Ambassador He Xiangdong Took Interview with The Irish Times
2020-08-22 16:55

A few days ago, Ambassador He Xiangdong took an interview with Mr. Harry McGee, political correspondent of the Irish Times, on various topics including China-Ireland relations, COVID-19, Huawei 5G, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

McGee: Mr. Ambassador, Ireland and China celebrated 40 years of diplomatic relations in 2019. During that time, the relationship between both countries has developed a lot. Last year, it was 17 billion USD worth of trade between both countries. Perhaps you could tell me a little bit about the relationship between China and Ireland from your perspective and how was it developed, and how you see it will develop into the future?

The Ambassador: There are good relations and good cooperation between our two countries in the last 40 years. We are different in terms of economic development and culture, but there is a lot of similarity between our two countries and two peoples. In recent history, both our two countries experienced poverty, foreign invasion and suppression. And in the past few decades since 1970s, both our two countries adopted a policy of opening to the world and achieved a lot in economic and social development. Our two peoples are very hard-working, friendly and pragmatic.

During the past 40 years, the volume of our bilateral trade has been expanding thousands of times from only several million USD in 1979. When I arrived in Ireland, I heard from many Irish friends that China is a big country and Ireland is a small one. In terms of the size of the territory, population, and economy, China is indeed bigger than Ireland. But if we look from other perspectives, say, per capita GDP or per capita GNI, Ireland is big and China is small. China’s population is almost 280 times than that of Ireland, but the per capita GNI of Ireland is 6 times than that of China. The most important thing in the past 40 years on our bilateral relationship is that we respect each other and cooperate in the spirit of mutual respect. I have full confidence in our relations.

McGee: China is a big exporter and we import a lot of goods manufactured in China. China is moving away from manufacturing into other areas like pharma and is being a world leader in IT. Irish food exports to China have been very important. We also saw the beginning of it but the COVID-19 has had an impact on people from China to have tourism in Ireland. And you also see students from China who chose to study in Ireland. And just in terms of China’s investment in Ireland. I have been to Africa on a number of occasions. China has invested in a major way in African roads, ports, banks. I went to Zimbabwe and saw two weld tractors imported from China and those were amazing. I was in Mali last year and every motorbike we saw was made in China. China has invested in a very large way in African states. Would Ireland be a place Chinese agencies and companies might care to invest in the future?

The Ambassador: You just mentioned that China is a major exporter in the world. But in terms of bilateral trade between our two countries, Ireland enjoys a huge surplus. Chinese investments in Ireland have been keeping increasing over the past few years. The cumulative direct investment from China in Ireland is over 1 billion USD. This trend is keeping going on. You may know that last week TikTok announced a 420 million euros investment in Ireland to establish its European data centre in Ireland. That is a good example that the business environment in Ireland is very attractive for Chinese enterprises.

McGee: Mr. Ambassador, just in terms of another area, there’s a lot of controversies specially generated by the US administration in relation to the development of 5G and Huawei. Perhaps you could explain it to me from the perspective of your nation and your government.

The Ambassador: The fundamental reason behind this US administration’s policy against 5G technology from China is that a few Chinese companies, especially Huawei, are the leading players for 5G tech and equipment. Some Americans are very nervous about that and don’t want to see Chinese enterprises perform better than their US counterparts. Over the past few years, we heard a lot of groundless accusations from some US media, government officials saying Huawei tech or equipment is not safe or there are security issues with Huawei 5G equipment. However, they failed to present any concrete evidence for their accusation.

McGee: I think the subliminal message they are making is that China is using this technology to spy on the US.

The Ambassador: This is nonsense. Take the example of TikTok. They said that TikTok may have provided or will provide information to the Chinese government. But even the CIA itself has said that there is no evidence that TikTok is doing this. So such kind of accusations are groundless and nonsense. Its only reason is that some Americans don’t like to see any Chinese company performs better than its American competitors. In history, we have seen such kind of scenarios happened many times on companies from Japan or Germany or France. In 1980s, the US government implied a similar tactic against a Japanese company, Toshiba. Several years ago, the US government set a trap to arrest a senior executive of a French company, Alstom, and forced it to sell its core business to GE, its American competitor. The book, The American Trap, wrote by former CEO of Alstom, tells the whole story in detail.

McGee: As a diplomat, you are very knowledgeable of western countries and how western democracy works. As a person from China, what do you think are myths or misconceptions that western people have about China, Chinese people, and the way China conducts its business internally and internationally? Do you think there are myths, lies that are told about China and propagated internationally?

The Ambassador: There are a lot of lies against China, especially in the western media. One of the reasons is the cultural and historical differences between China and the western world. But another reason is the fast development of China over the past few decades. For some people, it is too hard for them to accommodate the development of China and a space for China in the world stage.

Difference is natural and makes the world colorful, just like biodiversity makes the nature colorful. If every people, every country is the same, the world will be too dull. Several days ago the great Irishman, John Hume, passed away. He has a famous quote, “there is not two people in the whole world who are the same. Difference is of the essence of humanity and therefore respect of difference should be very very normal and very common. But it is the first and deepest principle of real peace.” There are differences between China and other countries in the world. Actually, there are differences between any two countries in the world. Those differences provide us opportunities to cooperate, and it’s why we shall learn from each other and to benefit from each other.

McGee: I went to the UN global summit on climate change in 2009. At that time, there was a difference of opinion between China and the US about how would it proceed. China was building one new coal power plant every week then. People are worried about pollution and its impact on climate and the environment. But things have been changed in China. There has been a big move in China toward lower emissions. Perhaps you could explain to me what the thinking of China is in relation to how development could happen but not at the expense of the environment and climate.

The Ambassador: We take green development as one of our major priorities. China is a huge country with a huge population. The green and sustainable development is of vital importance for the livelihood of Chinese people, for the future development of China and also for the region and the world. So we attach great importance to that. You could see that in the past years, there were rapid and concrete achievements in reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality in China. 10 or 20 years ago, there were many Chinese cities listed as heavily polluted cities in the world. But now there is a huge improvement. As a developing country, China still has tremendous tasks to accomplish in the future. But we are very determined to make even greater efforts in green and sustainable development.

McGee: Although there are theories of conspiracy, most people accept that the COVID-19 pandemic happened possibly at a live food market in Wuhan. What steps would China take to assure that such outbreaks would be minimized and cannot happen again? Is there any preventive measure to prevent new strains or new outbreaks from happening again? I know that some of the live markets are limited and some are banned.

The Ambassador: There’s still a lot of work to do. Tracing the virus is very important and difficult and is a piece of work for scientists. There are a lot of theories of conspiracy regarding the origin of the virus. For the time being, scientists all over the world, including those from China, are doing a very hard work to trace the origin of the virus and to get more information about it, including its original host and intermediate host, and how the virus transmitted to and among humans. That is a piece of work that need to be done by scientists in the spirit of science. It should not be politicized.

McGee: Is it accepted that it originated in a live market in Wuhan?

The Ambassador: The first case reported in China was from Wuhan. But according to many scientists, Wuhan may not be the origin of the virus. In the past few months and weeks, we have seen some media reports saying that they have found COVID-19 cases earlier in Europe or the US, or somewhere else. Till now, we have known something about the COVID-19, but there is still a lot we don’t know. It is very important for scientists to work and cooperate with each other.

McGee: Are you saying that the virus was originated outside of China?

The Ambassador: There are some media reports that earlier last year there were some possible cases of COVID-19 out of China. The coronavirus has been found in the sample of sewage water here and there.

McGee: I know you did an interview with RTÉ at the end of last month. And a lot of it revolved around the situation affecting the Uyghur population and accusations of human rights abuses of mass concentration camps, re-education camps, and of Uyghur women being sterilized. Now I don’t propose to go into any huge detail. But you were making an allegation that the loss of the population, the video showing people being led into trains, the Google earth images of these camps, are not true but just fabrications. Probably you can talk to me about that.

The Ambassador: This kind of accusation is totally groundless, and a lot of them are fabricated. They said that the World Uyghur Congress said that one million Uyghurs are being detained in the so-called concentration camp. But when asked by an American correspondent, a leader of the WUC said that some figures were provided by them to the media. Then being asked where they got it, he said that they got it from the media. So that kind of accusation is totally groundless, fabricated with its own political intention. You just mentioned “sterilization of the Uyghur women”. The fact is that in the past 40 years, the total population in China increased by about 40%, while the Uyghur population in Xinjiang doubled during the same period.

McGee: It might be in the last ten years that efforts were made to reduce the Uyghur population and at the same time to allow a lot of Han ethnic to resettle in Xinjiang Province. So there are suppressions of population plus population being transferred.

The Ambassador: This is a groundless lie. Xinjiang is a part of China. The people in Xinjiang, no matter Han or Uyghur or other ethnics, have a legitimate right to seek a better life, to get the benefit of economic and social development in China. So there are movements of populations within Xinjiang, and between Xinjiang and the rest of China. Do they mean that Xinjiang should be isolated from the rest of China? You also mentioned that there is a video clip of the transfer of prisoners in Xinjiang. It is quite normal in any country. On some occasions, you need to transfer some prisoners from this location to another. It has nothing to do with the so-called concentration camp.

McGee: The Uyghur people are predominantly Muslim. What is China’s attitude towards their religion? I know it’s a no religion state, but are people free to practice their own religion in China?

The Ambassador: Absolutely. There are tens of thousands of mosques in Xinjiang. Put together the figure of the total number of mosques and the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, you will see that Xinjiang has more mosques than some Islamic countries.

McGee: A final question related to sterilization. In the interview your colleague in London got with Andrew Marr in BBC about the sterilization question, he was saying there was no mass sterilization, but maybe one or two individual cases. I think you were asked the same question by RTÉ.

The Ambassador: I think we can not rule out the possibility of isolated cases. But if there is evidence, we will investigate it. And if someone is doing the wrong thing, he or she will be taken accountable for that.

McGee: We move now onto the subject of Hong Kong. This is probably extensively discussed during your time in Ireland as well. Essentially you have the “One Country, Two Systems”, which has been the way Hong Kong has been governed and operated since 1997. And in the past number of years, there has been difficulty in protest and demonstrations, which has led to violent clashes in some occasions. China has been criticized for being too heavy-handed for imposing clam-down on freedoms, for diminishing the rights to free protest and the freedom of expression. The most recent example of that is the arrest of the owner of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai. The accusation is China is beginning to dismantle this particular system of “One Country, Two Systems”. What has he done and why has he been arrested? It has been mentioned he has been conspiring with foreign powers.

The Ambassador: The most important thing about “One Country, Two Systems” is there are two phrases in it, “One Country” and “Two Systems”. Some people only pay attention to “Two Systems”, and try to put “One Country” aside.

Any freedom has a limit. You mentioned Jimmy Lai. He is the owner of a media in Hong Kong. But I think that nobody shall be above the law, no matter you are a journalist or a media owner. If one does something wrong, he or she has to be taken accountable. If one violated the law, he or she needs to be punished according to the law. So it has nothing to do with his identity, whether he is a journalist or owner of a newspaper. Lai’s case is a legal case and the legal process is still going on. The authorities in Hong Kong will present appropriate evidence for their allegation.

McGee: Would you agree with the prosecution that China has been heavy-handed and there have been difficulties with the protest?

The Ambassador: The scenario is just the opposite. Since Hong Kong returned to China in 1997, there have been many demonstrations in Hong Kong every year, every month, sometimes even every day. That’s how people in Hong Kong exercise their freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. But what is also important is that you have to abide by the law and should be peaceful. No country will allow violent assemblies. You can have a demonstration, but cannot attack the people who disagree with you. The latter is the scenario we have seen in the past few years in Hong Kong. We have seen a lot of reports that violent demonstrators attack the policeman and the people who disagree with them, set them on fire, or even try to kill them. This kind of violence will not be permitted in any country.

McGee: A number of countries said they are going to suspend the extradition agreement with Hong Kong as a result of that. The UK has been primarily one of them. Ireland is looking at the situation. I heard Micheal McDowell saying there are provisions in our 2007 Act, that would prevent somebody from being extradited for political reasons. What do you think of the propositions of the countries stopping extradition agreements with Hong Kong?

The Ambassador: I have two comments on that. The first is that such kind of agreement is beneficial for both sides. Because it is to prevent any criminals to seek haven, say, if an Irish criminal ran into Hong Kong, he or she will be extradited to Ireland, and vice versa. So it is a mutually beneficial agreement. The second is I don’t think many Irish people would like to see Ireland be a haven for criminals from Hong Kong or any part of the world.

McGee: Would you accept that there’s sometimes a political dimension to such problematic legal consideration?

The Ambassador: Some people in the UK, the US, or somewhere else in the world are trying to exaggerate the story for their own political purposes. Such kind of rhetoric is all about politics.

McGee: There are some reports that a Chinese woman was pushed into the canal on Saturday, and a Chinese man had tooth knocked out in Cork. What is your comments on the attacks on the Chinese here in Ireland? They seem to be more under attack because of coronavirus?

The Ambassador: We noticed with concern media reports of several cases of attacking on and discriminating against Chinese people in Ireland. We also noticed that Gardaí is actively investigating the cases and hope that relevant work can be completed as soon as possible and those responsible be brought to justice.

We appreciate the solidarity of the Irish government, public opinion and people from all walks of life with the victims and their strong opposition to racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is the common enemy of mankind and we shall be united together to oppose it.