Ambassador: China appreciates geographical advantages of Azerbaijan as an important transport hub linking Europe with Asia - INTERVIEW
Q: What are the priorities for the future of Azerbaijan-China bilateral relations? What areas are of greater importance for the development of cooperation? How are China-Azerbaijan relations within the One Belt, One Road Initiative? What advantages does Azerbaijan have within this initiative?
A: In recent years, under the leadership of President Ilham Aliyev, the Azerbaijani government has continued to take measures to deepen economic reforms, diversify the economy, promote the development of the non-oil economy, and improve the investment climate. China and Azerbaijan have great potential and prospects in such areas as energy, agriculture, transport, tourism, etc.
One Belt, One Road is an international economic cooperation initiative put forward by President Xi Jinping. The main idea is the development of international economic cooperation that has inherited the spirit of the Silk Road, a quest for new forces of movement to create a common community for the destiny of mankind, to hold joint consultations, to create a new platform for economic cooperation based on the principles of joint construction and joint use. On 30 October 2017, President Ilham Aliyev and leaders of many other countries took part in the opening ceremony of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway. I was fortunate enough to witness this historic moment. In his speech, President Ilham Aliyev said that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is the shortest and most reliable route connecting Europe and Asia, and at the same time, it is Azerbaijan’s major contribution to the revival of the Great Silk Road. China highly appreciates the geographical advantages of Azerbaijan as an important transport hub linking Europe with Asia and is ready, together with Azerbaijan, to create favorable conditions for increasing the level of relations between China, Azerbaijan and other countries along this route. We hope and are sure that the 2,000- year-old ancient Silk Road will unite our peoples and the new Silk Road will bring them even closer.
Q: When it comes to One Belt, One Road Initiative, this is one of the most widely used words in the world today. Would you please tell us about the essence of this initiative? There is the opinion that the One Belt, One Road Initiative is the main strategy for China's foreign economic cooperation. So what do you think about it?
A: One Belt, One Road Initiative is a public product offered by China to the world and is a significant initiative in the field of cooperation. The main idea is to carry out interaction in order to boost the development of economic cooperation, to promote common development and thereby enhancing the world economy and creating more opportunities for the common development of countries around the world. This initiative adheres to the principles of joint consultation, joint construction and joint use. This initiative was put forward by China, which has been cooperating with all countries along this route. This initiative is open to all countries and all countries can benefit from this project. All sides involved in this initiative are equal and mutually beneficial partners, participants, founders and beneficiaries. If this initiative is to be called a strategy, then this strategy is for all countries, which aims to find a moving force for economic growth and the overall development of the entire world. This initiative is not a geopolitical strategy.
Q: A new notion was voiced at the 19th congress, which took place in October 2017. That notion was, "Socialism has entered a new era specific to China". What is the characteristic of the new era? What specific goals has China set for this new era?
A: General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping said at the 19th congress that after a long-term effort, Chinese-style socialism had entered a new era. This new historical position is for China’s development.
The new era specific to China has manifestations in three aspects. Firstly, Chinese-style socialism has moved into a new phase of development. Since the 18th congress of the Chinese Communist Party, China has carried out successful reforms along with substantial changes within the party and the government.
Secondly, there have been changes in the main contradictions in Chinese society. At present, the main contradictions in Chinese society are the contradictions between the people’s ever growing needs in a beautiful life and the uneven development. These contradictions replaced the ones between the people’s growing material and cultural needs and backward social production.
Thirdly, China is faced with new changes that are taking place in the international arena. The world is currently experiencing a period of grandiose development, there are major changes and serious reconstructions, and the external environment for China’s development has become even more complex. China's interconnectedness and interactivity with the world are increasing every day. China confidently enters the center of the world arena.
Q: At the 19th congress it was noted that China calls for ‘the establishment of a new type of international relations and creation of a community of common destiny with mankind’. How will such a theory affect China’s foreign policy?
A: The report of the 19th Congress clearly states that China calls for the ‘establishment of a new type of international relations and creation of a community of common destiny with mankind.’ These "two proposals" are the common goal of Chinese diplomacy for the future. The two proposals come from the best traditions of the 5000-year history of the Chinese nation, from the basic values of the peaceful foreign policy of a new China, and from the mission for the well-being of humanity that the Chinese communists undertake. The main idea in the formation of a new type of international relations – that is, the search for a new way of relations between states – is mutual respect, whether this is a big or small, strong or weak, wealthy or poor state and regardless of its religion and culture. Secondly, it is related to justice. China resolutely opposes the law of jungle and advocates the legitimate interests of all countries, especially developing countries. Thirdly, it is related to ‘cooperation and win-win game’. China calls for the abandonment of non-zero sum games and stands for general development and mutual gain. The other goal is the creation of a community of common destiny with mankind, that is, the launch of a project that would solve different problems existing in the world. All countries and nations live on the same planet, their fates are closely connected with each other, therefore it is necessary to make our world a harmonious large family and to embody the good aspirations of the people in life. China calls on the nations of all countries to work together to create a clean and beautiful world with lasting peace, common security, openness and inclusiveness.
Q: In May 2017, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the China Development Bank signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the SOCAR GPC project. SOCAR GPC should complete the funding process by the end of 2017. At what stage is the funding process at the moment?
A: Both sides attach great importance to this project; the Azerbaijani government has been promoting the project as an important joint initiative to make it an illustrative example of China-Azerbaijani cooperation. On May 13, 2017, within the framework of International Cooperation Forum on the One Belt, One Road Initiative, SOCAR, CNPC and the China Development Bank signed a Memorandum of Understanding, which laid a solid foundation for financing this project. The parties are currently working on an enhanced regime in order to achieve quick progress.
It should be noted that this project is of great importance to both sides. I am utterly convinced that if the parties move towards each other, make joint efforts, take each other’s interests into account, this project will achieve a significant result.
Q: How many Chinese companies operate in Azerbaijan? In what sectors are Chinese companies interested? What was the trade turnover between the two countries last year? What was the amount of China’s investment in Azerbaijan?
A: In recent years, cooperation between China and Azerbaijan has been constantly developing in various areas, a dynamic trend is observed especially in trade and economic cooperation. Thanks to joint efforts, the mutual trade turnover in 2017 reached a record – 1.298 billion since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Among Azerbaijan’s trade partners, China ranks fourth in terms of trade turnover, eight in exports and third in imports. Currently, China has invested $ 770 million in Azerbaijan's economy, and more than 20 Chinese companies operate in oil and gas, construction, technology, communications, aviation, logistics, transport and other spheres in Azerbaijan. The year 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the implementation of the "reform and transparency" policy. During these 40 years, China has undergone major changes, and we have gained experience in expanding transparency, improving the investment climate, and creating technical and industrial parks. We observe in recent years that the Azerbaijani government has taken steps to deepen economic reforms and to improve the investment environment. Chinese enterprises are ready to closely cooperate with the Azerbaijani side in economic structure and are ready for mutually beneficial cooperation in many areas such as oil and gas, infrastructure, production facilities and equipments, free trade zones, industrial and agricultural parks, transport and logistics, renewable energy, information and communications, high-tech industries. The Chinese side hopes Azerbaijan will pursue a more favorable and privileged investment policy for more Chinese companies to invest in the country.
Q: How do you think, which Azerbaijani products in the Chinese market would be more popular? What can China do to help Azerbaijani products enter the Chinese market?
A: The access of a country's product to the international market depends largely on its competitiveness, quality and price ratio, market and consumer recognition. On the other hand, it is related to government support, including promotion, customs policies and presentations. Azerbaijan's fruits, vegetables, black tea, wine, meat products are of high quality, and these products are gradually gaining popularity in China. In order for more Azerbaijani products to enter the Chinese market, both countries should negotiate relevant technical agreements such as surveillance, inspection and quarantine. We hope the Azerbaijani side can start the process and carry out the signing of an agreement. Last year, the Chinese leader announced that China will host China International Import Expo for the first time in November 2018, and that the country will import more than 10 trillion items of goods and services over the next five years, which creates extensive opportunities for companies to enter the Chinese market worldwide. About 150,000 buyers from more than 100 countries and regions will take part in the exhibition. We hope the Azerbaijani side will appreciate this unique chance to increase the popularity of Azerbaijani products among Chinese consumers and will actively participate in the exhibition. Thanks to this exhibition, we are ready to bring trade and economic relations with Azerbaijan to a higher level.
Q: Are Chinese banks interested in the Azerbaijani market? Can they invest in any local bank?
A: Since the launch of the One Belt, One Road Initiative, Chinese banks constantly expand cooperation with countries located on this route, and increases funding in different projects. They present various services for putting forward and development of this initiative, and at the same time, expand their relations on the international level. In May 2017, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic (SOCAR), China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and the China Development Bank signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the SOCAR GPC project. This shows that cooperation between companies and financial institutions of two countries has good prospects. China hopes that the Azerbaijani side will continue to keep open the investment and financial policy, improve investment environment of the market and take into account interesting investors in order to involve Chinese banks for various forms of financial cooperation with Azerbaijani banks that have international practice and to achieve a goal of “Free capital flows” between the two countries within the One Belt, One Road Initiative.
Q: What can you say about the student exchange programs between the two countries?
A: In 2015, the ministries of China and Azerbaijan signed a new agreement on the cooperation in education. According to the agreement, a number of students, whose exchange is implemented on government scholarships has reached 50. The agreement came into force in 2017. The sides have fulfilled these quotas. Besides those studying on the state line, 50 more Chinese students are currently receiving education in Azerbaijan at their own expense. As for the number of Azerbaijanis studying in China, it is more than 100. We are confident that more Chinese students will come to Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani students will come to China thanks to the constant development of relations between the two countries, and the number of students within the exchange program will further increase.
Q: How much was tourism exchange between China and Azerbaijan in 2017? How is it possible to attract Chinese tourists to Azerbaijan? What can you say about direct flights?
A: According to Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the number of foreign tourists who arrived in Azerbaijan in 2017 reached a record – 2.691.998. In general, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Azerbaijan remains small and this is largely due to the propaganda market, development and management of the Azerbaijani tourism market. China has already become a very important exporting country for tourists, and in the next five years the number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad will reach 500 million people. Azerbaijan is one of the important countries along the route of the ancient Silk Road. The two countries have great potential for cooperation in tourism.
In recent years, the number of Chinese tourists showing interest in Azerbaijan has been growing. It is recommended to focus on shopping, organize humanitarian events and tours of nature reserves, together with neighboring countries to launch special regional tours around the country. It is recommended to promote and develop tourism market together with competent Chinese tourism enterprises and create a classic tourist brand.
Currently, there are regular direct flights Beijing-Baku / Baku-Beijing, twice a week. In addition, the Azerbaijani Airlines (AZAL) and Chinese partners intend to expand cooperation, provide customers with affordable transit tickets through Beijing to other cities in China and further to the cities of Central Asia and South-East Asia. The opening of direct flights established an air bridge to strengthen trade and economic cooperation and stimulate tourism between our countries.
Q: What is the position of China on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
A: China's position on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is clear and remains unchanged. China respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and stands for peaceful resolution of the conflict through dialogue and negotiations in accordance with international law and the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. This is not only corresponds to the interests of the parties concerned, but also will bring peace, stability and development to this region.
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