H.E. Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Latvia, Mr. Tang Songgen, is looking forward to eclipsing his first half-year of the stint, calling the Baltic nation “a dazzling pearl in the Baltic region.” “China has been promoting inter-civilization exchanges and dialogue through its Global Civilization Initiative. We believe estrangement could be replaced with exchange and mutual learning could be an alternative to the clash among civilizations, so that we could make this world more stable and secure,” Mr Tang Songgen emphasized to The Baltic Times Magazine.
On June 14, you started working as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People's Republic of China to the Republic of Latvia. How has the start been for you?
First of all, I would like to extend my sincere greetings to the readers of the Baltic Times. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
I am often asked this question by many kind and friendly Latvian friends, and I guess their starting point for this question was out of care for a friend who came from afar, and also out of curiosity. My answer is that the start is sound and good. Many friends told me that I arrived in Riga for my new post in the best and most beautiful season, and I couldn’t agree more. Not long after my arrival, I was lucky enough to participate in the Ligo Festival and the grand Song and Dance Festival held every five years. The dazzling and colorful Latvian culture deeply attracted me.
I would like to share a secret here that I also danced with Latvian friends during the Ligo Festival to experience the authentic Latvian traditions. In recent months, I have met friends from all walks, visited many beautiful cities. It is often said that diplomats have an emotional bond with their host country. I believe I have already built this bond with Latvia, even though my arrival was not long ago.
Before this you were China’s ambassador to Kiribati, officially the Republic of Kiribati, an island country of 120 thousand people in the Micronesia subregion of Oceania in the central Pacific Ocean. I am sure the stint there and your current job in Latvia, an EU member state, are just perhaps incomparable? What goals did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China ask you to achieve in Latvia?
China is committed to an independent foreign policy of peace, respects sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. It’s China’s consistent position that countries are all equal regardless of their size, wealth and strength.
I became the first Chinese Ambassador to Kiribati after the resumption of diplomatic relations on the basis of the one-China principle in 2019. Many Kiribati people told me frankly that the resumption had proved Kiribati stands on the right side of history. I very much appreciate the foreign policy of “friends to all and enemy to none” pursued by many Pacific countries, which ensures long-term peace, security, prosperity and sustainable development for them.
Talking of Latvia, in 1991, China became one of the first countries to recognize its restoration of independence, and the two countries established diplomatic relations on the basis of the one-China principle which got reaffirmed in the Joint Communique and Joint Statement of both countries in 1994. Since then, bilateral relations have generally maintained steady development.
Latvia, as a member of the EU and NATO, is a dazzling pearl in the Baltic region. I am convinced that China and Latvia will continue to develop their friendly, cooperative relations on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit.
As Chinese Ambassador, my main duty is to, on behalf of the Chinese Government and people, uphold our national interests, and promote China-Latvia friendship, exchanges and practical cooperation. Amity between peoples holds the key to the relationship between countries, therefore, it’s very important to strengthen mutual understanding between them. Relations between countries rely on and serve the two peoples, so that peoples have more sense of fulfillment. I hope that mutual investment and trade between China and Latvia will reach new heights, and more cultural delegations from both countries will visit each other, and more Chinese tourists will visit this beautiful country.
You arrived in Latvia amid tension between the US, Latvia’s key geopolitical ally, and China. Do you feel it?
Stability of China-US relations concerns world peace and development. For China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option. It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other. Conflict and confrontation have unbearable consequences for both sides. Major-country competition cannot solve the problems facing China and the United States or the world. The world is big enough to accommodate both countries, and one country’s success is an opportunity for the other. China has no plan to surpass or unseat the United States. Likewise, the United States should not scheme to suppress and contain China. Mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation are the lessons learned from 50 years of China-U.S. relations as well as the conflicts between major countries in history. China and the United States should put in a lot of efforts to follow them.
I believe jointly developing a right perception that China and the US shall become partners rather than rivals is a pillar for China-U.S. relations. It is like fastening the first button when wearing clothes. If that step goes wrong, someone would not be able to put up the clothes properly or looks strange in the clothes.
I would like to point out that the Taiwan question remains the most important and most sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations. China takes seriously the positive statements made by the U.S. in the Bali meeting. The U.S. side should take real action to honor its commitment of not supporting “Taiwan independence”, stop arming Taiwan, and support China’s peaceful reunification. China will realize reunification, and this is unstoppable.
I would like to highlight that China is committed to developing partnership with all countries including Latvia. This partnership does not target any third party and shall be free from disruption by any third party.
It seems to me that it is Lithuania, the largest Baltic country, not Latvia, that has more sternly aligned with the US on China. Do you agree?
I think you are referring to the fact that the Lithuanian government, in disregard of the Chinese side’s strong objection and repeated dissuasion, approved the establishment of the so-called “Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania” by the Taiwan authorities in 2021. This act creates the false impression of “one China, one Taiwan” in the world, flagrantly violates the one-China principle. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has made itself clear on this issue. We urge the Lithuanian side to correct mistakes and return to the one-China principle as soon as possible.
The one-China principle is a prevailing consensus of the international community and a basic norm in international relations. It’s a historical and legal reality that Taiwan is part of China, and both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one and the same China. The Taiwan question is not about democracy, but about China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. After the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out, some people with ulterior motives compared the Taiwan issue with the Ukraine issue. This is totally wrong. Ukraine is a sovereign and independent country. Taiwan is not a country, it is part of China. The biggest threat to peace in the Taiwan Strait is the DPP authorities’ refusal to change their “Taiwan independence” separatist stance and the external connivance and support they have received. No one cherishes cross-strait peace more than we do in China, and no one should underestimate our resolve and capability to uphold our sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In 2022, China was the third largest partner for EU exports of goods (9.0 %) and the largest partner for EU imports of goods (20.8%). What do you make of it? Despite Latvia’s withdrawal from the cooperation format of Central and Eastern European countries with China, known as China’s 17+1 format, the highest volume of Latvia-China mutual trade in recent years could be observed in 2022 – Latvia’s exports to China amounted to US$222.45 million (€209.4 million), compared to approximately US$190 million (€178.85 million) in 2021, according to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade. What do you make of these numbers? Do you believe the landmark trade and investment pact between the EU and China, the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), can be revived in the near future and the image of China as a threat to the West be changed?
Trade and investment cooperation is the closest bond of interest between China and Europe. Despite facing challenges such as the unprecedented global pandemic and the Ukraine crisis, the resilience of China-EU trade endures. In 2022, the bilateral trade volume of goods between China and Europe increased by nearly 25% compared to the pre-epidemic levels of 2019, reaching an impressive $847.3 billion. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Europe. As each other’s second-largest trading partners, China and the EU have forged a robust economic symbiosis.
China represents opportunity, not threat. Viewing China as a threat is a misinterpretation. In the contemporary world, the greatest risk is non-cooperation, the biggest insecurity is non-development, and the most significant challenge is non-unity. The China-EU Investment Agreement (CAI), achieving after seven years and 35 rounds of negotiations, is a balanced, high-level, mutually beneficial, and win-win agreement. Both parties displayed considerable flexibility, offering elevated market access opportunities for companies of both sides. It's crucial to recognize that this agreement is not a one-sided favor; it's a mutual benefit and win-win scenario. Progress depends on the collaborative efforts of both parties. We firmly believe that the ultimate accord will prove advantageous for both China and Europe.
Over the last decade, economic and trade relations between China and Latvia have enjoyed smooth development within the China-Central and Eastern European Countries cooperation mechanism. This framework not only promotes trade in the countries, but also facilitates collaborations in fairs, transportation logistics, customs inspection, investment, science and technology, and culture, etc. Unfortunately, in August 2022, Latvia's decision to withdraw from this cooperative mechanism marked a missed opportunity for such existing and potential collaborations. We hope that both sides will work in the same direction and promote practical cooperation on the basis of mutual respect and win-win.
Speaking in general, what was the year of 2023 like for China?
I would say 2023 is a steady and sound year for China. Solid gains have been made in our pursuit of high-quality development.
China is getting rid of impact from COVID-19 and full of vitality. China's economy is expected to grow by around 5.2% in 2023, which is equivalent to the volume of a medium-sized economy. More importantly, consumption contributes more than 80% of China’s GDP growth in the first three quarters of 2023, reflecting the booming demands from Chinese families.
China is strengthening its economic structure through innovation. Electric vehicles, lithium batteries and solar panels are the main innovative products, promoting industrial chain development and industrial upgrading. As one of the biggest market, China welcomes quality products from different partners.
China is steadily boosting institutional opening-up, promoting exchanges across the board, and actively building a market-oriented, law-based and internationalized business environment. On November 24, China declared that it will extend unilateral visa-free policy to travelers from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Malaysia. I sincerely hope that one day this policy would include more countries.
China has been promoting inter-civilization exchanges and dialogue through its Global Civilization Initiative. We believe estrangement could be replaced with exchange and mutual learning could be an alternative to the clash among civilizations, so that we could make this world more stable and secure.
More importantly, China is advancing the noble cause of building a great country and national rejuvenation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization. We believe that global modernization should be pursued to enhance peaceful development and mutually beneficial cooperation and bring prosperity to all.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. Entering its second decade, the Belt and Road Initiative will bring more opportunities and development to the world. This year, China will continue to generate one-third of global growth. Just as some leaders of the global business community have said, the “next China” is still China. We invite friends in Latvia and other Baltic countries to continue to carry out cooperation and exchanges with China!
China has not condemned Russia for its war in Ukraine. Why?
China’s position on the Ukraine crisis is consistent and clear. We remain committed to promoting talks for peace and de-escalation, and believe that efforts should be made to build a balanced, effective and durable European security architecture through dialogue and consultation.
Shortly after the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, President Xi Jinping made four important propositions including respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, upholding the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, taking seriously the legitimate security concerns of all countries, and supporting all efforts conducive to a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Moreover, China highlights in its position paper on the Ukraine crisis that nuclear weapons must not be used and nuclear wars must not be fought.
During the phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on April 26, 2023, President Xi pointed out that on the Ukraine crisis, China always stands on the side of peace. Its core stance is to facilitate talks for peace. China did not create the Ukraine crisis, nor is it a party to the crisis. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a responsible major country, China would not sit idly by, nor would it add oil to the fire, still less exploit the situation for self-gains. China will continue to facilitate talks for peace and make its efforts for early ceasefire and restoration of peace.
Ambassador Li Hui, Special Representative of the Chinese Government on Eurasian Affairs visited Ukraine and other European countries and conducted in-depth communication with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis in this May. Ambassador Li also attended the meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Ukraine in this August. Besides, China has also carried out humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.
And where does China see solutions for the bloodshed in the Middle East?
We are deeply saddened by the civilian casualties in both Palestine and Israel and oppose and condemn acts that harm civilians. It’s urgent and imperative to end hostilities, achieve a ceasefire immediately and ease the humanitarian crisis. The current Palestinian-Israeli conflict has proven again that the two-state solution is the only viable way to solve the question of Palestine. The international community should fully respect the will of the Palestinian people and establish an independent Palestinian state as soon as possible. Only in this way can we realize the peaceful coexistence of Palestine and Israel, harmonious coexistence of the Arab and Jewish nations, and achieve lasting peace in the Middle East.
Since the outbreak of the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict, China has been working hard to achieve peace and save lives. President Xi Jinping has repeatedly stated China's principle and position on the current situation. As the president of the United Nations Security Council in November, China presided over the adoption of the first Security Council resolution since October 7 which marks a initial step to promote a ceasefire. China also calls for an early convening of an international peace conference with greater scale, scope and effectiveness, and a timetable and roadmap for this purpose.
On the Palestinian question, China always stands for peace, justice and conscience. China has issued its Position Paper on the Resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, in which China offers five proposals: implementing a comprehensive ceasefire and ending the fighting, protecting civilians effectively, ensuring humanitarian assistance, enhancing diplomatic mediation, and seeking political settlement. China will continue to strengthen coordination with relevant parties, further build consensus, shoulder its responsibilities for peace, speak out for justice, so as to promote a comprehensive, fair and lasting solution to the Palestinian question.