The following is a translation of a portion of an interview by the Chinese-language Global Times newspaper with veteran diplomat and former Ambassador to France Wu Jianmin (吴建民). In the interview, which the paper is publishing in installments, Wu addresses a range of issues, from tensions in the South China Sea to twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union.
In this portion, Wu discusses the importance of basic communication skills — which he says many Chinese youth and diplomats alike have in short supply — and urges a cool-headed approach to international affairs.
Global Times Editor’s Note: Since he withdrew from the front lines of diplomacy, veteran diplomat and former Ambassador to France Wu Jianmin (吴建民) has been as energetic as ever, and he is still a prominent figure in foreign diplomacy circles . . . On August 12, our Global Times journalist interviewed Wu Jianmin on the South China Sea issue, questions of Chinese foreign policy, current Chinese social problems, the U.S. and European debt crises, the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and other issues. Wu Jianmin offered open and detailed responses to these issues. Recently, we have been continuously offering content from this interview, today being a selection of latter portions. We invite you to stay tuned!
Global Times: In the various political contexts of different countries, foreign diplomats generally have their own individual characters. You are very well know both inside and outside China, but many Chinese diplomats are quite unknown. Well, is this you think because, as they say, “There is no such thing as a minor matter in foreign affairs,” or because they don’t dare to speak out or don’t wish to, or is it some other reason?
Wu Jianmin: This problem does exist. Today, many of our leaders and cadres who go on visits to foreign countries don’t wish to see reporters and think that the more they talk the more they stand to lose. But the world really has a hunger to understand China. I believe the problem is that Chinese elites really lack the ability to engage in communication and dialogue, and there is a need for improvement. And so, I went to the Foreign Affairs University and started a communication studies class (交流学), which I teach myself. Now Zhao Qizheng (赵启正) and I are writing a book called Communication Makes Life Richer (交流使人生更美好). It is written for young people, many of whom don’t understand [the art of] communication. If you don’t understand communication many opportunities will be lost to you. So we need to grasp this [problem] from the roots, nurturing [these skills] in our universities. . . .
Global Times: Is this a situation that has to change?
Wu Jianmin: Actually, this situation is already changing. For example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already raised its requirements for foreign diplomats. Every year now you must make a report home about how many journalists you met with, how many public addresses you gave. There is an expectation that they make more public appearances and interact more with the media.
Global Times: You once said that if you had a second life you would still choose a life in foreign diplomacy, and media have said before that the stage of foreign relations is richer and more active because of the influence of Wu Jianmin. Ever since you withdrew from the front lines you’ve been involved with foreign relations activities. So, how do you explain your feelings to your friends in foreign diplomacy?
Wu Jianmin: After I graduated from university in 1959 I was engaged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. By the time I retired in 2009 it had been 50 years [in this line of work]. I really hope that our youth, and Internet users, have the capacity to think for themselves. The world is changing, and there are all sorts of different agitations and incitations (煽动). Those driving these incitations would like to push our youth along in one direction [of their choosing] in order to achieve their own objectives. And so our young people need to be very mindful of this sort of inflammatory language (煽动的言论).
What is the standard on which determinations should be made? Experience. For example, you say we should go to war (你说打好). Well, in your view what would the result be if we went to war with America? Is this the result China really wants? When calamity comes to the country and its people, who will bear responsibility for that? Of course those who whipped things up in the first place also bear responsibility. Experience is the best teacher.