Afsan Chowdhury spoke to the guest on behalf of SAM.
South Asian Monitor (SAM):What are your thoughts on the growing tension in Sino-US relations over trade and the situation in the South China Sea?
Prof. Cheng Xizhong: The United States has launched a trade war against China, constantly sending warships and planes to challenge China's bottom line in the South China Sea. It tried to create cracks in China-India relations and the relations between China and ASEAN countries. It created trouble for China in almost every possible field, thus making Sino-US relations increasingly tense.
In my opinion, the root cause of these problems lies in the growing fear in the United States about China's rise. The United Statesis worried that China's peaceful rise and the growing power of emerging market economies. These have become a "threat" to its century-old world hegemony. That the United States can no longer dominate world affairs is a worry for it.
Multi-polarization, economic globalization and cultural diversity have become an irresistible historical trend. It can't be stopped by anyone or any force. Going against the tide of history, the United States has become more and more hysterical.
To undermine the existing world order, the United States has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Agreement, UNESCO, the Iranian nuclear deal, UNHRC, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Universal Postal Union, and recently the World Health Organization. The unilateralism of the United States has made it increasingly unpopular in the world.All these causes have led to the existing Sino-US tension.
SAM: Is this the new "cold war"? What can both do to ensure peaceful relations?
Prof. Cheng: If we study the 200-year history of the United States, we will know that that country cannot survive without "enemies" and cannot survive without wars. Through military wars, financial wars, trade wars, science and technology wars, and through various means, including creation of financial crises, the world's wealth has been flowing into the United States, and the United States has become the most powerful country in the world.
Some media and scholars have said that Sino-US relations have entered a "new cold war" period. I believe that the current tense relations between China and the United States are deliberately created by the United States. China firmly opposes the artificial creation of the so-called "new cold war", which completely violates the fundamental interests of the people of China and the United States. It completely deviates from the trend of world development and progress.
China hopes that Sino-US relations would return to the normal track. At the same time, China is fully capable of dealing with all kinds of unexpected situations that may arise. China and the United States are the two largest economies in the world, and Sino-US relations affect the whole world.
We can say that China has done its utmost to maintain normal relations with the United States, but the United States is still doing its utmost to destroy Sino-US relations.
China is a peace-loving country and has never invaded another. But, the Chinese people have a strong will to fight against foreign invasions. China opposes war but is not afraid of war. The United States has become a rogue country and will do anything risky. If the United States uses force against China, the Chinese armed forces will definitely strike back forcefully.
SAM: What steps have been taken through bilateral means between India and China to prevent border conflicts in future?
Prof. Cheng: The military stand-off in the western part of the China-India border has lasted for more than four months, which is caused by the Indian troops' repeated cross-border attempts to occupy more Chinese territory.
Recently, the foreign ministers and defense ministers of China and India held bilateral meetings. At the same time, China and India have held military and diplomatic consultations to seek solutions to the issue. This shows that neither side wants to see the situation go out of control, thus affecting the general direction of friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries.
On September 21, the sixth round of talks at the level of corps commanders were held. Both sides had a frank and in-depth exchange of views on stabilizing and controlling the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). They agreed to earnestly implement the important consensus reached by the leaders of the two countries.
These are: strengthening local liaison and communication; avoiding misunderstanding and misjudgment; stopping deployment of additionaltroops on the front line; not unilaterally changing the local situation, and avoiding any action that could complicate the situation.
The two sides also agreed to hold the seventh round of corps commanders talks as soon as possible; take pragmatic measures to properly handle local problems, and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border areas.
At present, the main problem is that India has not given up its "pushing forward plan" and is strengthening its military deployment and war preparations in the border areas. It seems that India is waiting for an opportunity to continue to implement its plan of establishing "the Union Territory of Ladakh" on Chinese territory.
On the territorial issue, China's position is very firm: China can't lose even an inch of territory, and the Chinese People's Liberation Army is fully determined, capable and confident about safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
SAM: Have trade relations between China and India been affected after the border clashes? Will China react to Indian measures?
Prof. Cheng: India often does not know what is good or bad for it and others. It likes to take advantage of other's difficulties. As a friend of India for decades, I often worry about them and often feel ashamed by their actions.
The United States is now pressing very hard on China. So, India thought that an opportunity had come. And it made moves in the border areas and wanted to occupy more Chinese territory. India immediately took a series of measures to impose sanctions on China in the economic and trade fields.
India took a series of measures to crack down on Chinese enterprises and decouple from China's economy. But all these have had a very limited impact on China. In the end, India itself has suffered the most.
In the first term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the average annual growth of Indian economy exceeded 7%. In a sense, it is due to Modi's opening up policy, the spillover effect of China's long-term rapid economic development on India, and the large-scale investment of Chinese enterprises in India.
Now, India is trying to stop the flow of Chinese capital and technology into the Indian market which is counterproductive. In addition, novel coronavirus pneumonia is becoming more and more serious in India. As a result, its GDP fell by 23.9% in the second quarter of this year and it's economy is on the verge of collapse.
China has a long-term trade surplus with India. In 2019, China's exports to India reached 74.83 billion US dollars, and China's imports from India was 17.98 billion US dollars. China's trade surplus with India reached 56.85 billion US dollars. Chinese enterprises invested USD190 million in India and India invested USD25.63 million in China. China’s investment is seven times that of India’s.
Therefore, there was only a series of "trivial distractions" by India in terms of bans. India does not have the strength to compete with China. India is far from being important to China for China to take retaliatory steps.
SAM: What are the new milestones in the BRI sector worth mentioning? Will China go for building a diplomatic/political structure around BRI beyond project building?
Prof. Cheng: The development of the Belt and the Road is based on the principles of Consultation, Contribution and Shared Benefits. That is to say that project investment is jointly discussed, infrastructure is built together, and the fruits of cooperation are shared. We must abide by the principles of the UN Charter. We must abide by the five principles of Peaceful Coexistence: namely, respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, practice non-aggression, observe non-interference in each other's internal affairs, and promote peaceful coexistence, equality and mutual benefit.
China signed BRI cooperation agreements with 16 countries and international organizations in 2019. The total number of cooperation documents exceeded 200. A large number of major projects have been steadily advanced such as the railway between China's Yunnan Province and Laos, the Jakarta-Bandung High-speed Railway, the railway between Hungary and Serbia, the Mombasa-Nairobi Railway, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, etc. China will adhere to the concept of openness and honesty, and pursue the goal of ensuring high standards, people's livelihood and sustainable development.
SAM: What can you say to reduce anxiety in many countries about the debt issues caused by Chinese funding?
Prof. Cheng: In order to help friendly countries solve their problems of economic stagnation due to lack of funds, China provides continuous assistance, including investment and loans. However, China's loans are often labeled by some western media as "debt trap".
The groundless accusations made by the western media generally have the backing of the US authorities. In fact, it is public opinion warfare launched by the United States to maintain its dominant position in the world and aimed at curbing the rise of emerging market economies, disrupting China's belt and road development process and keeping many countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka underdeveloped.
Let me cite an example. Not long ago, the Sukkur-Multan section of the Peshawar-Karachi motorway in Pakistan was completed ahead of time. The Sukkur-Multan motorway is 392 km long with a total investment of USD2.9 billion. This motorway was built by a Chinese construction company and financed by the Export-Import Bank of China. Therefore, there is no financial burden on the Pakistani government. It is believed that after the motorway is opened to traffic, it will continuously produce economic benefits, not just gradually recover the investment cost, but also contribute tax revenue to Pakistan.
During the construction of this motorway, nearly 30,000 local employees were directly employed, and more than 40,000 local employment opportunities were indirectly created through peripheral industries. During the implementation process, the Chinese construction company carried out skills and management training, and trained more than 4,500 equipment operators and 2,300 management and technical personnel.
When Chinese enterprises are engaged in project construction in friendly countries, they always attach great importance to helping the host countries enhance their capacity of independent development.
SAM: China's support to Myanmar on the Rohingya refugees issue has made Bangladesh unhappy. What is the latest Chinese position on the issue?
Prof. Cheng: Both Bangladesh and Myanmar are close neighbors and good friends of China’s. On the Rohingya issue, I don't think China favors Myanmar, so Bangladesh's friends need not be unhappy.
China is willing to play a role in properly resolving this issue between Bangladesh and Myanmar. China has always believed that this issue should be properly handled by Bangladesh and Myanmar through bilateral channels. The international community, including the UN Security Council, should provide favorable conditions and create a good environment for promoting bilateral consultations between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
China believes that with the support and assistance of the international community, Bangladesh and Myanmar will certainly find a solution to the problem through consultation. If necessary, China is willing to provide further assistance and support.
SAM: Sino-Indian competition in Bangladesh is real but what are the specific goals of China in this rivalry?
Prof. Cheng: Economic and trade competition is very normal. We should not look at it from the political angle too much. In terms of economic cooperation with South Asian countries, China and India have different starting points. India always wants to control other countries in South Asia through economic means, while China regards South Asian countries as equal partners.
China is willing to help Bangladesh and other South Asian countries continuously enhancing their independent capacity and strengthening their status through economic cooperation, so as to safeguard their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In the second informal meeting between Chinese and Indian leaders in 2019, the two sides agreed to explore the gradual expansion of the "China-India Plus" cooperation to South Asia, Southeast Asia and Africa, and create an unobstructed regional connectivity network. In accordance with this spirit, China is willing to cooperate with India in other South Asian countries, including Bangladesh.
SAM: Bangladesh has given land and river transit facilities to India for transporting commercial goods. In case of conflict/war with China do you think India might use these networks for military purposes?
Prof. Cheng: China hopes for lasting peace and stability in the trans-Himalayan region, including China and all the countries in South Asia. The urgent economic development tasks of China, India and other countries in South Asia will not allow war to occur in the trans-Himalayan region. China is committed to developing pragmatic cooperative relations with India, and hopes that India will abandon regional hegemony and take measures to improve its relations with other South Asian countries, including Bangladesh and Pakistan. This is in the fundamental interest of all the countries in the region.
SAM: China has a low interest in socio-cultural projects in Bangladesh. Does China plan to expand non-economic ties?
Prof. Cheng: In 1979, I was assigned to work in the Chinese Embassy in Bangladesh. For 41 years, I have been paying close attention to the development of the China-Bangladesh relations. In my view, relations between China and Bangladesh have always been very friendly. The pragmatic cooperation between the two countries is not only manifested in the economic and trade fields, but also in the political, military and cultural fields.
October 4 of this year marked the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Bangladesh. The leaders of the two countries exchanged congratulatory messages. Chinese leaders said that China attaches great importance to the development of the China-Bangladesh relations. China is willing to deepen practical cooperation in various fields with Bangladesh, strengthen strategic docking between the two countries and make joint efforts to promote belt and road construction with Bangladesh, so as to push the China-Bangladesh strategic cooperative partnership to a new height.
SAM: Will there be more access for Bangladeshis to Chinese education facilities in future?
Prof. Cheng: In 2019, the scale of Chinese government scholarships continued to expand. Statistics show that in 2019, 40,600 people from 182 countries enjoyed Chinese government scholarships to study in China, accounting for 10.21% of the total number of students studying in China.
Bangladesh is both a populous country and one of the important countries along the Belt and Road, and its economy has developed rapidly in recent years. Personally, I believe that the scholarship program of the Chinese government should be appropriately designed for Bangladesh, and that educational institutions of China and Bangladesh should cooperate more closely.
Source: 2020/10/14 Southasian Monitor