increased tenfold. We, in the rich countries, have the main responsibility. Naturally billions of people in poorer countries led by China, aspiring for the same pattern of production and consumption that we in North America and Europe have already had. But in fact, what we know is that they can't get it and we can't maintain it.

The future demands to stop fossil fuels, and through a circular economy, and much stronger efforts to protect nature and biodiversity. We will not reach a sustainable global future without the U.S. and China leading the way working together. The success of the climate conference in Paris was of course brought about by the skillful French COP, President Xi and the secretaries of the UNFCCC. But the bottom line is that it was only possible because Paris was the unique moment in recent history, where the presidents of China and United States, Xi Jinping and Barack Obama worked closely together to convince and nudge all other countries to join.

The U.S. and China will always compete and disagree. There may be issues of course, because of different political systems, different worldviews, but these disagreements have turned dangerous since 2016. And there has been an escalatory rise in nationalism, incitement, suspicion and mistrust in the public discussion on both sides. I sincerely hope that the two big countries will realize once again, that they have much more in common than opposing interests when it comes to humanity's most existential issues. When acting together, China and the U.S. have the whole world in their hands. Their willingness, and the ability to act as guardians for global cooperation will determine whether peace can be restored and preserved, and whether we can maintain beneficial economic independence and stop climate change before it's too late. There will be some national insourcing for strategic and industrial policy reasons. China's development will I assume also be driven more and more by expanding home markets. But a new international balance must be found without a trade war between the U.S. and China, and without further increase in protectionism globally.

As also referred to by Charlene Barshefsky just a moment ago, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund Kristalina Georgieva wrote in an important article this September, pointing out the huge costs of fragmentation of global markets. It will inevitably lead to lower growth rates and more poverty, potentially a global loss, as we've heard through by Charlene will be over the coming years equal to the combined GDP of France and Germany. This is why we share a common interest in continuing cross border trade and investment, hopefully better regulated by mutually agreed whenever it is ruled through the WTO and assisted by the OECD. Trust in predictability of national frameworks for investment should be restored, sudden shifts in the treatment of foreign companies should be avoided. And we should hope for removing the understanding of the American policy towards China seen as an effort to hold back China's technological development and block China's ambition to further increase the welfare of its population.

The meeting in San Francisco in a few days from now between the Presidents of the U.S. and China should be an important step towards a new era of stronger cooperation; to secure peace, to improve the economy and work for a global consensus on promoting sustainable and responsible patterns of production and consumption. As allied with the United States, Europe has a role and in my opinion, a duty to contribute to shaping that kind of consensus. We must do our own, we must do it with our own good example, and our own core self-interest. But hope for a new consensus of global action on the economy and the climate depends on common efforts to overcome mistrust and near military confrontations. There is an urgent need to reduce their arms race, and we introduced local agreements on open lines of communication, arms control, and real limitations in the stockpiles of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as missiles, missile systems and conventional armaments. The new security threats from artificial intelligence must be regulated by international treaties and conventions brought about, not least by common efforts from U.S., China and Europe. We have a common obligation to mankind. So we're looking at resources from ever increasing military spending to investment in the Sustainable Development Goals.

First of all, we need the U.S. and China to act in a much more coordinated fashion in order to end the terrible conflicts in Ukraine, in the Middle East, and to avoid the risk of military conflict in East Asia. I believe that the Chinese President is the best position statemen in the world to convince his friend, the Russian President, that it is in Russia's self-interest to stop the bloody unwinnable war of aggression in Ukraine. China, as Vice Li warned against any kind of nuclear weapons that can bring this to the brink of global conflict. We all have to repeat that there is no winner in a nuclear conflict, which is why it should never be fought. For the increased humanity and prosperity that is true about any war. This is why we created the United Nations in 1945. As stated in the UN Charter to free future generations from the scourge of war.

At the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, President Xi Jinping, once again firmly committed China to the UN and its principles. That commitment, so leaders also reconstruct our international organizations, in accordance with the changing picture of population and economic power. Since we are an organization, we serve global common interests to prevent further weakening of the United Nations by dividing us in competing international organizations more or less. In order to give new strength to the United Nations, we should all recommit to refrain from any military intervention to change borders and political systems and act accordingly. The U.S. and China will continue to compete for power, innovation and wealth. But hopefully they understand their fundamental common interest in letting the competition unfold within a shared global network with shared global rules. Thank you very much.

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