Ambassador Zheng Zeguang Gives an Interview to Chinese and Foreign Media

On 28 March, H.E. Ambassador Zheng Zeguang, who was on a visit in Northern Ireland, gave an interview on the visit and answered questions from Chinese and foreign media. Journalists from the BBC, Raidió Fáilte, Xinhua News Agency, People's Daily, CCTV, CGTN and China Daily participated in the interview.

Ambassador Zheng: Thank you, friends from the media, for covering my very brief visit here in Northern Ireland. This is my first visit to Northern Ireland and Belfast. I enjoyed the visit so much. Regional cooperation is a very important component of state-to-state relations. The purpose of my visit is to enhance mutual understanding and promote friendship and cooperation. In the past two days, I had extensive exchanges with people from various sectors in Northern Ireland and discussed with them how best to expand cooperation in various fields between China and Northern Ireland. We all see a huge potential and are keen to broaden cooperation between the two sides. I feel very encouraged by it.

This morning, I attended the China-UK/Northern Ireland Forum on New Energy Innovation, the first of this kind between China and the UK. The discussions were very productive, and in particular, there was a keen interest on both sides to work together to research and develop hydrogen energy and to put it into application. It is a very good example that China and Northern Ireland can conduct more dialogues and discussions in the traditional areas of investment, trade, education, cultural exchange, tourism and sports, as well as new areas such as new energy, financial services, financial technology, biomedicine and creative industries. I am optimistic about the opportunities of cooperation between the two sides. Now I will be pleased to take some of your questions.

CGTN: How important is China’s relationship not only with England but also with Northern Ireland in particular?

Ambassador Zheng: All state-to-state relations consist of relations between cities, provinces and regions. Regional cooperation is such an important component in state-to-state relations. A lot of things happen at the local level. Regional relations are also based on respect, friendship and mutual benefit.   It is important for the two sides to have lively and real conversations. Not until you meet with the people and conduct conversations with them, you can only rely on reading newspapers, books and letters, and your understanding will be inadequate and incomplete. When we have good, productive sister-city and regional relations through interaction and communication, it will lead to a more healthy China-UK relationship.

I do see the benefits of cooperation and exchanges between China and Northern Ireland already. In recent years, two-way trade and investment have kept growing, and there are about 2,000 Chinese students studying in Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and other institutions. The Vice Chancellors of the two universities told me that they want to see more Chinese students coming to Northern Ireland and would like to have stronger cooperation in teaching and research with Chinese universities. The CEO of the corporation which invested and built the Titanic museum told me that before the pandemic, there were so many Chinese tourists, and that she would love to see more Chinese tourists return to Northern Ireland and Belfast.

It was an honour for me to have a meeting with Speaker Alex Maskey and talk to the representatives of political parties. I had a very good meeting with the head of the civil service Dr Brady as well. I feel encouraged by their positive attitude towards cooperation with China. I said to my friends here that Northern Ireland is a best kept secret. It is so beautiful, pure and full of potential. I think in the months to come, you will see more delegations and tourists coming this way. We encourage people from all walks of life here to visit China as well. This cooperation certainly serves the interest of both sides. 

CCTV: Some European media have reported that Chinese modernisation brings the world peace and opportunities, and what is your own opinion on it? Could you give us some examples from the UK?

Ambassador Zheng: The Chinese path to modernisation is a major topic that I discussed with friends here over the past two days. You can see from the following points just how big a contribution Chinese modernisation will make to world peace and development.

First, China has a population over 1.4 billion. And when the Chinese people achieve the goal of modernisation and common prosperity, it is itself a huge contribution to world peace and human progress.

Economically speaking, according to the World Bank report, between 2013 and 2021, China's economic growth contributed more than 38.6% to the world economic growth annually. I have just read the newspaper. The IMF said that Chinese economy is now expected to contribute a third of global growth this year. So the contribution of Chinese modernisation to world peace, contribution to the economic growth of the world is quite evident.

And China’s path to modernisation is committed to the harmony between mankind and nature. We have already set ambitious carbon peaking and carbon neutrality targets. Now we are doing everything we can to deliver our commitment. The green and low-carbon development of such a huge developing country is also a contribution to the global efforts of addressing climate change.

On top of that, how we are going to achieve this modernisation is through a peaceful path. We will certainly continue to strive for world peace and common development and reject the old path of modernisation taken by western countries, which was full of military conflicts, colonisation, and plunder. So China's path to modernisation will provide unprecedented opportunities for world peace and global development, and it will develop a new form of human advancement.

Now, look at the relationship between China and the UK. I can give you one example. In the year 2022, two-way trade exceeded 100 billion US dollars, although the global economy suffered a lot from the pandemic over the past two years, and UK companies invested in more than 600 new projects in China. This fully shows that Chinese modernisation has brought development opportunities for countries around the world, including the UK.

You hear from time to time some remarks made by a number of UK politicians. They thought that China presents a challenge or a threat to UK's economic or national security. This is totally groundless and does not reflect the mainstream view in the UK. Wherever I travel and talk to people from different walks of life, I see that they don't believe in those remarks. They stand for dialogue and cooperation with China. People from across the society of Northern Ireland believe that it is in the interest of Northern Ireland to cooperate with China. I myself and my colleagues will spare no effort to work closely with people from different walks of life, different sectors in Northern Ireland to promote more exchanges, dialogue and cooperation between the two sides.

BBC:Can I ask about your view on the decision by the UK government in the last week or so to ban the TikTok app on UK government devices because of concerns that sensitive data could be accessed by the Chinese government? And has that affected the relationship?

Ambassador Zheng: This decision is wrong. It is overstretching the idea of national security and an act of political manipulation. We firmly oppose it. The Chinese government protects data and information security in accordance with the law. The chief executive of the relevant company has made it clear before the US Congress that his company is committed to the protection of users' data, and there is no breach of privacy. The UK’s decision will only hurt others and itself, including UK officials not being able to use a very popular social media platform, thus preventing themselves from better understanding the younger generation. We urge the UK side to focus on the facts, not to politicise the issue, not to be led astray by any third country, or wantonly suppress Chinese companies.

Raidió Fáilte: Ambassador, on behalf of the Irish speaking community in Belfast, I want to welcome you, on your first visit to our city. Raidió Fáilte are currently working on a series of multi-cultural, multi-lingual projects, with your colleagues in the Confucius institute. In your opinion, how important are these collaborations, and would you like to see similar co-initiatives in the future?

Ambassador Zheng:The cooperation on Confucius Institutes is hugely important as it not only provides opportunities for students here to learn the Chinese language and to better appreciate the Chinese culture, but also helps facilitate cultural exchanges between the two sides.

The Confucius Institute that I have visited is located at Ulster University. It is a big success, a model institute. It has the support of the British Council, the support of the University and the support of the Chinese Consulate General as well. It is so popular among the young students. I was able to meet with a group of "young ambassadors". The students are speaking perfect mandarin and they will obviously become citizens of the world. When they travel to China, do business with China and make friends in China, it will be so easy to do so without language barrier. We will continue to support the teaching of the Chinese language and the Confucius Institutes here.

Xinhua News Agency: What new opportunities does China’s pursuit of high-quality development present to cooperation between China and Northern Ireland as well as between China and the UK? 

Ambassador Zheng: As President Xi Jinping pointed out, high-quality development is the primary task of China's modernisation in our efforts to build a modern socialist country in all respects.

High-quality development emphasises high quality. That means we will upgrade our economy from the lower and middle end to the middle and upper end in the industrial chain. It will make it possible for China to expand our practical cooperation with the UK in such areas as financial services, digital economy, high-end manufacturing, renewable energy, and creative industries.

High-quality development also means that we will maintain an appropriate speed of our economic growth. When we say appropriate speed, our target for our economy in the year 2023 is around 5%. We need that speed in order to generate employment and make sure that the living standard of our population will continue to grow and to be improved. It will create more opportunities for economic cooperation and trade and other areas between China and the UK and between China and Northern Ireland. 

High-quality development also means a high-level opening up. We will continue to increase market access for foreign investors. As you may know, we’ve put into practice the 2022 version of the new investment catalogue. And from July 1 on, the general tariff level will be reduced to 7.3%. It means more opportunities for foreign products and services to get into China.

High-quality development is underpinned by the scale of the market. China has a population of 1.4 billion, and its middle-income group is already 400 million. And in the next 10 years, according to forecast, the total import of commodities that China is going to make will exceed 22 trillion US dollars. It means a lot of opportunities for countries around the world to trade with China for mutual benefit.

So I think the UK and Northern Ireland should seize the opportunity of China’s development, including enlarging investment and trade cooperation, and take up a bigger share of the Chinese market with your good products and services. And we as always welcome companies from the UK and Northern Ireland to do business in China, and hope the UK will provide a fair, open and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies as well.