China’s role in Middle East will be enhanced: FM
Editor’s note: Foreign Minister Wang Yi was recently interviewed by Al Jazeera. The following is the transcript of the interview.
I. You have concluded your first visit to five countries, namely, Palestine, Israel, Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. What is the purpose of this visit? How do you evaluate the outcome of this visit?
This is my very first visit to the Middle East region as the foreign minister of China’s new government. The trip has three goals: namely, to carry forward friendly relations; to deepen existing cooperation; and to promote peace talks.
China and the Arab states enjoy time-honored ties of friendship, forged by the 2,000year old Silk Road. In modern times, China has firmly supported Arab states in their cause to win national independence and liberation. China is committed to carrying forward this traditional friendship. My Middle East trip has achieved this goal completely, as I have felt for myself the profound goodwill of the Arab states and their peoples for China and the Chinese people.
China works hard to deepen its cooperation with the countries in the region for mutual benefit. Last year, two-way trade reached nearly $300 billion, with China becoming the top trading partner of many Arab states. According to rough statistics, China’s accumulated contractual value in the region totaled $120 billion, including a substantial input in infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and factories. More recently, China’s direct investment in the region has grown rapidly. Already standing at $10 billion in accumulative terms, it keeps increasing with an incredible speed.
The Third Plenum of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee held not long ago, which made important arrangements on the comprehensive deepening of reform and opening-up, will bring about fresh and important opportunities for the cooperation between China and the countries in the region. China plans to develop a Silk Road economic belt that spans the Eurasia continent and a maritime Silk Road that links the Pacific with the Indian Ocean. We can see on a map that the two Silk Roads will cross in the Middle East region, which spells excellent opportunities and bright prospects for common development and common prosperity for China and the region’s countries. During the visit, I discussed many new ideas and new plans of cooperation with Arab leaders. China is ready to share its experience in high-speed rail development with any country and participate in national rail network programs of the region’s countries, thus benefiting these countries and their peoples.
Many hot-button issues in the Middle East are undergoing important changes. One key purpose of my visit is to follow through on President Xi Jinping’s four-point proposal on the issue of Palestine. Moreover, I also discussed the Syrian and the Iranian nuclear issues of shared interest with the leaders of the region’s countries. As their friend, China is ready to contribute its share to bring peace and stability to the region. On the whole, my visit has achieved its anticipated purpose. In Algeria, I elaborated on the new Chinese government’s policy towards Arab states. I can summarize it as “four supports”. That is, we support Arab states in following their chosen paths, we support Arab states in resolving the region’s hot-button issues through political means, we support Arab states in achieving a win-win and common development with China, and we support Arab states in playing a bigger role in regional and international affairs and in more effectively safeguarding their legitimate rights and interests. This represents China’s most fundamental position which also meets the aspiration and fundamental interests of the Arab countries and their peoples.
II. Though Palestine and Israel have resumed peace talks, the Middle East peace process remains confronted with many obstacles and challenges, such as expansion of Israeli settlements and other issues. How does China see the future of the peace process? China is the only permanent member of the Security Council that is not a Quartet member. Will China join the mechanism? What role will China play in the Middle East peace process?
The Palestine-Israel issue is a long-standing hot-button issue. Peace in the Middle East will be elusive if this issue is not resolved. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China has all along played its own role in seeking a solution. In May, China received visits by Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the same time. President Xi Jinping went out of his way to work with them respectively and made a four-point proposal to resolve the PalestineIsrael issue. He stressed that an independent Palestinian state and a peaceful coexistence between Palestine and Israel is the right direction of a settlement, that peace negotiation is the only realistic pathway to Palestine-Israel reconciliation, that “land for peace” and other principles are important foundation for advancing the Middle East peace process, and that international support is a necessary guarantee for moving the peace process forward. The four-point proposal by President Xi is highly comprehensive and has been well received by both Palestine and Israel and the international community at large.
During the visit, I spent long hours discussing with Palestinian and Israeli sides on President Xi’s four-point proposal. I had a deep impression from the meetings that both sides saw their peace talks as the sole alternative, they both hoped to continue with it to a fruitful end, and they both saw the current moment as an important opportunity. I told both sides that mutual recognition of each other’s right to exist is the prerequisite for peace talks, that mutual accommodation of each other’s concerns is an indispensable element, and that putting oneself in the other’s shoes is an advisable way to move the talks forward. In the peace talks, one should try to bring people around with reason rather than power. I told the two sides clearly that this land is the common homeland for both Palestinians and Israelis. The fact that the State of Israel has existed for over 60 years and the Palestinian brothers and sisters remain displaced without realizing their legitimate rights and interests to statehood is not fair, nor reasonable, and should not be allowed to go on. So we support the establishment of an independent State of Palestine on the basis of the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital living in peace with Israel. In this way, peace in the Middle East will be guaranteed. We will continue to work toward such a direction. I believe that so long as both sides can work toward such a direction and with full support of the international community, a success of the peace talks will be highly hopeful. With respect to the Quartet mechanism, first, we hope that it can truly play a role, especially at this crucial juncture of Palestine-Israel peace talks. Second, China is open to the mechanism, and we are ready to join it if the Quartet so wishes. Third, even if the country doesn’t join it, China will continue to work in its own way to move the peace process forward.
III. The Syria issue is also a complicated one. China and Russia have vetoed Syria-related draft resolutions three times, which caused a huge controversy. With bloodshed still going on in Syria, how does China see the future of the Syria issue? The Geneva II conference on Syria will soon be held. Will China participate in it and what kind of role will it play?
You mentioned China’s voting record at the UN Security Council. I want to tell our Arab friends that as a permanent member of the Security Council, China is fully aware of its responsibility and obligation for upholding international peace and stability. China is very serious and prudent when it comes to voting at the Security Council. We go by such principles: First, to uphold the purposes of the UN Charter and basic norms governing international relations, particularly the principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of members and equality of all countries regardless of size. This underpins the very survival and development of the developing countries, small- and medium-sized countries in particular. Second, to uphold the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of each and every country, which is the basic texture of the international order. If this is breached, many countries may feel insecure. Third, to maintain peace and stability of the regions concerned. We take into consideration the fundamental and long-term interests of the countries and peoples in the region when making our judgment on the issue.
The Chinese side always believes that the Syria issue can only be resolved politically, and there can be no other way. The war there has been going on for three years and people have now realized that war can resolve nothing, and violence can only breed hatred. This is why more and more countries have come to favor a return to the track of political settlement.
To make the Geneva II conference a success, much work remains to be done. The most pressing task is to put an end to the war and violence. It’s unthinkable that the two sides are sitting down at the negotiating table while the fighting is still going on. At the same time, the work to destroy Syrian chemical weapons must not stop. The process should
China’s all-round role will gradually and more visibly be felt by Arab countries and get their understanding and support.” WANG YI FOREIGN MINISTER
move forward step by step, until a complete and thorough destruction of all such weapons is achieved. With Geneva II providing a platform for a political settlement of the Syria issue, the international community, China included, should create an enabling environment and atmosphere to this end, whereby urging the two sides in Syria to sit down at the negotiating table. We may offer suggestions, make proposals, and submit plans, but only for them to consider. We must refrain from imposing anything on them. The Syria issue, ultimately, needs to be resolved through equalfooted negotiations between the two sides in Syria. Such negotiations will be tortuous, and not smooth at all. What is clearly defined is the future course of peace negotiations, the goal of which is also clearly defined as the implementation of the Geneva Communique. We hope that the negotiations will not only take place but also continue. Though time-consuming, as the negotiations may be, we must do our best to keep their momentum.
Follow up: Will the Chinese Side participate in Geneva II?
Of course we will. We have already done a lot of work to promote Geneva II. So we hope the conference will start on Jan 22 as scheduled and play a due role.
IV. Egypt is the first Arab and African country to have established diplomatic relations with China, and former president Mohammed Morsi made China the first country he visited after assuming office. But Egypt has remained in the state of turbulence after the coup. How does China see the future of Egypt?
Egypt is an ancient civilization and a major Arab and African country. China and Egypt have a long history of friendly exchanges. Egypt has played a very important role in maintaining regional peace and stability. In more recent years, turbulence erupted inside Egypt, which is detrimental not only to the country’s own stability and development but also to the role it is expected to play in the region. Egypt, in our view, is in the middle of political and social transition, and it is in search of a development path suited to its national conditions. In so doing, Egypt has our understanding and support. The Egyptians are a great people. They have the wisdom and ability to find a development path that is conducive to the country, acceptable to its people and suited to Egypt’s realities. The recent situation in Egypt is moving in a positive direction and we just hosted a visit to China by the Egyptian foreign minister. It is my impression that Egypt is regaining its confidence, more willing to get engaged with the rest of the world, including the major countries, which is a highly positive development. We hope that Egypt will restore stability, achieve development and regain its role as a major country in the region.
V. Relations between Iran and the United States have eased to some extent, and the work on the Iranian nuclear issue has entered a new stage. However, differences between Iran and some Arab countries, Gulf countries in particular, have further widened. How does China balance its relations with the Gulf Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, while engaging with Iran?
China has always maintained normal and friendly relations with other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. We enjoy friendly relations with Arab countries and at the same time maintain normal state-to-state relations with Iran. China’s position on the Iranian nuclear issue has been a clear-cut and firm one. We oppose Iran’s efforts to develop and possess nuclear weapons and support the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. We have participated in the negotiation process on the Iranian nuclear issue. After 10 years of negotiation, the P5+1 and Iran have recently reached the first agreement in Geneva, making the first step toward a peaceful solution, which indeed has not come easily. This agreement, although an initial one, sets the necessary restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, thus removing the most urgent concern of the international community. What matters now is to properly implement the agreement. The six-month Geneva nuclear agreement will test the ability of Iran and the other parties to fulfill their responsibilities and obligations in real earnest. At the same time, it is imperative to lose no time in pushing ahead with the negotiations in order to reach a final agreement that provides a comprehensive and once-and-for-all solution to the issue, which is the only way to eliminate the issue for good. That will benefit both Iran and the region as a whole.
We hope Iran and the Arab Gulf countries will solve their problems through consultation and negotiation. We are working toward this goal. We believe that Iran and other countries in the region will iron out their differences and disputes properly and thereby live in greater harmony with each other.
VI. Peaceful use of nuclear energy is an important area of cooperation. Many Arab countries want to enhance cooperation with China in this area. When will we see China-Arab cooperation in this area start?
We will gradually start cooperation with Arab countries in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. This is a new area for mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Arab countries, to which China takes a positive attitude. This issue was raised in my meetings in both Algeria and Saudi Arabia during this visit, and relevant agreements were signed with some countries. There are broad prospects for cooperation in this area.
Follow up: China has launched satellites for many countries but not yet for any Middle East countries. When can we expect to see a satellite launched by China in the region?
We are more than happy to discuss with Arab countries about putting their satellites in space, if they so wish. We hope this will be materialized in the near future.
VII. Some people claim that China’s role in the Middle East is largely economic. How will China play a bigger political role? Besides, we have noticed that China, as the secondlargest economy in the world, has provided what seemed to be limited humanitarian assistance to the region when disaster hit, in particular to Syrian and Palestinian refugees. How would you explain it?
I think there are some misunderstandings on this. China is always ready to have cooperation for mutual benefit with all countries in this region, Arab countries in particular, not only in the economic field, but also in the political, security and military fields. Having said that, there is always a need for prioritization, and a need for China to build up its capabilities for sustained expansion of such cooperation. It is true that China-Arab cooperation in recent years has mainly focused on the economic field. That is because we believe that development holds the key to and serves as the foundation for solving all problems. Any solution to hot-button and political issues hinges on economic growth and better life for the people. As far as Arab countries are concerned, the most crucial task facing them is national development and economic revitalization. China is ready to do what it can to provide help and assistance as it has done in the past. Since 2012, China has provided humanitarian assistance on six occasions totaling $18 million to the Syrian people and Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. China has offered support and assistance over the years, not just this year. Back in the days when we were extremely poor and less developed, we tightened our belt to support people in the Middle East in their just cause, especially the Palestinian people.
We will continue to do so in the future and furthermore, we will play a role in the political field as well. China’s political role in the Middle East will only be enhanced, not diminished. In 2013, we hosted the visits to China by Palestinian and Israeli leaders at about the same time as the UN International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace in Beijing. President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to the meeting held by the United Nations to mark the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People”. I attended the PalestinianIsraeli peace symposium during my Middle East visit and invited persons insightful from both sides to the symposium. We offered a platform for all to make their views heard, to seek more consensus and to raise the voice for peace together. I think this is a useful endeavor, and if continued, the voice for peace will become louder and the forces for peace will grow stronger. All this will help to provide impetus to and exert positive influence on the negotiations between the two sides. All in all, China’s all-round role will gradually and more visibly be felt by Arab countries and get their understanding and support.
VIII. In face of the complicated situation in South Sudan, China, as a friend of South Sudan and with major interests in that country, has immediately sent an envoy there for mediation efforts. What is China’s position on the South Sudan issue and what role will China play in this regard?
We are indeed following closely what is happening in South Sudan. What is most important for South Sudan is stability and development, without which the fundamental interests of all ethnicities in the country would be impaired. Conflicts will bring suffering to all the people, which is not in the interests of South Sudan at all. Since the outbreak of the conflict, China has urged the international community to send envoys for mediation efforts and has actively supported the mediation efforts of the IGAD countries. China has a four-point position on this issue. First, a cease-fire should take effect and violence should be stopped immediately, so as to make way for peace talks and to maintain law and order in the country. Second, it is imperative to launch an inclusive political dialogue process as soon as possible and find a solution acceptable to both sides. Third, the international community should intensify efforts for peace talks, urging both sides to engage in serious peace talks. Fourth, it is important to improve the humanitarian situation in South Sudan.
As large numbers of civilians have been caught in the crossfire and their life, property and personal safety have been threatened, the international community should support and help them as much as possible. At the same time, we hope and believe that the government of South Sudan will take concrete and effective measures to protect the lives and properties of the Chinese nationals in the country.
IX. You are an expert on Asian affairs. China has recently established the East China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone, which has drawn attention from various parties. How does China view the prospects of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific, in particular, since the US has re-balanced its strategic focus away from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific?
Let me say first of all that the Asian region is on the whole peaceful and promising, with countries living together in amity, and the regional economy maintaining a sound momentum of rapid development. Globally, Asia, East Asia in particular, has enjoyed the fastest growth and the biggest potential. As for some issues left from history that exist in the region, efforts are being made to find a solution through peaceful negotiations. Of course we know that the US has traditional influence and practical interests in this region, which we think is normal, since it is also a big nation in the Asia-Pacific. China respects the US’ legitimate interests in the Asia-Pacific and hopes to see it play a constructive role in regional affairs. President Xi Jinping stated publicly that the vast Pacific Ocean has ample space for China and the US to both develop. In June 2013, President Xi Jinping and President Obama held a meeting at the Annenberg Estate in California, during which the two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on a wide range of topics and reached consensus on many issues. The meeting went well. In particular, President Xi Jinping proposed that China and the US should build a new model of major-country relationship and President Obama readily agreed to the idea. President Xi explained the three features of the proposed new model of major-country relationship, namely, first, no conflict or confrontation; second, mutual respect; and third, win-win cooperation. The US side subscribed to the idea fully.
We have since implemented the agreement reached between the two presidents and advanced the building of this new model of major-country relationship, starting first and foremost from the Asian region. I hope to see more communication and closer coordination and cooperation between China and the US, first in Asian affairs, for more commonalities, which may help develop sound interactions in this region. This serves not only the interests of China and the US, but also those of all countries in this region. We are making progress in all these areas.
As for the Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea that you have mentioned, there is actually nothing unusual about it. Dozens of countries have already done so and some did it long ago. For example, Japan established its ADIZ as early as in 1969. The Republic of Korea and India, both our neighbors, have set up their ADIZ as well. To establish the ADIZ is China’s legitimate right and is in full accord with international law and practice. Moreover, the ADIZ is not territorial airspace, still less no-fly zone. Its establishment will not change the legal status of the airspace concerned, nor will it affect the freedom of flight ensured by international law. Our ADIZ has been in place for some time now and the area has been very peaceful with no flight of any airlines being affected. In retrospect, Japan and the US did overreact. Allow me to quote a Chinese saying: it is not permissible to only allow magistrates to burn down houses while forbidding common people to even light lamps. All countries are equal. We established the ADIZ only recently while some other countries did it long ago. It is really unfair to make all sorts of criticisms and even accusations against China for doing so. Details of the ADIZ may differ from country to country, as there are no explicit international laws and regulations governing ADIZ. If there are any questions about ADIZ specifics, we are ready to sit down and talk about it. It is absolutely unnecessary to get restless or even make groundless accusations against China as Japan did. In fact, there may be other considerations behind Japan’s reactions.
It is possible that they would like to create tension between China and Japan on purpose, which would enable Japanese leaders to press ahead with their plan in Japan and break away from post-World-War II restrictions on Japan. We have noted that Japan has stepped up its rearmament recently, a move calling for attention. In particular, when the authorities in Japan fail to correctly understand Japan’s history of aggression, Japan’s rearmament move cannot but sound the alarm to its neighbors and the international community.
Recently, Japanese Prime Minister Abe paid homage to the Yasukuni Shrine in total disregard of opposition of people of various countries. Our friends from Arab states may not know the shrine very well. It is a symbol of the militaristic aggression. Until this day, all the exhibits in the shrine are designed to justify Japan’s decision to launch that war of aggression at the time, and the 14 Class-A war criminals tried
I hope to see more communication and closer coordination and cooperation between China and the US.” WANG YI FOREIGN MINISTER
at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East are still honored in the shrine. This is the place that Abe visited. Worse even, he calls the war criminals “the souls of the war dead” and “pays deepest respect” to them. He has gone too far and what he has done is way beyond Japan’s domestic affairs. In essence, it is an attempt to whitewash Japan’s war of aggression, overturn the just trial of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, challenge the outcomes of World War II and the resultant post-war order and lead Japan to danger. Lessons of the history have to be learned. This is not just a problem between China and Japan, but rather an issue to which the whole international community should pay much attention. Nobody should be allowed to turn back the wheels of the history or backtrack. Back then, Japanese fascists committed atrocities in Asia, just as German fascists did in Europe. In China alone, the Japanese war of aggression inflicted casualties of as many as 35 million, not to mention countless property losses. The Chinese nation is tolerant and generous. We have given up war reparations, and furthermore we have told our people that the Japanese people are also victims of militarism and that only the militarists should be held responsible for the war. In other words, ClassA war criminals honored at the Yasukuni Shrine should take the responsibility for the war of aggression.
Now, Abe went so far as to pay homage to these Class-A war criminals. He has crossed the bottom line of human conscience, which is completely unacceptable, not only to China, but to the whole international community. It would be unimaginable if this took place in Europe. The only way to open up the future is to expose and condemn the past; and the only way for Japan to win back the trust of its neighbors is to commit itself to peace. We hope that Japanese leaders will understand this most basic principle and respect human conscience and internationally recognized red line.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi talks with an Al Jazeera reporter during a recent interview.