Berzins: 'China is the most important player for us'

  • 2000-07-20
  • Jorgen Johansson

RIGA - Latvian foreign policy is to become friends with the world in a selective way since Latvia is a very small country. One of the latest partners on the world scene is China.

How is it that Latvia and China are developing good foreign relations?

Not just Latvia and China but all three Baltic states and China. Basically China, as one of the major powers and a very important player on the international stage, is trying to create good relations with all countries, and if we look on the map, the Baltic states is a quite important geopolitical region. The main point is that China always has recognized that all countries, small or big, have such and such international relations and as such countries they should be treated. It means that they took us as we are small but a partner. That's the first point. They recognized that it is our right to join EU or NATO. That's how we see our stability and security.

For us, of course, two things are important: China is a permanent member of the (UN) Security Council and the second is the influence of China, especially speaking about future prospects in Asia and not just in Asia but around the world.

What will it mean for Latvia to have good relations with China?

We want to have good relations with everyone. It is not our idea to create bad relations with anyone. It would be stupid. But of course it is impossible for a small country to create good relations with everyone. We should think about who should be our partners and then again of course EU countries, the United States, Canada and such countries as Norway and partners around the Baltic Sea - our neighbors. The relations with Russia could be better, and we try our best to create good relations. Then if we look on Asia, the whole of Asia, China is the most important. I do not want to say that Japan is not important or South Korea. The most important player for us (in Asia) is China because they have good relations with our partners - EU countries.

Who took the first step towards forming relations between China and Latvia?

China never recognized Latvia as a part of the Soviet Union. They recognized us as an independent state from the beginning. They supported the withdrawal of the Russian army from the Baltic states. Then we created our diplomatic relations. Our political leadership created some relations with Taiwan right after that. We had a consulate of Taiwan here for some years, and that was interesting because then China froze our relations. The common position of China is that if someone has foreign relations with Taiwan then this country has no diplomatic relations with China and some countries had problems with this policy. Still, in Latvia's case they never stopped the relations. They just somehow froze them and continued to work with our politicians. In 1994 - 95 we changed our relations and we had the Chinese Embassy back here in Riga.

What do you think, more specifically, China has to offer Latvia?

China sees us as a future member of EU , there is no doubt about that. And China sees EU as one of the partners which China has an interest in cooperating with. Just look on a map. That is important for China. We are creating a legal basis for our cooperation, but again this is for the future. We offer some opportunities for business and of course to cooperate with the Baltic states and Latvia. Specifically China could offer good relations and that is what we need.

What can Latvia offer China?

There are possible projects of economic cooperation. I mean transit. A "Transcontinental Bridge" between China and the Baltic region. Because this bridge from China through Russia to the Baltic region could be developed, actually this is several projects that could be very good for everyone, I think, including Russia. In that extent we see Russia as our partner. From both sides - China and the Baltic states.

Has Russia reacted in any way against Latvia's relations with China?

No, but just compare even in their new concepts of foreign affairs that they put the Baltic states separately in a document. In that document it says that it could be possible to have good foreign relations with Latvia on some preconditions.

You once said that China as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) could be a strong partner. What did you mean by that?

This is for everyone, not just for Latvia, and China is going to join WTO. I think that is a serious challenge for China as well as for all of us member states of WTO. It could not be so easy, but if China is ready to join WTO, that is good for common prospects for common development and world trade, I think.

Was it a significant step to open a Latvian Embassy in China?

Basically the ambassador went to China less than one year ago. When I was in China I opened some rooms in one building shared by other embassies. It's always good to have such a high status. This was the first official visit by the Latvian Foreign Ministry to China.

What did you personally think of China when you were there?

It is not easy to be an expert on China after just a short visit. I read a lot about China before I visited the country. That is my duty as a minister. My conclusions can only be based on what I have read about China and it is very difficult to say something about it. I think China has really excellent prospects for development, but now is a very crucial period for China's development.

Could Latvia and China learn from each other?

I think every country can learn from others' experiences but I don't think China in particular should learn something from Latvia. With China it is a big difference not just because of the size but because of historical experience and goals of foreign policy. Still, it is always interesting to know of other countries' experiences, maybe not just to learn from them but (to have) the knowledge is always good. It is not important to take others' experiences and just put into your own country. That is not how to use experience. The biggest problem is that people, and especially politicians, are not always ready to learn from their own mistakes.