Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Latvia, Tang Songgen: 'Let the person who tied the bell on the tiger untie it'

  • 2024-06-27
  • Linas Jegelevicius

Labelling China as a partner, competitor and systemic rival at the same time is neither consistent with reality nor viable – on the contrary, it only caused unnecessary distractions and created obstacles for China-EU relations, says H.E. Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Latvia, Mr. Tang Songgen, reminding us of an old Chinese saying: “Let the person who tied the bell on the tiger untie it.”

Geopolitical tensions are gripping the world. What concretely should main superpowers, like China, the US and Russia do to defuse them? What is China's vision on global security?

First of all, I would like to extend my warm greetings to The Baltic Times Magazine and the readers.

You put forward a very good question. We live in such an interdependent world that we rise and fall together. The Earth is only this big, and humanity is faced with so many common challenges. For the well-being of all people, China’s answer is to build a community with a shared future for mankind, which is the core of our diplomacy. 

At the end of 2023, China held the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs. The conference decided that given the series of major issues and challenges facing the world today, China calls for an equal and orderly multipolar world and a universally beneficial and inclusive economic globalization. An equal multipolar world means equal rights, opportunities, and rules for every nation, regardless of its size and strength. An orderly multipolar world means all should observe the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and uphold the universally recognized basic norms governing international relations. These, we believe, should be the “rules” in “rules-based international order”. Universally beneficial globalization means growing the economic pie and sharing it more fairly. Inclusive globalization means supporting countries in pursuing a development path suited to their own national conditions.

Security is a priority for every country. In 2022, President Xi Jinping proposed the Global Security Initiative (GSI), aiming to eliminate the root causes of international conflicts and promote durable peace and development in the world. The GSI calls for staying committed to a vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and peacefully resolving differences and disputes between countries through dialogue and consultation. President Xi also stressed in a clear tone that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. Two years on, the GSI has gained the support and recognition of over 100 countries and international or regional organizations. 

During his phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden this April, President Xi Jinping stressed that the issue of strategic perception is always fundamental to the China-U.S. relationship, just like the first button of a shirt that must be put right. Two big countries like China and the United States should not cut off their ties or turn their back on each other, still less slide into conflict or confrontation. The two countries should respect each other, coexist in peace and pursue win-win cooperation. The relationship should continue moving forward in a stable, sound and sustainable way, rather than going backward. I think these principles are important to every major country.

China has still not condemned Russia for its war in Ukraine. Is China Russia's ally in the war?

China understands the repercussions of the Ukraine crisis on the people of Europe. The longer the Ukraine crisis drags on, the greater harm it will do to Europe and the world. China and the EU all wish to see an early ceasefire and return of peace to Europe. 

China is neither the creator of the Ukraine crisis nor a party to it. We have always been campaigning for peace and working to promote talks, and have played a constructive role in pushing for a political settlement to the crisis. At the outset of the fighting, President Xi Jinping spoke with the leaders of Russia and Ukraine on the phone, calling on the two sides to stop fighting as soon as possible, resolve the differences through diplomacy and negotiations and settle the disputes peacefully. Later, on the basis of in-depth discussions with all parties and fully heeding their views, China proposed the four-should principle to politically resolve the Ukraine crisis, namely the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected, the purposes and principles of the UN Charter should be observed, the legitimate security concerns of all countries should be taken seriously, and every effort conducive to resolving the crisis peacefully should be supported. Moreover, President Xi stressed that nuclear weapons must not be used, and a nuclear war must not be fought. 

China has delivered to Ukraine many shipments of humanitarian aids, and the special representative of the Chinese government on Eurasian affairs has accomplished third rounds of shuttle diplomacy to mediate among the countries concerned.

History has proven time and again that at the end of the day, conflicts can only be resolved through negotiation. The Ukraine crisis is no exception. 

Therefore, China supports holding, at a proper time, an international peace conference that is recognized by both Russia and Ukraine and ensures the equal participation of all parties and fair discussions on all peace plans.

China believes that to deal with any major issue, it is necessary to address both the symptoms and the root causes, and to plan for the present as well as for the long term. The fundamental solution to the Ukraine issue is to promote the establishment of a new balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture. Weapons may be able to end a war, but cannot bring everlasting peace.

Both Ukraine and Russia are China’s strategic partners. China-Russia relations are normal state-to-state relations that are non-alliance, non-confrontation and not targeting any third party. China does not provide weapons to the parties in the conflicts and strictly controls the export of dual-use articles, including drones for civilian use. There are statistics, however, which show that over 60 percent of Russia’s imports of weapon components and dual-use articles come from the US and other Western countries. Our normal trade with Russia is done aboveboard. It’s consistent with WTO rules and market principles. It does not target any third party and should not be interfered with or come under coercion by anyone. 

It seems that, at least in Lithuania, the unequivocal embrace of Taiwan is seeing a moment of cooling off, as Taiwanese investments are not outweighing the potential of Chinese investments, and the Lithuanian leaders have hinted about the necessity to normalize relations with China. What do you make of that? Will China keep a grudge against Lithuania long?

I have to correct your mistake of mentioning China and Taiwan at the same time because Taiwan is part of China. Taiwan is referred to as “Taiwan, province of China” in all UN official documents. It was clearly stated in the official legal opinions of the Office of Legal Affairs of the UN Secretariat that “the United Nations considers ‘Taiwan’ as a province of China with no separate status,” and the “‘authorities’ in ‘Taipei’ are not considered to... enjoy any form of government status.”  

The DPP authorities have been pushing “dollar-diplomacy” in many places, which is designed to serve “Taiwan independence” separatism and personal political calculations. To squander taxpayers’ money for “dollar diplomacy” is the DPP authorities’ go-to tactic to keep up their appearance. 

According to the World Bank, China’s contribution to global economic growth has long been higher than that of the G7 countries combined. Now China is pressing ahead with high-quality development and high-standard opening up, moving forward in its own path of modernization, which offers great opportunities and potential to the world.

There is an old saying in Chinese: “Let the person who tied the bell on the tiger untie it.” To play the “Taiwan card” is to drive oneself into the wall. Responsibility for the situation between China and Lithuania lies completely with the Lithuanian side. We urge the Lithuanian side to develop a clear understanding of the situation and return to the one-China principle as soon as possible.

In terms of the West's treatment of Taiwan, China has warned the US multiple times not to cross the red lines. What does China mean by that? And if they are crossed, will China invade Taiwan?

The Chinese civilization is the only one that has continued uninterrupted for more than 5,000 years. That is why the Chinese people have a strong commitment to their country, especially when it comes to national reunification which they value and cherish. The Taiwan question is at the very core of China's core interests. China has established diplomatic relations with 183 countries in the world on the basis of the one-China principle. China will and must achieve reunification, and no one should underestimate the resolve and capability of the Chinese people to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Taiwan has been part of China since ancient times. This is a historical fact; it is also the international consensus. The 1943 Cairo Declaration and the 1945 Potsdam Proclamation clearly stipulated that Taiwan, a Chinese territory stolen by Japan, shall be restored to China. These documents with international legal effect formed an integral part of the post-WWII international order and also affirmed Taiwan’s status as China’s inalienable territory from a legal perspective.

On October 25, 1971, the 26th session of the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 2758 with an overwhelming majority. The Resolution resolved once and for all the question of the representation of the whole of China, including Taiwan, in the United Nations as a political, legal and procedural issue. It made clear that there is only one China in the world and that Taiwan is a part of China, not a country. It also made clear that there is only one seat of China in the United Nations, and the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legal representative, precluding “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan.” Since the adoption of the resolution, the one-China principle has been observed by the UN and its specialized agencies on the Taiwan question. 

No one cares about the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait more than the Chinese people, because people across the Strait are all Chinese. Separatist activities for “Taiwan independence” are the most destructive elements to the peace and stability across the Strait. To truly safeguard cross-Strait peace, we must unequivocally oppose “Taiwan independence.” The stronger the commitment to the one-China principle is, the greater the guarantee for peace across the Strait will be. China’s policy is quite clear—we will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity. China’s bottom line is also quite clear—we will never allow Taiwan to be separated from the motherland.

I would like to particularly mention that China’s position on the Taiwan region’s participation in the activities of international organizations, including the WHO, is consistent and clear, that is, this must be handled under the one-China principle, which is also a basic principle enshrined in UNGA Resolution 2758 and WHA Resolution 25.1. The United Nations is an intergovernmental international organization composed of sovereign states. Taiwan, a province of China, has no basis, reason or right to join the UN or its relevant agencies. 

On May 27, the General Committee and the Plenary Session of the 77th World Health Assembly (WHA) respectively decided to reject the so-called proposal of “inviting Taiwan to participate in the WHA as an observer” submitted by certain countries. This has been the eighth year in a row that the WHA has rejected the so-called proposal concerning Taiwan. China’s position on Taiwan-related issues at the WHA is widely understood and supported by the international community. Over 100 countries explicitly expressed support for China’s position by writing to the WHO Director-General and through other means. This fully demonstrates that the one-China principle is where global opinion trends and the arc of history bends, and must not be challenged.

The Chinese central government attaches great importance to the health and well-being of our compatriots in Taiwan. Taiwan’s medical and health experts can participate in WHO technical meetings under the prerequisite that the one-China principle is upheld. Over the past year alone, medical and technical experts from China’s Taiwan region took part in WHO technical activities 21 times, which involved 24 participants, and all the applications were approved by the central government. There is an International Health Regulations Contact Point in the Taiwan region for it to promptly access and report to the WHO concerning information related to health emergencies. The Taiwan region has sufficient and unimpeded channels to participate in the technical communication and cooperation in the WHO. There is no such thing as a “gap” in global anti-epidemic efforts. Compared with a handful of countries’ political manipulation that trumpets Taiwan’s participation in the WHA, the central government’s proper arrangement and concrete actions demonstrate real meaning and sincerity for the livelihood and well-being of our compatriots in Taiwan.

Is China expecting a change in relations with the EU after elections to the European Parliament? Do you have any good news about China-Latvia and China-EU trade? Any interesting trends?

China and Europe do not have clashing fundamental interests, or geopolitical and strategic conflicts. Our common interests far outweigh our differences. Both sides are committed to multilateralism and upholding international laws. In the context of China-EU relations, the two sides should be characterized rightly as partners. Cooperation should be the defining feature of the relationship, autonomy its key value, and win-win its future. The world is undergoing changes unseen in a century, and China and Europe could effectively uphold world peace and stability and promote progress for mankind only through insisting on positioning of a comprehensive strategic partnership, keeping strengthening dialogue and cooperation, and resolving differences properly.

Stability of China-EU relations is a critical issue worth thinking about deeply. The two sides need to develop a right perception of each other, promote mutual understanding and trust, honour commitments, do the right thing and be wholehearted in developing China-EU relations. We should not view each other as rivals just because our systems are different, reduce cooperation because competition exists, or engage in confrontation because there are disagreements. Labelling China as a partner, competitor and systemic rival at the same time is neither consistent with reality nor viable. On the contrary, it only caused unnecessary distractions and created obstacles for China-EU relations. How can one drive to a crossing and find the red, yellow and green lights all on at the same time? 

China and the EU are each other’s biggest trade partner. China-EU trade volume, given the headwind of the sluggish global trade, still registered a total volume of 783 billion US$ in 2023. And the two-way investment stock exceeds 250 billion US$. Mutual beneficial cooperation in new sectors like digital economy, green development, new energy, artificial intelligence are conducted. The Chinese side is also removing all market access restrictions on foreign investment in manufacturing, and reducing market access restrictions in telecommunications, healthcare and other service sectors. Many Europeans regards China as an important partner for Europe to tackle challenges in energy, inflation and strengthen competitiveness. As China is pursuing a high-standard opening-up and working actively to foster a world-class, market-oriented business environment by a sound legal framework, I am sure that China’s development means more opportunities for Europe, and that a sound, stable China-EU relationship will benefit the Europe to deal with challenges.

There has been increasingly more good news in China-Latvia practical cooperation. This February, China National Opera House delivered an opera feast “from the East to the West” in Riga’s well-renowned Liela Ģilde. Since Latvia is one of the first countries included in the destinations of Chinese overseas tourist groups, I believe more and more Chinese tourists will arrive this summer, the sunny and beautiful season of Latvia. And there is still great potential of practical cooperation in many other areas such as green development and response to climate change.