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Chinese Ambassador H. E. Dr. Sun Xianghua Interviewed on the Belt and Road Initiative

On 10 July 2017, Chinese Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho Dr. Sun Xianghua received an interview on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by the Post.  Transcript of which is as following: 

1.      What is the Belt and Road Initiative?

The B&R Initiative was first introduced by H.E. Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China, in the fall of 2013 during his visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia respectively. The core concept of this Initiative is to integrate and revitalize the ancient land-based Silk Road and maritime Silk Road region into a cohesive economic area. The Initiative is upheld by 3 guiding principles, namely: extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. These three principles show the Initiative's fundamental nature of being win-win  cooperation orientated. As the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has vividly described, the "Belt and Road" construction is not a "solo play" by China but a "symphony" played by all the participants of this Initiative.

The Initiative sets up 5 goals to realize, namely, policy co-ordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people and cultural bonds. Simply put, these 5 goals can be called 5-Connectivity, the connectivity of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance, and peoples. Inducing from these 5 goals, we can clearly see that the Initiative treats the issues of development as its main agenda, with industry, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people exchanges as the key areas of cooperation.

The inception and introduction of BRI by China came at a crucial stage of economic globalization and international cooperation. On one hand, the world political and economic landscape is going through profound changes. The financial crisis in 2008 has ushered in a long period of social uncertainty and sluggish economic recovery. Protectionism, populism, unilateralism, xenophobia, terrorism have become rampant in some regions. Meanwhile, underdevelopment, poverty, income disparity as the root causes of conflicts and war, are still to be addressed. On the other hand, China has become the world's second largest economy and continues to maintain a robust growth since its reform and opening up. Meanwhile, it is also faced with a "new normal" in its development, and needs to adjust its economic structure and change its growth method. Bearing all the above in mind and after in-depth analysis, China put forward the BRI. As H.E. President Xi Jinping pointed out at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing in May this year, the introduction of BRI was to inherit and revitalize the spirit of the ancient silk roads, namely, peace and cooperation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefits.

Since the introduction of this Initiative, it has been warmly received by the international and regional community. Up until now, more than 100 countries and international organizations have joined this Initiative, among which more than 68 have signed cooperation agreements with China. The United Nations General Assembly, the UN Security Council, UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Asia-Europe Meeting have all incorporated or reflected the B&R cooperation in their relevant resolutions and documents.

In the past 3 years since the BRI was put forward, great achievements have been made. In the field of infrastructure, projects like Addis Ababa of Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, Mombasa-Nairobi railway in Kenya,  Abuja-Kaduna railroad in Nigeria, and others in Europe and Asia have been completed. Some major seaports and airports projects in Togo, Djibouti and Benin, the  Souapiti hydro-power plant of 510mw in Guinea, are in smooth progress. In trade and investment in the past 3 years, trade volume between China and the relevant countries have reached US$3 trillion, China's investment has surpassed US$50 billion. 56 economic cooperation zones have been built in over 20 countries. Meanwhile, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has provided US$1.7 billion of loans for 9 projects in Belt and Road participating countries. The Silk Road Fund has made US$4 billion of investment as well.

At the Road Forum for International Cooperation held in May this year, we witnessed 29 foreign heads of state and government attended the forum. More than 1,500 delegates from over 130 countries and 70 international organizations also took part. This shows the international leaders and representatives from all sides are very optimistic about the initiative's prospects. They all hope to use the initiative as an opportunity, and the forum as a platform, to find the solutions to cope with challenges, to build the momentum for joint development and push forward cooperation in concrete forms. During the Summit, 270 concrete results in the key areas of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people-to-people exchanges have been achieved.

At the same Summit, H.E. President Xi also announced China will scale up financing support for the BRI by contributing an additional RMB 100 billion to the Silk Road Fund, and China encourages financial institutions to conduct overseas RMB fund business with an estimated amount of about RMB 300 billion. The China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China will set up special lending schemes respectively worth RMB 250 billion equivalent and RMB 130 billion equivalent to support BRI's infrastructure, industrial capacity and financing. In the coming 3 years, China will provide assistance worth RMB 60 billion to developing countries and international organizations participating in the BRI to launch more projects to improve people's well-being. China will also provide emergency food aid worth RMB 2 billion to developing countries along the Belt and Road and make an additional contribution of US$1 billion to the Assistance Fund for South-South Cooperation.

Looking forward, we have every reason to be confident that the BRI will have an even brighter future. As pledged by H.E. President Xi, the Belt and Road will become a road of peace, prosperity, opening up, innovation, and a road connecting different civilizations.


2.      Is Lesotho part of the Belt and Road Initiative since if yes how long has it been part of this initiative?

In April this year, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that since the cultural and historical genes of BRI came from the ancient Silk Road, therefore the "Belt and Road" has taken Eurasia as a major area and extended to relevant countries and regions step by step. Meanwhile, China has no intention to designate a clear geographic boundary for the "Belt and Road", because it is an initiative for international cooperation in its essence, and should be open to all like-minded countries and regions. The initiative is not a "member club", but a "circle of friends" with extensive participation.

Africa is an integral part of the ancient maritime silk road and currently some countries in eastern Africa has taken part in the implementation of BRI. With the progress of BRI, more African countries will join and benefit from it. At the opening ceremony of the 29th African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa early this month, the Deputy Secretary-General of UN Amina Mohammed said, "the initiative calls for global partners to scale up investments in Africa's infrastructure for regional economic integration", and "we must work to take advantage of one of the world's largest infrastructure initiatives, the Chinese-proposed Belt and Road initiative".

Lesotho is an important member of the African family and important partner of China. Lesotho has already started benefiting from some of the measures of the BRI. For example, as a step to implement the announcement made by President Xi at the Summit that China would provide food aid worth RMB 2 billion to developing countries along the Belt and Road, we have just signed agreement with Lesotho government that China will provide RMB 20 million worth of food aid to Lesotho this year.


3.      Is this one of China's strategy to build its economy?

The answer is yes and no. The BRI's outstanding feature is that it calls for win-win cooperation. China has long realized that only with a peaceful, prosperous and stable regional and international environment, could China continue to concentrate on its economic construction and achieve sustainable development. More importantly, the countries and regions along the Belt and Road will also benefit enormously from this Initiative. At this moment, many countries in Asia, Europe and especially Africa are still faced with rigorous challenges of development. The BRI will provide them with a great opportunity to realize sustainable development. It's exactly for this reason that since the inception, the BRI has been so warmly received by so many countries. As many world leaders have pointed out, the BRI is a great public good that China has contributed to the world. In one word, the BRI will not only help China"s economic development, but also and more importantly help the regional and world economy to grow.


4.      What will this initiative mean to Lesotho and its economy?

Though Lesotho is a land-locked country at the southern tip of Africa, it still can benefit from BRI. As your may realize that the BRI is an open, inclusive and shared-benefits initiative, it's quite compatible with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union's Agenda 2063. The benefits will come in several ways. Firstly, with the further development of the countries and regions along the Belt and Road, its positive effect will impact Lesotho's economy in ways of trade and investment opportunities. Since today's word is a deeply integrated village and there will be a percolation process and spill-over effects. Secondly, with the African continent benefit from the Initiative, Lesotho will also positively affected, either in terms of trade, service, finance and investments. Thirdly, Lesotho can also directly benefit from the measures of BRI, like the food aid I mentioned just now. Under the spirit of BRI, the two countries can also deepen their cooperation in other specific areas.

5.      What kind of market opportunities have you identified in Lesotho. What kind of market opportunities can Lesotho identify in China.

When we look at the SADC region and SACU, I think Lesotho has a huge market potential, not to mention its domestic market. For my personal point of view, I think the manufacturing and agriculture sector are where most of the potentials are. Meanwhile, China also has preferential trade policy toward Lesotho. China has given zero-tariff treatment to 97% of Lesotho's products while being exported to China. With China's economic structural adjustment and upgrading, it will increasingly provide a huge market of Lesotho's products. Currently, Lesotho's annual export volume stands at US$ 20 million. With more investment in Lesotho's manufacturing and agriculture, Lesotho will definitely find more markets both home and abroad.

In order to help Basotho tap its market potentials, apart from engaging in the cooperation of public health, education, cultural exchanges, China has also been assisting the Lesotho government in developing its infrastructure, carrying out training programs for technique and skill transfer, providing funds for Lesotho to develop urgently needed projects.

I especially want to talk about our training programs for Lesotho. As we say, "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime". Our training programs serve exactly this purpose. For example, china's training programs are concentrated on practical skills and techniques, and each year roughly 280 Basotho go to China for training. In this year by now, we have already organized 4 bilateral training programs in China exclusively for Basotho, more than 80 people have gone there. Apart from that, we also invited roughly 40 Basotho to join 18 multilateral training programs in China. Before the end of this year, we still have 6 bilateral programs and more multilateral one to be held in China. Let me give you some of the topics of the training programs, textile industry management, rural economy development, highland agriculture development, tailoring and embroidery, leather manufacturing and cleaning, fruit-tree cultivating, modern agriculture techniques, hotel and tour guides administration, just mention a few.

In order to help Lesotho's small and micro business development, we encourage private practitioners to join these programs. They are all sponsored by the Chinese government. In this regard, I must thank the Ministry of Development Planing as the coordinator, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lesotho for their facilitation.

To put it in a nutshell, I think with the deepening of our two countries cooperation, we will definitely broaden our fields of cooperation, and will find and create new bigger markets in our two countries.


6.      There is a talk that the Belt and Road initiative is a system used by the Chinese Government to exploit African resources, what is your comment on this?

In my opinion, this kind of talk is not true. It's unfounded, misleading, biased and even ill-intentioned. China shares similar historic experiences and fully understands and sympathizes African countries' suffering from colonialism and being exploited under colonial rule. Immediately after the founding of the People's Republic of China, it started to fully support Africa's struggle for independence and national liberation. I will give you two examples. In order to support this movement, China used a large share of its foreign reserve to fund and construct the more than 1800 km Tanzania-Zambia railway in 1960s to 70s, 69 of its engineers and technicians gave their lives for this strategic and legendary project. Since 1956, China has started to send its tens of thousands of doctors to Africa and treated more than 200 million Africans. In one word, for the past 6 decades, China has been consistently adhering to the five principles of peaceful coexistence and helping our African friends as equal partners and sincere friends. China's cooperation with Africa is a cooperation between developing countries, between equal partners and between sincere friends.

With its own development, China has gradually stepped up its efforts in helping and cooperating with African countries. Today, China is not only among the top donors to Africa, but also a leading country in helping Africa to realize industrialization and modernization. China has become the biggest trading partner of Africa, the biggest infrastructure constructor and financier in Africa, and has the fastest growing investment to Africa. As I said just, with the implementation of BRI, Africa will further benefit from its cooperation with China. I am confident in 5-10 years time, as long as Africa and China continue to closely join hands and word together, the African continent will embrace much brighter future.

Now let's come to the specific topic of resources. Firstly, China has never and will never "exploit" African resources. China has never colonized Africa will never colonize Africa. Colonialism and exploitation is not in Chinese's genes. The days when Africa was colonized and its resources can be exploited have and should have been long gone. China has only started to cooperate with African countries after they have obtained independence and sovereignty. In our cooperation, China has always maintained that what ever cooperation programs should be initiated by Africa, agreed by Africa and participated by Africa. There's no such a thing as China's "exploitation".

Secondly, china's cooperation with Africa is development oriented, not resources oriented. This has become a known fact. I suggest a most recent report by Mckinsey and Company to you,"Dance of the lions and dragons". This comprehensive report, after thousands interviews and field study, finds out that china is truly Africa's largest economic partner, it points out that China's investments in Africa are mainly engaged in manufacturing(1/3), service sector(1/4), construction(1/5) and real estate(1/5). More importantly, China's investment creates millions of jobs fro Africa and transfers techniques, knowledge and skills.

Thirdly, our investment in resources development, though it is on equal footing with the African countries and is initiated by African partners, is only a very small part of it. For example, the oil imported from Africa by China only accounts for roughly 18% of china's total oil imports. China imports large quantities of oil from Russia and US, iron ores from Austria and Brazil. But I have never heard that we are "exploiting" US and Russia's resources. I quote from the above report, "we found no particular preference in terms of the resource-base of countries. Chinese investment is everywhere. Non-resource-rich countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda were just as popular as resource rich countries like Nigeria and South Africa".

All in all, that's why I say the talk you mentioned is unfounded, misleading, and even ill intentioned. I believe that African friends can observe for themselves and find out the truth. I also hope African friends speak out about the truth and create a conducive environment for China-Africa cooperation.

7.      The new government of Lesotho has recently been launched, are you going to kick start any new plans or projects to promote the practical cooperation between China and Lesotho?

China has been doing whatever it can to assist Lesotho in realizing political stability, economic development and betterment of the people's lives ever since we reestablished our diplomatic relations with Lesotho. We are looking forward to work closely with the new government to promote our cooperation. There are so many things that should be done. Firstly, I will try as fast as I can to know the relevant ministers and discuss with them about our works and priorities. Secondly, there are quite a number of programs and projects that we need to push forward under the framework of FOCAC. For example, this week, we are going to sign an agreement with the new government about providing 3-year technical and maintenance support for the Parliament building and National Convention Centre until 2020. Immediately after that, we will prepare to hand over the newly completely state house, where some state functions of Lesotho will have a proper place to hold. Then I think the new batch food-aid of RMB 20 million will arrive. We have to take care of that. There are many things to do.

With the BRI in full implementation, and the outcomes of the Johannesburg Summit of FOCAC being realized, I can foresee that the next following years will become increasingly busy for us. I am confident that our close collaboration with Lesotho government and our Basotho friends will bring more tangible benefits to this country and its people.




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