Excerpts from Chinese Ambassador CHENG Jingye's interview with The Australian correspondent Ben Packham
2019/10/02

Chinese Ambassador CHENG Jingye was interviewed by The Australian correspondent Ben Packham on 27th September 2019. The following are excerpts from that conversation. They have been lightly edited for content and clarity.

Ambassador Cheng:

I'm very glad to share with you, and through you to your readers, some of the achievements that we have made in the past 70 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The past seven decades have witnessed China's tremendous achievements and unprecedented transformation.

Politically speaking, we have established the socialist system and carried on reform and opening up and have blazed the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Economically speaking, China has grown from a poor and backward nation into the world's second-largest economy, with the size of its economy accounting for about 16 percent of the world GDP. China is now the largest trader in goods, the second-largest trader in service. Of course, also the largest industrial country and biggest holder of foreign exchange currency. In terms of the growth of GDP in the past 70 years or so, there was an increase of more than 450 times compared with the early days of New China.

In infrastructure building, there were also big leaps. Here I just give you one example, which is the mileage of China's high-speed rail. For the moment it comprises two thirds of the world's total. And the urbanisation of the country has grown to nearly 60 percent from 10 percent.

In terms of people's livelihood, the past seventy years have also witnessed continuous lifting of the living standard of the average Chinese people. For example, the per capita GDP is now close to US$10 000. The average life expectancy has gone up to 77 years from 35 and the illiteracy rate has dropped below 5 percent from 80 percent. We've built a basic pension security system covering about 0.9 billion people, and a basic medical insurance system which covers 1.3 billion people. The retention of nine year compulsory education system has reached about 94 percent and there are some 37 million students in the university.

There are other changes. In the area of science and technology, R&D expenditure of China now ranks the second in the world; In terms of the citation of research papers, in terms of international patent applications, China also ranks the second in the world. China ranks third in international trademark applications.

The contribution of scientific and technological progress to economic growth reached about 58 percent last year. China also takes a leading position in 5G technology.

And in the area of green development, we have also achieved major results. For example, China now is the largest producer, exporter and installer of solar panels and wind turbines. Last year, China accounted for one quarter of the world's newly forested land. And significant progress has been made in renewable energy development. There were about 1.2 million electric cars sold in China and altogether that accounts for about 50 percent of the world's total. The share of non-fossil fuel in primary energy consumption reached about 14 percent.

The other point I just want to add in the green development, is the total installed capacity of renewable energy now accounts for 28 percent of the world. That's some of the achievements or changes that we have brought bout.

Internationally, we have also made our share to peace and prosperity. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China played a very constructive role in promoting resolution to global or regional hot issues.

In the past 30 years or so, China has sent 400 000 peace keepers to about 30 United Nations peace keeping operations. We are now the largest troop contributor among permanent members of the Security Council and we are the second-largest financial contributor to the UN budget, including the UN peace-keeping budget. And since 2008, we have also dispatched about 32 convoys of naval ships, to the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the coast of Somalia to provide protection for over 6600 commercial vessels.

And for the past 10 years China contributed nearly 30 percent of the global economy growth. And in area of climate change, China also played its own part.

In implementation of the UN FCCC, China's fulfilled our CO2 emission reduction obligation by 45 percent. That is ahead of three years.

We are proud of what we have achieved. It's a miracle in human development history and it's a great story of our time. I also want to emphasize these achievements and changes are not a god-send, not a gift of others, are not a trophy of aggression or plunder. They have come from the hard-working, the courage, wisdom and entrepreneurship of the Chinese people under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

Ambassador Cheng:

Those are the points that I want to start and share with you.

Mr. Packham:

So, in relation to that list of absolutely remarkable achievements, when will China be a developed country? What is the timeline?

Ambassador Cheng:

I think over the past several decades, we have come a long way, , in our modernization endeavour but we still have a long way to realize the comprehensive modernization. Yes, we have made a lot of progress but we're still facing the challenge of unbalanced development and under-development.

Mr. Packham:

Do you have a time estimate?

Ambassador Cheng:

What we are saying in China now, we have two centenary goals. The first one is, we aim to complete the building of what we say is moderately well-off society in all aspects by 2020.

Mr. Packham:

So, will that be developed?

Ambassador Cheng:

No. The second centenary goal is, we will build on we have achieved on the first goal to start a new journey where we aim to build a fully modernized, socialist country by the middle of this century.

Mr. Packham:

By the middle of this century?

Ambassador Cheng:

That is in about 30 years.

Mr. Packham:

About 30 years. So, is the estimate, you will be developed in 30 years' time?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, that's your reading. I said, we still have a long way to go to become a developed country.

Mr. Packham:

But you're suggesting that it will be the middle of the century.

Ambassador Cheng:

Yes, to become a fully modern nation.

Mr. Packham:

Is that developed? Is there development before then? Will you be developed before you become a fully modern nation?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, I said our objective is by the middle of this century we'll turn China into a fully modern nation.

Mr. Packham:

I don't want to get this wrong, sir, though. I want to be accurate. So, for me, should I see that as when you achieve development? Being a fully modern nation? But before then you're not a developed country?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, I said the centenary goals. That's what we're going to do. I mean, I just want to emphasize for the moment, we're not there yet. We still have a long way to go.

Mr. Packham:

So that seems like another 30 years of concessions as a developing country.

Ambassador Cheng:

We have fulfilled our commitment in WTO, which we have made when we joined the WTO. For example, when we joined WTO, our commitment is to drop the tariffs level to 10%. But now what we have done is the overall tariffs level is about 7%. So it's much lower than we have promised. And also we have opened up service sectors in some 105 sub sectors. That's close to what have been done by developed countries.

Mr. Packham:

This is becoming an issue in our bilateral relationship though, isn't it? With Scott Morrison in the United States saying very firmly that China should be considered a developed country. Can you see a situation where we will improve our bilateral relationship where Scott Morrison is saying these things?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, what has been said, reminds me of a story. You may know the story of Blind Men and an Elephant. It's a Buddhist story. There is the elephant and the blind men coming to feel or to touch the elephant. Different people have a different say. You need to draw a conclusion from a complete picture rather than taking a part for the whole. So that's the essence, the key of the issue.

Mr. Packham:

Do you welcome Anthony Albanese's statement?

Ambassador Cheng:

I think people have different views on that. That's normal because sometimes peoples see things from different perspective. What I want to emphasize, what I want to stress, you need to look China in a comprehensive perspective rather than just focus on one or two or three points. I mean, instead of looking at partial picture and you need to look at whole picture. I just want to emphasize, we are not yet there, we are still a developing country. We have done our share in assuming our due international obligations. We will continue to do what we can at assuming our international obligations, commensurate with the level of our development and our economic capacities. And we'll continue to provide assistance or help developing countries to achieve common development.

Mr. Packham:

What does China need to do to get on better with Australia? What should China do?

Does China need to understand Australia more?

Ambassador Cheng:

First I just want to say the relationship between China and Australia is an important one for both sides, I think. This year marks the 47th anniversary of our diplomatic ties. I think any sensible people could come up with conclusion from what has been achieved or what has been done in many areas of the relations which have brought great benefits both sides.

Mr. Packham:

But China doesn't need to change its opinion on anything?

Ambassador Cheng:

Let me finish. I think you have been talking a lot about your budget surplus in 12 years. You have been talking about your continuous economic growth for the past 28 years, and you've talked a lot about your trade surplus, but it seems sometimes some people forget what the reasons behind that. There are many reasons.

Mr. Packham:

What's the big one?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, you can come up to the conclusion. But as I see, at least China's growth and the cooperation between China and Australia in trade, economic and other areas is a major factor in that area.

Mr. Packham:

Could China find its iron ore and its resources elsewhere? I mean, if Australia and China had a big disagreement over Huawei or something, could China switch, find its resources, its iron ore, its minerals somewhere else?

Ambassador Cheng:

I think as I said earlier, this relationship is a mutual one, it's mutually beneficial. And also, we all see the highly complementarity of our economies. So that's something good for everyone. As you said for the future, I think it's important for both sides to look at each other's social system and development path in a respective way and in a rational way, in a constructive way.

Mr. Packham:

What should Australia do better then, in that respect?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, I think now and then, there have been, at least in the media some unfounded allegations against China, vis a vis China's development and with regard to China's social system.

Ambassador Cheng:

So what I want to stress, that the need is for both sides to increase mutual respect and to handle the differences in the proper way. And we need to look at each other's development as an opportunity rather than a threat, and to enhance mutual trust, while reducing some prejudices or suspicions.

Mr. Packham:

Did Scott Morrison get too close to Donald Trump on this trip and was he acting like a puppet of... Or was he speaking Donald Trump's words on this trip, do you think?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, I think I understand Australia and United States have a strong, or has a long term partnership or alliance. We have no problem for you to further develop your relations with United States. I think that's understandable. But at the same time, I think this kind of relationship or alliance or further cooperation between the two countries should not be targeted at any third party or at expenses of interests of third party.

Mr. Packham:

Can I ask you about the Chinese community in Australia? How do you think the debate over Chinese foreign interference is playing out in that community? Do you think that as Scott Morrison said, that it's a racist allegation to suggest people like Gladys Liu are somehow compromised because of their close ties with China?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, I'm glad you raised this issue. Firstly, I think as you rightly point out there are 1.2 million Chinese Australian in the country. I think any people who have an objective view or objective sense, they should all recognize the contributions made by the Australian Chinese community to this country, economically, socially and culturally.

Ambassador Cheng:

And also, I think they have made outstanding contributions to the bilateral relations. I mean, serving as a bridge in connecting the two countries. And last year marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first Chinese on this land. The Chinese community throughout those 200 years, have made their own career development through their hard work and hardships.

Mr. Packham:

Is the United Front Work Department very active in Australia, do you say?

Ambassador Cheng:

So I think the Australian Chinese community, they are a precious asset of two countries that should be valued and cherished. Many politicians have recognized or acknowledged that on different occasions.

Ambassador Cheng:

For China, we have always advocated non-interference in internal affairs, we have always advocated for respect of the sovereignty of other countries. And non-interference into internal affairs, respect of sovereignty, and these principles are the cardinal principles of China's foreign policy.

Mr. Packham:

There's a debate in Australia.

Ambassador Cheng:

We have no interest and no intention and we haven't in any way interfered in other countries' internal affairs, including this country. We have no interest to interfere the political process. Any allegations and suggestions in this area are off the mark or do not have a leg to stand on.

Mr. Packham:

We hear so much about the United Front Work Department. We hear that this is an organisation which uses the diaspora to make a connection with the Communist Party, the Chinese Communist Party and to do the work of the Chinese Communist Party in Australia. Is the United Front Work Department, does it operate in Australia?

Ambassador Cheng:

Those allegations are unfounded.

Mr. Packham:

I just want to be clear because I don't want to get this wrong. Is there any organisations linked-

Ambassador Cheng:

I said just now, our foreign policy is clear cut in terms of our bilateral relations with other countries. That is non-interference, and respect of sovereignty.

Mr. Packham:

But there is something called the United Front Work Department, am I correct?

Ambassador Cheng:

Yes.

Mr. Packham:

Yeah. Does it have organisations in Australia that it connects with and that it uses to-

Ambassador Cheng:

Do you have evidence?

Mr. Packham:

Well, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office has links to organisations in Australia, does it not?

Ambassador Cheng:

Where are the evidences?

Mr. Packham:

So do you think there's no evidence of any links between, you know-

Ambassador Cheng:

What do you mean by links?

Mr. Packham:

Well, Kevin Rudd went on a trip to China the other day for an organisation which is being examined in the New South Wales parliament as a possible United Front organisation. I can tell you the name if you like.

Mr. Packham:

The Australia China Economic Trade and Cultural Association.

Ambassador Cheng:

Do you know that organisation?

Mr. Packham:

I don't personally know it, but I'm just asking if that is a-

Ambassador Cheng:

But then how could you come up with such a question? I think there are hundreds of Chinese community, different groups, in different parts of the country. As I understand, they are all registered here, right?

Mr. Packham:

I'm asking you about a debate in Australia about the United Front Work Department and its associated entities in Australia. And I don't claim to have any particular knowledge about that, but there is certainly a debate about that. We have people like Hamilton, Alex Joske, many-

Ambassador Cheng:

There are some people, they will always look at China through tinted glasses, and those allegations they made are more or less politically motivated. As I said, those allegations pointing to China as interfering in this country's internal affairs are unfounded.

Mr. Packham:

And $100,000-

Ambassador Cheng:

With regard to the point that you make about, what organisations you said?

Mr. Packham:

Yeah. ASETA, I think. The Australia China Economic Trade and Cultural Association.

Ambassador Cheng:

You see, from the name you could see culture, economic trade, or whatever. So I have no idea. I don't know how they had the connection with what you said.

Ambassador Cheng:

I mean, in that sense, those irresponsible allegations targeted at Chinese Australians here, they're not only unfair, but I think it's a disservice to the multiculturalism that you have boasted so much. I think it reminds people of the spectre of white Australian policy. And I think you have a saying, reds under bed, right?

And also, I have a story in Chinese idiom, what we say is 杯弓蛇影. The story tells that there is a gentleman 2000 years ago; he has a good friend. So he invited him to his house for a drink, then his friend found there is snake in a cup of the wine, in the wine. He feels very uncomfortable, disgusted. But still because of his friendship, out of respect, he drank the wine with the snake in his mind.

And when he went back, he thought the snake might be poisonous. So he fell ill and he didn't show up for quite long time. So this friend, I mean this gentleman was puzzled, why he hasn't come to see me for so long time. So he tried finding out, then he heard story, the guy, that his friend has gotten ill because of his drinks with him. He just wanted to sort it out. What's gone wrong? He suddenly realized what the problem was.

So he invited friend again to his house. His friend came reluctantly and he said, "Let's have another drink," and then he said to the friend, "Do you see there's still a snake in your cup, in your wine?" His friend said, "Yes." He then pointed to the wall of the room where there was a bow hanging on the wall. His friend told him or clarified that, "The snake you see in the cup is it just a reflection of the bow." So his friend suddenly realized what went wrong. He drank the wine and he's fully recovered.

Ambassador Cheng:

So that's the story. Well, the idiom. It's popular in China. It tells you that if you are always suspicious without any solid ground, it only makes you find trouble for yourselves.

Mr. Packham:

So when will Chinese sponsored hackers stop hacking into our universities and our parliamentary systems and so forth?

Ambassador Cheng:

How do you come to that conclusion? What's your evidence? Who said to you?

Mr. Packham:

There's a lot of commentary that-There's a lot of commentary that Chinese state sponsored.

Ambassador Cheng:

There are always some commentaries which are unfounded. Allegations against China without substantiated facts or evidence. Cyber security is an international issue. It's a global issue. Let me put it this way. China is also a victim of cyber attack. To the best of my knowledge, we are subject to this kind of attacks or hacking. Thousands of thousands of attacks or hacking happening against China. So this is an international or global issue. We need to find global solution or a way to address it.

Mr. Packham:

Yang Hengjun who's detained in China, who is he accused of spying for?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, I think it is now in judicial process. When formal charges are made, we will know what he has done or what he hasn't done and we will have a clear picture then.

Mr. Packham:

Can he get a fair trial in China?

Ambassador Cheng:

Of course, we have a rule of law, a strong rule of law.

Mr. Packham:

Isn't the rule of law what the Chinese Communist Party says it is?

Ambassador Cheng:

You have always asked this kind of question with arrogance; I mean condescending attitude, with your deep-rooted prejudice, I should say.

Mr. Packham:

So there is a rule of law in China, but it is what the state says it is.

Ambassador Cheng:

You just think of China from your own perceptions. You've been to China?

Mr. Packham:

I'm afraid I haven't actually.

Ambassador Cheng:

I think then how could you report accurately, or comprehensively of China?

Mr. Packham:

I think I really should go. Can we just clarify the point about the 30 years, the century and development, because I think this is going to be a central point. Am I right in saying that it could take another 30 years for China to be considered a developed country?

Ambassador Cheng:

I think I've made it clear. What I want to emphasize, we have made a lot of achievements in past seven decades, especially in the past 40 years. At the same time, there's a lot of work to be done for us to reach the level of the developed countries. For example, in per capita GDP we are only some 17% of that of Australia. We have a long way to go.

Mr. Packham:

Can you see why the West for example, might be afraid that if China has another 10 years, 20 years, 30 years of concessional trade and climate change rules under WTO and Paris and so forth. Can you see why the world and the West might be frightened that China will continue its rapid growth? It's rapid militarization on the basis of these concessional arrangements to the point where it's a massive superpower that is completely dominating the world.

Ambassador Cheng:

I think I have already touched upon that. First of all, I think either the WTO or the Paris agreement, there is a core principle there that is the special and differential treatment or the common and differentiated responsibility. They are there. They are core values and principles of the organisations or the agreement.

Mr. Packham:

But for how long?

Ambassador Cheng:

These are the core values and principles which should be upheld, as we see it. And as I said, we have honoured our commitments to the WTO or within the framework of implementation of Paris agreement. At the same time, we have taken up our own international obligations and responsibilities in areas of international peace or in areas of international development or in areas of combating climate change. The Chinese nation, the Chinese people has every right like any other developed countries. They deserve to have a better life, they deserve to have a high living standard, deserve to have a better education, housing like any other countries. That's what we are striving for, we aim to achieve. We have no intention, we have no history to dominate the world. That's the perception of some of the Western countries or some of the forces or some of the people in the West.Although yes, we are going to grow richer and stronger. We have no intention to seek hegemony, have no intention to seek expansion, no intention to seek spheres of influence. Our commitment to peaceful development remains firm.

Mr. Packham:

You are militarizing though, quite substantially and militarizing these disputed features in the South China sea against the UN rulings on those places. If China-

Ambassador Cheng:

You say China is militarized. Do you know what's the size of China's military expenditure?

Mr. Packham:

No, I don't.

Ambassador Cheng:

How could you come to such conclusion? You have any idea of your own military expenditure in GDP percentage?

Mr. Packham:

About 2% of GDP.

Ambassador Cheng:

Yeah. You know what China's expenditure of the GDP in percentage? It's about 1.3%.

Mr. Packham:

You have a much bigger GDP.

Ambassador Cheng:

But we have a much bigger population. Our population is 56 times of yours. You know what's the rank of your military expenditure in the world? It's the 12th or 13th in the world. Australia's population ranks some 50th place. You have this kind of population but make such a contribution in terms of your military funding.

In terms of per capita military expenditure, China is about 150 Australian dollars. And Australia's per capita military expenditure is almost 10 times that of China.

Mr. Packham:

So what's the conclusion we should draw from these?

Ambassador Cheng:

I just tell you the facts. I just wonder how could you come to a conclusion that China is militarized and you are not. How could you come to such a conclusion?

I would also like to share with you. You said it publicly, I mean the country. You push for regeneration of your naval forces with an investment of 90 billion Australian dollars. That's only a part of 200 billion defence capacities upgrading. I think for China, as a country with a population of 1.4 billion and as a permanent member of the security council, like any other countries, our military has the responsibility to safeguard its territorial integrity, to safeguard its security, to safeguard its development interests. In so far as I see it, in light of all the data I share with you, the Chinese military development, our defence capabilities is commensurate with its economic growth with, the pressing needs and also is consistent with its international obligations as a member of the security council.

Ambassador Cheng:

You refer to the South China Sea issue, that's a long story, but let me put it shortly. We have our historical rights and legal rights. It's our territory and of course we recognize there are disputes there. We stand ready and we have already talk with other countries, with those countries to address it bilaterally.

Mr. Packham:

You've rejected the multilateral solution.

Ambassador Cheng:

That's a fatally flawed arbitration or ruling. Three years ago, I already wrote an article with respect to that ruling. It was totally flawed. For China, it's just a waste of paper. As for some of the facilities that we've built on those islands or reefs, they are only in defensive nature. It has nothing to do with militarization.

Mr. Packham:

Did you see Marise Payne and the US Secretary of State's statement at AUSMIN about the South China Sea?

Ambassador Cheng:

We have made it very clear on our website.

Mr. Packham:

I know that the embassy made some comments about Marise Payne's comments about the video in Xinjiang. The blind folded people?

Ambassador Cheng:

With regard to the Xinjiang situation, the essence of what we have taken or what has been taken by the local government is in nature a kind of preventive anti-terrorism and de-radicalisation. That has achieved a lot of progress. In the past three years there was no single extremist violence or terrorist accident. It has improved or strengthened the stability of the society and good protection of the security and safety of ordinary people. So, that's the main picture. And those measures are not targeted at any religious group or any ethnic group. What has been being done there as I see it, has no difference with what has been done by the Western countries, including this country.

Mr. Packham:

Where?

Ambassador Cheng:

In your country you have taken a number of measures to counter terrorism.

Mr. Packham:

Millions of people.

Ambassador Cheng:

What do you mean by millions of people? What millions of people? That's a fake story.

Mr. Packham:

Fake news? So there's not millions of people in camps in Xinjiang?

Ambassador Cheng:

There were only vocational education training institutions.

Mr. Packham:

I understand the point that China's making on that.

Thank you Sir. It's been a great interview. I very much appreciate your time.

Ambassador Cheng:

Thank you.

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