Beijing, Asharq Al-Awsat—During Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz’s official trip to China, Asharq Al-Awsat met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi for an in-depth interview. Mr. Wang spoke in detail about Prince Salman’s visit and touched on a range of regional and international topics.
The interview was conducted in the Great Hall of the People, an enormous building in which high-level official meetings are held and the National People’s Congress meets. The Hall, as it is officially called, is a standout architectural landmark in Beijing, the Chinese capital, and is one of the most recognizable features in all of China. This striking edifice overlooking Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing was built in 1959 on the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It is one of the Ten Great Buildings which were built during that historic year. Construction took ten months, and was completed at the hands of volunteers.
While Asharq Al-Awsat waited to interview the minister, the Saudi Crown Prince met with the Chinese head of state in one of the Hall’s adjoining rooms adorned with images of Mao Zedong and the Red Star.
The interview with Foreign Minister Wang Yi was conducted immediately after the meeting between the Chinese President and Crown Prince Salman, which exceeded its scheduled time. When we asked the minister why the meeting had run for so long, he replied that the satisfactory nature of the meeting had kept the two parties talking for longer than expected.
Mr. Wang also informed us that the visit had achieved two goals: first, to raise the level of coordination; and second, to expand the areas of strategic cooperation at all levels. During the meeting, Crown Prince Salman emphasized his support for the One-China policy, and condemned the recent terrorist attack that took place on Chinese soil. The talks between the Saudi and Chinese sides touched on regional issues, foremost of which was the Syrian conflict, the Palestinian issue, and the Iranian nuclear project; both sides were able to come to an agreement on most of them. The Chinese president praised the visit, and stressed the need for a free trade zone within the Gulf. Both sides also somewhat surprisingly came to a consensus regarding Egypt. As for Syria, the two sides agreed on an overarching vision, with Beijing proposing its own in this regard.
Sixty-year-old Wang is a veteran diplomat who speaks Japanese fluently, having previously served in Tokyo as the ambassador to Japan. He graduated from Beijing University and majored in International Studies, where he also studied Japanese. After joining the diplomatic corps, he attended Georgetown University in Washington DC where he earned a Master’s degree in International Relations, then completing a second Master’s degree, also in International Relations, from the China Foreign Affairs University. In February 2001, he was promoted to the position of Deputy Foreign Minister for Asian Affairs. After becoming ambassador to Japan and Manager of Taiwanese relations, he was appointed foreign minister in March 2013.
Asharq Al-Awsat: How do you view the visit of Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz to your country?
Wang Yi: This visit came at the invitation of Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao. The visit is one of the highest-level of its kind, behind the visit of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz to our country in January 2006, and the visit by Crown Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz 15 years ago. This is an historic visit of great importance. Prince Salman was received with the utmost respect, met by President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang, and State Councilor and Minister of Defense Chang Wanquan. Vice President Li Yuanchao held talks with the Saudi Crown Prince, during which the two sides reached a broad consensus on bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common concern. They also signed a series of bilateral cooperation documents and issued a joint statement.
Leaders on both sides joined together around the need to fortify the strategic friendship between the two countries in light of current circumstances and as a means to open up new horizons for continuous bilateral relations. What is required from both sides is continuous understanding and exchanges of support on issues related to the core interests and major concerns of the other party. This also includes working to expand cooperation in the fields of science and advanced technology, such as high-speed trains, the peaceful use of nuclear energy, aviation, and space, in addition to expanding cooperation in traditional areas such as energy, economy and trade. Other concerns consist in increasing cultural and humanitarian exchanges, accelerating the establishment of a free trade zone between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), working to push the establishment of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which will invigorate the friendship between the two countries. Accordingly, it can be said that the visit of Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz to China was a complete success.
Q: How do you view relations between China and Saudi Arabia in light of current circumstances?
In recent years Chinese–Saudi relations have witnessed comprehensive and rapid development thanks to the personal concern of leaders of both countries and their shared efforts to establish a strong friendship and sense of brotherhood, making the countries close partners. They interact with each other on an equal footing, exchange support, and cooperate in order to achieve common gains. According to China’s understanding, the development of relations between the two countries is fundamentally related to three reasons:
First, mutual respect and trust, which form an important basis for developing bilateral relations. Despite the fact that the history, culture, social system, and development patterns of China and Saudi Arabia differ, the two countries have always communicated with each other on an equal basis and in the framework of mutual trust and respect. This ensured a steady development of bilateral relations in the right direction.
Second, cooperation is mutually beneficial. It is a driving force behind the continuous development of bilateral relations, which are characterized by strong economic integration. This creates a consensus on the foundational interests of the two people, and promising prospects.
Third, the two peoples’ friendship is an important link that brings relations between the countries closer. The traditional friendship that links the Chinese and Saudi peoples forms a solid social and popular foundation for the development of bilateral relations.
The strengthening of a strategic friendship between China and Saudi Arabia, in the current state of affairs, is not consistent with the realistic and long-term interests of the two peoples and nations, but it does contribute to strengthening the foundations of peace, stability and prosperity in the region and in the wider world.
Q: For over a thousand years, the people of the Gulf and the Chinese people maintained friendly relations through the Silk Road, which allowed for commercial exchange and cultural contact between the two parties. What are the programs that will be implemented to incentivize academic and cultural contact between the two countries?
The friendship between China and the Arab countries has its roots deep in history. The Silk Road linked Arab countries with China over 2,000 years ago. China is now working to push for the construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road which meet in the West Asian and North African regions where Saudi Arabia is located. This will create many opportunities and establish a promising future for China and the countries of the region in achieving shared development and prosperity for all. We are ready to work with Saudi Arabia to build a Belt along with the Road and expand cooperation in a number of areas, deepening the integration of shared interests, boosting mutually beneficial cooperation, and reviving the Silk Road.
Q: The volume of trade exchange between China and Saudi Arabia amounts to 73 billion US dollars. Do you think that the oil trade is the basis of relations between the two countries? What is your opinion on the future of Chinese–Saudi energy cooperation?
We always strive to strengthen comprehensive cooperation with Saudi Arabia, which is mutually beneficial and translates into shared gains for both sides. Energy is actually one of the most important areas of cooperation between our country and Saudi Arabia. The initiative came in line with development requirements in our countries and permitted us to achieve a common interest for our people.
Saudi Arabia is the largest producer of energy and China’s needs have increased due to economic growth. There is huge potential for mutually beneficial cooperation between the two sides. However, our country’s cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not unique, and is not limited to energy, but instead includes the political, economic, cultural, and educational fields. We will continue to strengthen this mutually beneficial cooperation across various fields in the future.
Q: What is your opinion of Saudi–Chinese cooperation in the fight against terrorism?
International counterterrorism cooperation has steadily deepened in recent years and many positive developments have occurred. However, the world is still in the midst of a complicated and dangerous situation. For our part, we categorically reject terrorism in all its forms. We call on the international community to cooperate in the fight in accordance with the UN charter, international law, and the recognized norms that govern international relations. This also calls for taking political, economic and diplomatic measures to address terrorism comprehensively, leading to its being uprooted. As such we refuse to subscribe to double standards in the fight against terrorism, or to link terrorism to a specific country, ethnicity, or religion.
In this regard, we appreciate Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of dangerous terrorist violence, which struck on March 1 in the city of Kunming in the Yunnan Province of China. We are all harmed by terrorism, and we face a dangerous, complicated situation in combating the trend. We are prepared to strengthen communication and cooperation with Saudi Arabia in this area according to the principle of mutual respect and equality in order to safeguard peace and stability in the region and the world as a whole.
Q: China has always expressed an interest in the Middle East. What are the geopolitical considerations, other than energy resources, that drive your interest in the region?
The Middle East is an important and unique region from all geopolitical, economic, cultural and energy-related standpoints. We care about protecting peace and stability in this region as well as fortifying shared development among its nations. Some argue that our country’s involvement in Middle Eastern affairs occurs as our eyes are locked on energy. The truth is, however, that our country began its strong support for the just cause of the Palestinian people before oil was imported from the region.
What interests us about the Middle East is contained in the following points:
First, justice: protecting the fundamental rules of international relations and respecting choices made by the people through independent will. Second, peace: safeguarding regional stability and pushing for political solutions to thorny issues. Third, development: sound development among the countries of the Middle East is in the interest of China and the greater world. Fourth, communication: achieving mutual benefit through dialogue between different civilizations and shared learning.
We are keen to offer more goods to the Middle East in the future and to make greater contributions to promoting peace and development in the region, which is in line with our own capacity to grow.
Q: What is China’s position on the Iranian nuclear program?
Our position on the Iranian nuclear issue has been clear and consistent. We reject Iran developing and possessing nuclear weapons and support a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. The first agreement between the P5+1 [the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany] countries and Iran was reached in Geneva at the end of last year after ten years of negotiations. This represents very important progress achieved by diplomatic efforts since the worsening of the Iranian nuclear issue. Recently, the P5+1 countries and Iran launched negotiations surrounding a comprehensive agreement, and all countries must take into account each other’s concerns, settle disputes property, and strive to achieve mutual gains and benefits. This will lead to a comprehensive agreement that resolves the Iranian nuclear issue permanently and quickly and addresses the root of the problem, serving the interests of Iran and the wider region.
We recommend reconciliation and negotiation. We are working to find a peaceful solution that takes into account the concerns of all parties. We hope that Iran and the Gulf Arab states settle disputes through consultation, negotiation and proper problem-solving, leading to more harmonious relations.
Q: Regarding the conflict in Syria, China’s position was very clear in opposing foreign military intervention. What is your opinion on the Geneva talks and efforts to negotiate a political settlement?
After more than three years since the start of the war in Syria, all international parties came together, agreeing that war will not solve the problem and achieving a political solution through negotiations will be the only way to end the crisis. The Syrian government and the opposition have held two rounds of negotiations in the framework of the Geneva Conference so far. Both expressed a desire to continue negotiations, although there are many disputes and obstacles that are difficult to overcome. As I said at Geneva II, dialogue and negotiations are continuous processes that require constant, uninterrupted effort. It is impossible to count on one or two conferences to dismantle the hatred that has accumulated as a result of the bloody clashes that have persisted for three years. The international community must encourage both Syrian parties to undergo the third round of negotiations as soon as possible in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva statement. Negotiations must continue until results are produced and a middle road that addresses the concerns of both parties and benefits from all parties’ acceptance is located, in order to achieve peace for the country and ensure a future for its people.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council we are fully aware of our responsibilities and obligations to maintain international peace and stability. Our position on the Syrian issue is objective, fair, serious and thoughtful, and it is comprised of, in essence:
Firstly, the need to maintain the objectives and principles of the UN charter and the basic norms of international relations. This includes, in particular, the principle of non-interference into internal affairs, which is considered a “red line” in international relations. Secondly, the need to preserve the independence, sovereignty and integrity of countries’ territories, something which forms the foundation of the international system. Thirdly, the need to preserve peace and stability in the region, and protect the basic and long-term interests of the Syrian people. This is one of the foundations of our policy towards the Middle East.
Over the past three years, we have launched unremitting efforts to advance a political solution, to destroy chemical weapons in Syria, and to provide humanitarian assistance. We actively participated in the Geneva I and Geneva II Conferences, playing a constructive role in both. We maintained contact with all Syrian parties through various means and pushed for reconciliation and the encouragement of negotiations. We participated in destroying chemical weapons in Syria, and at this very moment, Chinese military ships are guarding ships carrying chemical weapons from Syria in the Mediterranean Sea. We follow the humanitarian situation in Syria with great interest and share in the suffering of the Syrian people. We have made great efforts to adopt a resolution on the humanitarian situation in Syria unanimously. At the same time, we send several shipments of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and refugees abroad through various channels. All of these efforts are aimed at locating a political solution to the Syrian crisis and restoring peace and security to the Syrian people.
Q: How does China view the peace process between Israel and Palestine and its prospects for success? What is China’s role here?
Peace negotiations resumed between Palestine and Israel last year, and this is a good thing. However, since relations touch on core issues, the obstacles have proliferated. The Palestinian side took a flexible and practical stance in order for negotiations to continue, and we hope that Israel will avoid laying down new issues on the negotiations table and also that Israel will use its words, actions and steps to strengthen support and reduce resistance as a means to ensuring the progress of negotiations. The international community must take a just and fair stance, and launch peaceful efforts to achieve substantial progress in negotiations soon.
As friends of Palestine and all Arab countries, we have maintained unwavering support for the just cause of the Palestinian people. We support the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem. Our country constantly plays a positive role in resolving the Palestinian issue, as it has taken a series of very important steps in the direction of advising reconciliation and encouraging negotiations over the past year. Particularly, China has a four-point vision for settling the Palestinian issue that was presented by President Xi Jinping during his talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when he visited China, and which is gaining momentum in solidifying international consensus on fostering peace.
I visited both Palestine and Israel at the end of last year and pushed for more efforts to be made as regards President Xi Jinping’s four-point proposal. I told them that mutual recognition of the right to exist is a precondition for negotiations, and that addressing the concerns of the opposite side is an indispensable element. I also said that they must put themselves in each other’s shoes. I think that if the Palestinians and Israelis could translate these three points into realities on the ground, there will be hope for the negotiations.
Palestine, along with all Arab countries, continues to cling to peaceful negotiations as a strategic choice, and we greatly appreciate that. The solution to the Palestinian issue requires joint efforts on the parts of the Palestinians and Israelis, as well as mobilizing the minds and energies of the international community. China is keen to provide more positive energy so as to push forward the peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel and encourage participation of all parties in a determined effort to achieve a comprehensive and just solution to the Palestinian issue as soon as possible.
Q: How do you see the US–China relationship currently, especially after a meeting between the two heads of state? Their meeting focused on competition in the Pacific Ocean, North Korea’s nuclear program, and electronic security?
In the June of last year, President Xi Jinping and President Obama met for a historic meeting at the Annenberg Retreat in California. The two sides reached an important agreement on the establishment of a new type of relationship as dual superpowers. This was a strategic decision taken by both the Chinese and the Americans jointly after assessing their domestic and international standings. The momentum of the Sino–US relations also reflects the determination of China and the United States to break the so-called historical trap of relations between superpowers sliding towards confrontation. The two sides are paving a new road in the era of globalization that will be devoid of confrontation. The relationship is based on mutual respect, cooperation, and mutual gain.
Cooperation between China and the United States has already yielded economic, mercantile, military, humanitarian, cultural, and environmental growth. This upward trajectory was in part a result of the important consensus between the presidents of the two countries. The two countries are always in touch regarding coordinating effective approaches towards the nuclear issue in the Korean Peninsula, and the Iranian nuclear issue, and the Syrian issue, climate change, and Internet security, as well as other topics. The two sides will establish a system based on positive interaction, in which cooperation will override competition in the Asia–Pacific. We hope that the Pacific will become a region governed by a new type of relationship between superpowers. It can be said that the relationship between the two countries is on the verge of even better opportunities for further development. China and the United States are two large countries with differing social systems, histories and cultures. They are at two different stages of development. So there are differences, and naturally there will be problems and challenges in the relations between them. Addressing these will require deliberate and sound policies on both sides.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States. During this period, the relationship has made monumental progress and overcome many difficulties and obstacles. The most important conclusion to be drawn from these experiences is the need to respect the core interests and major concerns of each side, as well as their sovereignty and integrity of land. There must also be respect for their social systems and the road to development chosen by each side, lest the Chinese be subjected to interference and sabotage. We are ready to make joint efforts with the United States to establish a new type of relationship between major countries. We want to work to enhance communication, coordination, and cooperation in all fields, and to find appropriate solutions to differences and sensitive issues. We hope to advance Sino–US relations so as to achieve healthy and stable development. This will be best for the two peoples and the peoples of the world.
Q: One last question, what is your take on the current tensions in Sino–Japanese relations?
This tension is not desirable. However, it is the result of repeated provocative steps taken by the Japanese affecting longstanding disputes as the issue of the Diaoyu Islands. Not long ago, the Japanese leadership insisted on visiting the Yasukuni Shrine, which controversially commemorates war criminals of World War II, which brought on worldwide condemnation. This does not seriously impair the political foundation of Sino–Japanese relations, but it does hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, in addition to reducing the mutual trust between the countries on the political and security level, which does not help peace and stability in the region. It has raised caution levels in neighboring countries and in the international community.
We are committed to peace. And we are committed to a policy of friendship and partnership with neighboring countries. We always call for the development of friendly relations, cooperation, and good, neighborly conduct between our country and Japan. We operate on the basis of the principles contained in the four political documents between the two countries, and aim to capitalize on our great spirit of history as we turn toward the future. For many years we have made great efforts to strengthen our relations with Tokyo. We urge the Japanese side to correct its position on issues related to history and territory, and to refrain from provocative steps. It must change its approach, and gain the trust of its Asian neighbors through concrete actions. It must play a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the region.