China’s Ambassador to Cyprus, Liu Yantao answers the Cyprus Mail’s questions on issues ranging from relations between the two countries and health cooperation on the pandemic to Hong Kong and relations with the West

This year marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Cyprus and China, relations that have been friendly and problem-free. How do you see them developing?

Cyprus has been our good friend and partner. China-Cyprus friendship is based on mutual trust and shared values. Our bilateral ties have constantly grown throughout the years as we deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and launch joint projects in fields of trade, investment, energy, communications, transport, agriculture, education, culture, etc. We expect China-Cyprus ties to grow further and closer in all aspects in the years to come.

Cyprus is our important partner along the Belt and Road. An MOU was signed in 2019 during President Anastasiades’ visit to China to enhance our cooperation within this initiative. Some of the priority areas we are looking at are jointly building of the Green, Health and Digital Silk Road, which are very relevant in view of the pressing challenges at the moment. Both the governments at all levels and the private sector in our two countries have shown great interest in expanding cooperation in these areas. The Belt and Road is ultimately about enhancing connectivity for joint development.

Moreover, preparations for celebrating the 50th anniversary of China-Cyprus diplomatic ties are well underway. We hope that they will give fresh impetus to our friendly and mutually beneficial ties.

We applaud Cyprus’ commitment to a sound and stable China-EU relationship and recognise Cyprus’ constructive role in fostering closer partnerships and dialogues between China and EU. Good China-EU relations serve the interests of both sides as well as Cyprus as a member state of the EU.

Cyprus-China Health cooperation has also developed recently as a result of the pandemic. Is information correct that there are discussions for recognition of vaccine passports?

China and Cyprus have worked closely since the initial outbreak of the pandemic last year in terms of donation and procurement of medical supplies. Cypriot health officials and experts also took part in virtual seminars on Covid-19 prevention and control initiated by China.


Medical supplies arrive from China to help fight coronavirus in Cyprus

More recently, the embassy made a donation to antibody research by Cyprus University, Nicosia University and European University. I am pleased to see that our cooperation has been moving towards joint study and knowledge sharing, which is a necessary step to increase our preparedness for Covid-19 and future public health emergencies.

One of the biggest challenges of Covid-19 we need to overcome is to reduce the impact it has caused to substantially limit our mobility. The acute economic and social consequences are felt worldwide and particularly in countries that depend heavily on tourism. A vaccine passport is by far the best way to gradually restore global travel and business activities that are essential for post-pandemic recovery. China is exploring mutual recognition of vaccine passports with other countries including Cyprus. Joint efforts need to be made by both sides to make the passport technically viable within the parameters of their respective laws and regulations.

China has produced several Covid-19 vaccines. Has this led to big numbers of Chinese being vaccinated and what is the latest progress in approval of Chinese Covid-19 vaccines by the WHO?

China had administered 211 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by April 21, 2021 and more than 80 per cent of the country’s health workers have been vaccinated. Our goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible to realise herd immunity as soon as possible and keep good control of the pandemic.

So far, China has donated or is donating Covid vaccines to nearly 70 developing countries in urgent need, and is exporting vaccines to over 40 countries. Phase III clinical trials of China’s Sinopharm vaccines have been conducted in over 125 countries. People from 190 countries have been vaccinated with Chinese vaccines either through the market or emergency use. We have reports on the good results of Chinese vaccines’ efficacy among diverse target groups and against variants.

As we speak, WHO’s review of China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines for emergency use licensing is proceeding as scheduled. If approved, these two vaccines can be included in the WHO’s Covax programme. Chinese manufacturers are open to discussion with all potential users, including the EU.

As I have said before, our task is about getting safe vaccines as soon as possible and for as many people as possible, regardless of who developed them. Cooperation is key to achieving that goal. Facing the common global challenge of the pandemic, what we should really be concerned about is vaccine nationalism, disinformation and politicisation of vaccines.

There is now a sizeable Chinese community in Cyprus – does the embassy receive any complaints from Chinese nationals living here?

We have seen over the recent years an increasing number of Chinese coming to Cyprus to live, study or work. They are happy with their lives in Cyprus and enjoy the open and inclusive social environment here. The government of Cyprus has duly protected their lawful rights and given them nondiscriminatory treatment. I am happy to see that the Chinese communities are becoming more actively engaged with their local friends in forging business, educational and cultural partnerships between China and Cyprus. I am confident that they will be able to do great things with the support from the Cypriot governments of all levels, so as to further deepen the friendship between our two countries.

What is China’s view on the Cyprus problem?

China has been closely following Cyprus’ political process. We welcomed efforts made by the UN and relevant parties towards a result-oriented 5+1 informal meeting in Geneva and regret to see that parties did not find enough common ground for relaunch of the negotiations.

Our principled position remains that the Cyprus Problem should be resolved on the basis of relevant UN resolutions and the will of the Cypriot people for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement. This serves the interest of Cyprus’ stability and prosperity and the interest of the Eastern Mediterranean region at large.


The Geneva talks last month

As one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, China has always been playing and will continue to play a constructive role in facilitating resolution of the Cyprus Problem and supports Cyprus’ efforts in safeguarding its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Meanwhile, China will also continue to support the work of the Bi-communal Committees.

China fully recognises the role of Unficyp in maintaining peace and stability in Cyprus. We have given staunch support to the Unficyp mandate renewals. We are very proud of the Chinese peacekeeping police officers serving in UNPOL Cyprus and their excellent work.

The economy of China has been steadily growing every year and is now the second largest in the world. What do you think are the main reasons for this success? Has China discovered a successful way of combining communism and capitalism?

China is on a path of building socialism with Chinese characteristics, which best fits our national conditions. The defining factors to China’s success are the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, which puts the people first, cares for their needs and pools their wisdom and strength; second, a socialist market economy that has the market as its fundamental driving force together with government macro control to better allocate resources and reduce income disparity; third, the government makes a macro plan for future development of the economy and people’s livelihood based on social needs and economic rules, and maintains the continuity of economic and social policies; fourth, China’s firm commitment to reforming its institutional mechanisms and opening up to take stock of the best practices of the outside world for mutually beneficial cooperation and win-win results; last but not the least, our consistent and arduous efforts aimed at building a country and society based on the rule of law and building a legal system which both fits the national conditions of China and conforms to international practices.

Many foreigners applaud the continuity, consistency and predictability of China’s policy making. It is very true. The five-year plan is a good example to map blueprint for China’s economic and social development. The latest 14th Five Year Plan clearly defines that China will uphold the new development concepts of innovation, coordinated, green, open and shared development, pay more attention to high quality and sustainable development, and promote a dual-cycle growth pattern relying on both domestic and international economic cycles with the domestic cycle being the mainstay. This marks a major change in the way China engages in the world economy, which means that China will by means of boosting its own vitality create more and greater new opportunities for the long-term recovery, sustainable prosperity and development of the world economy in the future.

I am deeply convinced that Cypriot companies stand to benefit from this major change of China’s development pattern through China-EU Investment Agreement and China-Cyprus bilateral arrangements, with more and more Chinese investment and tourists flowing in and greater opportunities to tap the huge potential of Chinese market.

Has the Chinese government achieved the target of poverty alleviation that it set itself in 2020?

One of China’s landmark achievements last year was lifting 98.99 million rural residents living below the current poverty line out of poverty and meeting the poverty eradication target set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 10 years ahead of schedule. As a government official involved in China’s poverty alleviation campaign, I am especially proud.

China’s relations with the EU and US seem to be rather strained. In what direction do you see them going?

At present, China-EU relations face both opportunities and challenges. It is essential for both sides to look at China-EU relations from a strategic perspective, respect each other’s core interests, to make China-EU relations stay on the right track regardless of disruptions.

In view of recent strains between China and the EU, China’s position remains that China and EU are partners not systemic rivals. Efforts need to be made to expand common ground, not create differences which will only cause further misunderstandings. It would be a huge strategic misjudgment to allow China-EU relations to fall victim to the bloc politics and interventionist policies pursued by a third party. We hope that the EU will make correct decisions independently and maintain true strategic autonomy.

China-US relations are currently at an important juncture. It is the common aspiration of both Chinese and American people as well as the international community to see the sound and stable development of China-US relations. As President Xi Jinping stressed to President Joe Biden in their phone call in February 2021, cooperation is the only choice for both sides.

To what extent do you think the criticism of China in the West is caused by economic rivalry and fears that China has become a big player in the world economy?

I feel some western countries’ strong insecurity of being surpassed economically by China. To be frank, China never wants to surpass or replace any other country. We only want to be a better self. At the same time we will never sit idle or give in to economic and technological bullying either.

The criticism from some western countries on China’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang issues also constitute a part of their containment plan. Their hidden agenda is to undermine China’s sovereignty and security, sow discord among Chinese people, harm stability of Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and then contain China’s development. But their tricks are quite despicable, exposing their explicit “double standards”.

Although the riots at the US Capitol Hill and in Hong Kong were similar, the descriptions or reactions by some are entirely different. Why is it that protesters of the same nature are branded ‘rioters’ in the US, but eulogised as ‘heroes of democracy’ in Hong Kong? Why is it that the same thing is called differently – defence of democracy and freedom in the US, but suppression of democracy and freedom in Hong Kong?

Chief Executive of HKSAR Government Carrie Lam recently spoke out her deep thoughts. She said that she had tried her best earlier to refute the criticism of some western media and governments, but then discovered that they are biased and have other purposes. No matter how she argues based on facts, it is difficult to change their views, because their concern for “human rights” and “democracy” is only an excuse, and their real intention is to contain China.

China has come under attack in the West for the way it is dealing with Hong Kong. What do you think were the reasons for the 2019 unrest and demonstrations in Hong Kong considering there had been none in the previous 20 years of China’s rule?

The 2019 unrest in Hong Kong was seemingly sparked by the extradition bill, but many people have ignored the hidden reasons behind.

Over the past 24 years of practices of ‘one country, two systems’, while the ‘two systems’ part of the policy has been in force, the ‘one country’ part has not been adequately acknowledged and practised. For example, some textbooks in Hong Kong’s primary schools still contain content that derides China. Certain Hong Kong lawmakers insult their own country while taking the oath of office. Some public office-holders chose to betray their duty and incited mobsters to attack police. Some radicals have even been agitating for the separation of Hong Kong from China. Under such a context, the Hong Kong opposition and radical forces carried out violent protests in the name of peaceful demonstrations, although the Hong Kong government has withdrawn the revision.

Furthermore, the unrest was instigated and orchestrated by external forces, with some western countries playing a dishonorable role. Their true purpose is to instigate a “colour revolution” in Hong Kong, and use Hong Kong as a “bridgehead” to split and subvert China. The unrest demonstrated how urgent it was to apply the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”. Without patriotism, “democracy” would only lead to turbulence and bring destruction. That’s also why Hong Kong’s electoral system reform was introduced. The reform is aimed at closing the loopholes in Hong Kong’s electoral system and preventing anti-China disruptors from endangering Hong Kong’s stability and security.

It is very easy to find that the increase from 1,200 to 1,500 of the Election Committee members expands the participation of ordinary citizens in the selection of Chief Executive, implying a more balanced and broader representation of Hong Kong society in the Committee. The number of Legislative Council members has also increased from 70 to 90, bringing more people participating in the legislative process and ensuring broader perspectives.

Hong Kong’s political life will always accommodate different views and voices. Patriots in the opposition camp can still stand for election and be elected. Criticism of the government will still be heard in the Legislative Council. Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms will always be fully guaranteed.

It should be stressed that “one country, two systems”, “patriots administering Hong Kong” and high degree of autonomy are integrated as a whole. Only by implementing “one country, two systems” and “patriots administering Hong Kong”, can Hong Kong’s stability, prosperity and high degree of autonomy be realised. If the EU is really concerned about Hong Kong, it should support China’s efforts. This is the best way to safeguard EU’s interests in Hong Kong.

China is also attacked in the West for the treatment of Uighurs. What do you say about this criticism?

This criticism in the west on Xinjiang is basically made up with lies and rumours, nothing but the smearing and slandering of China’s Xinjiang by international anti-China forces and separatist forces. I feel obliged to take one more time to share some facts.

The Chinese government protects the basic rights of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Over the past 40 years, the Uygur population in Xinjiang has grown from 5.55 million to nearly 12.8 million. From 2010 to 2018, it increased from 10.17 million to 12.72 million, an increase of 25%. This number is higher than the overall population growth rate in Xinjiang – 14%, and is much higher than that of the Han population – 2%. Is it “genocide” in any sense?

Laborers of all ethnicities in Xinjiang choose their jobs by their free will, and sign labour contracts with and receive compensation from companies on an equal and voluntary basis according to China’s Labor Law. In 2019, 144 human resource markets and 8,668 labour offices across Xinjiang provided employment services to over 21.73 million people.

As for the “Xinjiang Cotton”, for many years due to the machinery shortage and the quality requirement, many Han workers were called from other provinces to Xinjiang as “cotton picking contingents”. Picking cotton was their voluntary choice and brought them considerable incomes. Now in Xinjiang, 100% of cotton is mechanically sown and 70% of cotton is mechanically harvested. Planters can even order machinery by mobile apps. Where is the so-called “forced labour”?

We welcome more people from foreign countries including Cyprus to visit Xinjiang. Anyone without wearing “coloured glasses” can easily tell the truth from the lies.