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Ambassador Zhou Pingjian's Exclusive Interview with Daily Trust

On October 3, 2019, Nigerian leading newspaper Daily Trust published an interview with Ambassador of China to Nigeria Dr. Zhou Pingjian. The full text goes as follows:

DT: China is today celebrating its 70th anniversary as a People's Republic. How has the journey been?

Dr. Zhou: Well, we are very proud of what we have achieved in the past seven decades. You know, when the People’s Republic of China was founded on October 1st, 1949, China was one of the poorest and most backward countries in the world, but after 70 years of hard work, we Chinese have brought lots of changes to the country by creating an unprecedented, miraculous development in world history. Take the economic growth, for the first three decades, the annual GDP growth rate was 4.4 percent, but in the last four decades it is now averaged 9.5 percent. In 1978, China’s GDP, as a share of the world total, was a mere 1.8 percent and today it is around 16 percent. So China is now the second largest economy in the world.

On people’s living standard, it also improved a lot. Life expectancy in 1949 was around 35 years but last year in 2018 it reached 77 years. These days, people are also talking about ‘Made in China,’ but in 1949, we couldn’t make even a tractor, a tank or an automobile. Today, China is the top manufacturer of the world. So we really have achieved something in economic and social development.

DT: What about relationship with the rest of the world?

Dr. Zhou: On the external relations, during the first year of the New Republic, there were 18 countries who set up relations with the People’s Republic of China, today we have diplomatic relations with 180 countries. China has been playing a more and more positive role in world affairs and global prosperity. That said, China still remains the biggest developing country in the world. We are still at the primary stage of socialism. The economic aggregate is big, but when divided by 1.4 billion, it is still very modest. Even the per capita GDP, China has yet to reach the world average, the average of the East Asia and Pacific. In Africa, in terms of per capita GDP we are behind African countries like Mauritius, Seychelles, Equatorial Guinea. So for us Chinese, to enable the 1.4billion people, to live a comfortable life, we still have a long way to go. So we have achieved something, but as we are taking stock of what we have achieved, the most important thing, we think, is to have found the right path for the development of China. That’s socialism with China’s characteristics under the leadership of the communist party. Moving forward we will pursue the path that suits China’s national conditions and to face all the challenges to deliver even more outcome for the benefit of the Chinese people and contribute more to the world.

DT: How much should Africa expect from China in terms of investment, building human capacity, in the next ten years, for instance?

Dr. Zhou: China and Africa have always been a community with a shared future. We are good brothers, friends and partners. And we see each other as opportunities for development. Africa’s development has contributed a lot to China’s development in the past decades. And I believe China’s development is also good news, an opportunity for Africa’s development. Take investment as you just mentioned, 20 years ago, in 2000, China’s investment in Africa was less than $1 billion. Today, it is well over $110 billion. And by trade, in 2000 is around $10 billion and last year it was well over $200 billion. And for ten consecutive years, China has been the largest trade partner of Africa. We see great potentials in the investment cooperation. Why? Because we understand that African countries like Nigeria arte trying to attract more foreign direct investment. We appreciate that effort. According to Chinese own experience we benefitted a lot from FDI to China. I should say, since China opened its doors, after the reform and open door policy in 1978, China has attracted more than $2trillion FDI to China and that helped a lot in our economic development. So we think Africa’s pursuit in attracting more and more Foreign Direct Investment is good for both Africa and its international partners. And for China, the value chain is changing and more and more Chinese companies are now climbing up the value chain. So nowadays, every year a huge sum of outbound investment are from China. And Chinese industries are relocating to the neighbouring countries, to African countries. Last year that number reached I think $130 billion. And since 2002, until last year, on average, every year $85 billion from China investing in the world. So with more and more enabling environment in Africa and in Nigeria and with more Chinese investors aware of these industries I see great opportunities in this area.

I am very positive about cooperation in this area because what we are working with African countries within the FOCAC [Forum on China- Africa Cooperation] framework is to facilitate Africa’s industrialization through investment, cooperation, capacity building in human resource development. In China we always say, to build the nest to attract the phoenix, so nest is becoming better and better. I believe more phoenix, including from China, will fly to Africa, including Nigeria.

DT: How is the trade friction between the United States and China affecting your country in particular and the rest of the world in general?

Dr. Zhou: You see, for the first half of the year, China’s GDP grew at the rate of 6.3 percent. It is still very strong and China’s trade with the world increased 3.9 percent and it is still increasing. China’s trade with Africa increased around 20 percent and with Nigeria I think it is around 22 percent. So China’s trade relations with the outside world is still very strong, and even the US investment to China during the first five months still increased 1.5 percent. It is still higher than the average of the last two years.

As for the economic and trade friction is something we don’t want to see because it will benefit no one. China and the US will suffer from it and now it is becoming more and more apparent that it is going to be a drag on the world economy. So what we want is multilateralism, not unilateralism, not protectionism. And I think on the 24th of this month President [Muhammadu] Buhari during his UN speech he is also championing multilateralism. We believe there is a lot of things for countries in the world to work together for a win-win cooperation, winwin results not a zero sum game.

DT: China is big lender in Africa, with many projects ongoing. The media is already talking about debt traps? Should we be worried?

Dr. Zhou: A lot of media reports are not correct; they are not based on facts. No country has suffered a debt problem with China. But I always see this talk on so-called debt trap in a broader context. I think every country – China or in Africa – has a right to development. But to develop the economy, we need some financial resources. So in China’s case, we are very proud of hard working, and day by day we accumulate some capital to develop ourselves. As things stand we still borrow a lot from the world, we also want to attract FDI to China. So the thing is, where does the money go after you borrow the money? For every lending arrangement or agreement with African or other countries, it is mutually agreed, it has specific projects and should finish all the feasibility studies and the financial sustainability. So on the whole, I don’t see some major problem in China financing cooperation with African countries. I should even say, as far as African debt is concerned, China is not the biggest holder. Take Nigeria, as the government has been making it clear and clear on many occasions that most of Nigeria’s foreign debt are multilateral arrangements. And among all the foreign debt China’s share was less than 10 percent. And all those financing arrangement are on a concessionary loan base, with low interest rate and long term period. I am not aware of any project where China took over owing to some debt problem.

DT: What is the update on the Mambilla hydro power plant project?

Dr. Zhou: The two sides are still working on it. You can see it is always in the news. It is such a giant project. There are always lots of issues to be sorted out. And Nigeria is working very hard to sort out all the issues including some issues left over from history. And from our side, the government is encouraging the relevant agencies and Chinese companies to work together to complete the specifics of the arrangement.

DT: Getting Chinese visa is said to be becoming difficult?

Dr. Zhou: For us the numbers we are issuing is increasing fast, and we are taking more and more measures to facilitate it. Like for the diplomatic passports, you don’t need visa anymore. For government officials, even this year we have taken some measures to further facilitate the process. You know it is in China’s own interest to welcome more and more foreign friends because China pursues the open door policy. But we understand, for every country there is process. So we will keep improving in that direction, to facilitate exchange between the two countries because that is going to be mutually beneficial.

DT: Let’s talk about human rights, China has been accused of not respecting the rights of its minorities, like Uighurs. How do you respond to this?

Dr. Zhou: Facts speak louder than words, I should say. So let me cite some facts Xinjiang autonomous region was set up 64 years ago in 1955 and during the 64 years its economic aggregate has grown by 80 times. And by the end of next year, all people living in that region, and indeed all across china, under the poverty line, would be lifted out of abject poverty. So the economic development has achieved a lot. People’s wellbeing improved. The population, 40 years ago, Uighurs ethnic minority population in Xinjiang was 5.5million. Today, in 40 years it is now 11.5m, accounting for 46 percent of the whole population in that autonomous region.

DT: But do they also enjoy religious freedom and other rights?

Dr. Zhou: Across China and Xinjiang people enjoy the right to practice religion and all the basic rights. That is guaranteed and protected by the constitution. Religious right as some claim, let me cite one number, for every 530 Muslims in Xinjiang there is a mosque. I don’t know the average for Nigerian Muslims. So for the facility alone, it is more than many Muslim countries. So we believe the human rights are well protected.

Let me cite another number with regards to the human rights in Xinjiang. Since 1990s, for over 20 years, Xinjiang was wrecked by violent extremism. Almost on a daily basis there was a violent extremist attack and thousands of people lost their lives. So as a responsible government we have to protect people’s right to existence, safety and security. So we have been taken some preventive measures, including the skills training institutions. So for the past three years, not a single violent extremist attack happened in that region. So like I said, facts speak louder than words.

Secondly, seeing is believing. In April, I was in Xinjiang for a week. That wasn’t my first time to visit Xinjiang. What I saw was totally different from the western media. And in July, Nigerian ambassador in Geneva, Ambassador [Audu Ayinla] Kadiri. And in August, Nigerian ambassador in Beijing Ambassador [Baba Ahmad] Jidda was in Xinjiang and what they saw, their impression was exactly what our own impression is. I met with Ambassador Jidda in Abuja early last month, he said we should learn something from Xinjiang to make people feel safe and secure. So those accusing China over its Xinjiang policy are not doing it based on facts.

DT: And Hong Kong has been in the news for some months...... What is happening there really?

Dr. Zhou: Hong Kong is facing the most severe situation since its return to the motherland in 1997. Since Hong Kong's return, the policies of "one country, two systems" have been implemented, Hong Kong residents' rights and freedoms have been fully safeguarded in accordance with law. However, recent developments over the past three months or so have veered off the normal track. Radical forces and violent offenders in Hong Kong flagrantly disrupted social order, vandalized public facilities, attacked the police and left a trail of smashed or burned items all over the city. These behaviors have gone far beyond the scope of marches or assemblies, and challenged the bottom line of "one country, two systems".

In essence, the recent violence and conflict are manipulated behind the scenes by elements who aim to destabilize and damage Hong Kong. By using young people as the “chess pieces” and “cannon fodder” for their political schemes, ill-intentioned forces, both inside and outside Hong Kong, seek to turn the SAR into a bridgehead to attack the mainland’s system and spark chaos across China. Some western politicians, certain people in the US in particular have been calling white black time and again, bolstering violent radical criminals and even justifying and whitewashing their behaviors. They’ve also wantonly smeared and vilified the just move of the SAR government and police to uphold the rule of law and order. This is no different from covering up, conniving at and supporting illegal criminal behaviors.

Hong Kong is part of China, and its affairs are of domestic concern alone. Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security is absolutely impermissible. The Chinese government will never allow any foreign forces to have a hand in Hong Kong affairs. As empowered by the Basic Law of Hong Kong SAR, the central authorities have sufficient capabilities to promptly settle any possible turmoil should it occur.

We truly appreciate that Nigerian friends care about Hong Kong’s future. Enduring prosperity and stability in Hong Kong is indeed in the interest of the world, and is also what the Chinese central government and the Hong Kong SAR government have been striving for all along.

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