China’s Ambassador in Lebanon: Hezbollah Arms a Trade Matter

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China wants development and growth for itself and all other countries, and China does not seek to procure its interests at the expense of others. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Omar Nashabe

Published Friday, May 4, 2012

In an interview with Al-Akhbar, China’s Ambassador to Lebanon Wu Zexian elaborates on his country’s approach to foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Syrian crisis, and Iran’s nuclear program.

Omar Nashabe (ON): The French bank, BNP Paribas, published a recent study projecting that the size of the Chinese GDP will exceed the size of that of the US by 2020.

This means that the Chinese economy will become the largest economy in the world and for the first time in modern times, a non-Western nation will have the strongest economy in the world.

Wu Zexian (WZ): A super power...Well but looking only at the size of the GDP does not provide a comprehensive view. There are other factors that need to be examined. The population in China is over 1.3 billion. If we divide the GDP by the population, China’s ranking would be the 100th in the world.

We believe we are somewhat behind and we realize that we have to exert a lot of effort to raise the level of development in our country.

We have three major challenges. There is an imbalance in the development of different areas in China. The coastal regions are more developed than the interior and western regions of the country where the dry weather does not help. Residents in the west suffer a lot from that.

There is also a gap in the development of urban versus rural areas. Also consider the great divide between a class of wealthy people and the 100 million Chinese who earn less than US$1 each day.

We are aware of these problems and we should exert a lot of effort to solve them and not be complacent about where we are today.

ON: But the rate of economic growth in China is the highest in the world. Is it part of your strength not to brag about your achievements?

WZ: (Laughing) I am realistic. But it is true, China has been able to achieve major developments compared to what existed before. For the past 30 years, our annual growth has been about 100 percent. It has been an advanced and sustainable growth.

ON: Will the growth of your economic power have an effect on your foreign policy?

WZ: In reality, Chinese foreign policy stems from specific principles regardless of the rate of our economic growth. The three main principles are: not interfering in internal issues of other countries; conflict resolution through dialogue, negotiations, preserving peace, and cooperation between countries; and assisting countries that are behind to grow and develop.

ON: But China’s economic strength has no impact on its political performance internationally?

WZ: It depends on the issue. There is no doubt that China’s voice is stronger today and the world hears us better. But international positions are not identical and each country has its positions and choices.

It is necessary here to point to the role of the international media in presenting an image that is not necessarily accurate about the reality of Chinese foreign policy.

ON: What does China want?

WZ: China wants development and growth for itself and all other countries, and China does not seek to procure its interests at the expense of others.

ON: Isn’t this kind of talk mere propaganda?

WZ: What I said is based on facts. If you have examples that refute this reality, I wish you would present them now.

ON: China’s active role in African countries is not different from that of other industrialized nations that seek to take advantage of natural resources at cheap prices in what is seen as exploitation, which in turn leads to further impoverishment of the African continent.

WZ: I thank you for this question because I worked previously for about four years in my country’s embassy in the Democratic Republic of Congo and I will give you some facts about the role that China plays in developing local institutions and improving the standard of living there.

China has had a strong presence in Africa since the 1960s. We have assisted in the development of African states.

In the Congo, we built a railway system that stretches about 2,000km from the west of the country to its east, and we built a grand parliament building in the capital Kinshasa. Next to it we built a sports city that accommodates 80,000 people.

These projects and other development projects and projects to develop the infrastructure and provide medical services were a gift from China to the people of Congo as part of a win/win equation that we adopt, whereby the exchange should benefit both countries.

ON: That does not bother Western countries?

WZ: They have propagated the claim that China is robbing African natural resources. But in reality, it is Western companies that exploit poor countries. China’s role in Africa bothers them and so they try to ruin its reputation.

ON: Have there been changes in China’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict?

WZ: China’s position is constant, clear, and solid regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. We always defend legitimate rights.

ON: What is your position on arming the resistance (Hezbollah) in Lebanon?

WZ: All the efforts of the Lebanese to protect their country and preserve its sovereignty are legitimate. We know there are disagreements among the Lebanese regarding Hezbollah’s arms. Our position is constant in this regard.

We believe that this is an internal Lebanese matter and we do not have the right to interfere in internal Lebanese affairs. Only the Lebanese should engage in a dialogue about this issue to reach a consensus.

When it comes to the conflict with Israel, there is no doubt that Israel is the one occupying Lebanese land. This is clear. We defend the right of the Lebanese to protect their sovereignty.

ON: In 2006, the Lebanese resistance used advanced military technology to hit an Israeli warship at sea. It was said at the time that this military technology was brought from China. How do you comment on that?

WZ: I am not a military expert...and I don’t know how this technology was transported, but in any case, our arms sales policy is a responsible one and we respect international norms. The government interferes if military manufacturing companies violate international rules.

ON: But there are indications that the Lebanese resistance owns advanced Chinese missiles that compete with Israeli military technology.

WZ: As far as I’m concerned, the question of arms sales is clear, we do not violate international rules. We have contacts with Hezbollah but the Chinese Embassy in Beirut has nothing to do with the question of arms.

This is not my specialty or the specialty of the military attache. We do not do the work of companies that make arms deals. These are trade matters.

ON: China did not support establishing the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) to look into the assassination of [former] Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in the Security Council in 2007. What is your position today?

WZ: We rely on a fixed principle in our foreign policy and that is not interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.

The assassination was a painful event that had grave consequences for Lebanon but it is an internal matter. Out of respect for Lebanese sovereignty, we believe the Lebanese should address this problem and look for the best way to investigate the crime.

When the question of establishing an international tribunal was proposed, we preferred not to vote because we hoped the issue would stay in Lebanese hands only.

ON: Let’s turn to the situation in Syria. Are you satisfied with Kofi Annan’s work?

WZ: The question is not if we are satisfied or unsatisfied with his work, the question is that Annan’s mission needs support because it is a good opportunity to help bring people together to the negotiating table.

Ending the violence in Syria is the most important thing but the question is how? People should be urged to enter into an internal dialogue instead of violence and that’s basic. A political plan should be developed to solve the problem.

ON: What do you say to members of the Syrian opposition who direct insults at China because of its position?

WZ: They do not understand China’s position. We do not wish anyone ill. We understand that all people want to improve their living conditions and we are exerting a lot of effort to improve the Chinese people’s standard of living.

People have the right to demand that but the problem in Syria today is that there is an armed conflict. Consequently we ask everyone to enter into a dialogue, look for political solutions, and stay away from armed conflict in the streets.

We oppose any foreign intervention in Syria because it will not help solve the problem. On the contrary, intervention will further kindle the fire.

A political plan should be devised in Syria to implement the reforms that the Syrian government has talked a lot about. This plan should respond to the ambitions of the Syrian people. Violence however begets more violence.

ON: Do events in Syria resemble the Tiananmen Square events in 1989 in China?

WZ: No, it is different. Twenty years after the Tiananmen Square events, China continues to develop itself instead of devolve into chaos and that is very important.

We talk about democracy and freedom as if they are the specialty of some countries and not others and that is not true.

China is a Communist country. What does Communism mean? Communism means achieving common interests. This is the ideological meaning of Communism.

Democracy, human rights, and freedom were the principles of the Chinese Communist Party when it was struggling against the previous regime.

The party sought to achieve these values. It is true we have made mistakes but the values persisted and were achieved in China after the Chinese people had been deprived of them for hundreds of years under the rule of empires.

ON: Let’s switch to the Iranian issue and the question of international sanctions. What is your position regarding the situation in Iran?

WZ: China has extensive relations with Iran in all sectors and our bilateral relations are excellent. Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, we believe that dialogue with Iran is the right way to deal with this issue.

It is not proper to use threats and sanctions against Iran. Threats and sanctions exacerbate the problem and do not allow for a positive outcome.

ON: There are Israeli military plans to attack Iran. What is China’s position if that were to happen?

WZ: We should not expect such dangerous developments. No serious actor thinks about attacking Iran. This is a highly dangerous matter. Any military action is likely to have catastrophic consequences. We should work to bring everyone back to their senses.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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