— President Xi, you are going to pay a state visit to Russia and attend the 23rd St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. This year marks the 70th anniversary of China-Russia diplomatic relations. You and President Putin have often noted that the relationship is at its best in history. Could you give an overall assessment of the current state of our relations?
— At the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, I will soon pay a state visit to Russia and attend the 23rd St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. After I was elected President of the People’s Republic of China six years ago, I chose Russia as the first stop of my first overseas trip. During that visit, President Putin and I jointly opened a new chapter of China-Russia relations. Over the past six years, I have paid seven visits to Russia. Every time I was there, I witnessed the deepening of friendship between our two peoples and the productive outcomes of our cooperation. As China and Russia greet the historic moment of the 70th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, I am glad to pay another visit to your vast and beautiful country with great expectations for a brighter future of our bilateral ties.
Indeed, after seven decades of development, China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination is now at its best in history. Our two countries enjoy strong political trust and can always count on each other’s firm support on issues concerning our respective core interests and major concerns. Guided and underpinned by full-fledged mechanisms of high-level visits and broad-based cooperation, our two sides have conducted substantive, wide-ranging and all-dimensional cooperation of strategic significance. The long-term development of China-Russia relations is blessed by the strong support of our people, who forged a profound friendship as comrades-in-arms in our great, heroic fight against Fascist aggression. Our two sides have also enjoyed close and effective coordination and collaboration in international affairs, thus contributing tremendous positive energy to a complex and fast-changing world.
Today, China-Russia relations are standing at a new starting point and facing new opportunities for growth. Building on our two countries’ shared aspirations for development and revitalization and responding to our two peoples’ shared desire for lasting friendship, we have the confidence and capability to bring our relations to a new era of greater development at a higher level, based on our experience and achievements of the past 70 years.
Our two countries need to stick together as good neighbors and render each other even stronger support. We need to work closely to seek greater synergy between our development strategies, deeper convergence of our development interests, and closer people-to-people ties. We need to find new areas of cooperation with innovative efforts as called for by the times so that our bilateral relations will always be forward-looking, break new ground, and brim with vigor and vitality. We need to play a more constructive role in international affairs with a great sense of mission and a strong commitment to win-win results, thus jointly promoting peace, stability, development and prosperity for all people of the world.
In my upcoming visit, I look forward to charting the course of our future relationship together with President Putin and to seeing that our comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination will stride into a new era.
— China is Russia’s biggest trading partner. What is the expectation for the bilateral trade volume this year? What are the most promising projects in economic cooperation and trade? What measures will China take to strengthen sub-national economic ties? How do you view the problems in bilateral business cooperation?
— Economic cooperation and trade, as a key pillar of our relations, is crucial to the common development and revitalization of China and Russia. Such cooperation has been deepening in recent years, producing fruitful outcomes and setting a prime example of mutually beneficial economic engagement. Our bilateral trade reached a record US$100 billion in 2018. These notable results of our business cooperation are especially valuable given the current complex environment of sluggish global trade and investment and surging protectionism in the world. The government departments of our two countries are taking proactive efforts to bring our trade volume to a higher level and promote high-quality development of bilateral trade.
Our two countries are steadily implementing major cooperation projects in energy, transportation, agriculture, aviation, space and other fields. The crude oil pipeline and its parallel pipeline are operating smoothly. The eastern route of the natural gas pipeline is nearing completion. The Chinese and Russian sections of the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe Highway Bridge and the Nizhneleninskoye-Tongjiang Railway Bridge have been successfully joined. Steady progress is being made in our joint research and development (R&D) of long-range, wide-body passenger aircraft and heavy-lift helicopter. Cooperation on our satellite navigation systems is highly productive. These are concrete examples to show that, through our joint efforts, our economic cooperation has entered a phase of fast development and great promise.
At the sub-national level, various regions in our two countries have seized the opportunity of the “2018-2019 year of sub-national cooperation and exchange” and harnessed various mechanisms for more frequent interactions and greater economic, trade and investment cooperation, which include the China International Import Expo and other business cooperation platforms, and the Northeast China-Russian Far East and the Yangtze River-Volga River cooperation mechanisms. The two sides have signed a Plan on Cooperation and Development in the Russian Far East Region (2018-2024) and a Development Plan for Agriculture in Northeast China and the Russian Far East and Baikal Regions. Constant updates are being made to the list of key investment projects under the Yangtze River-Volga River mechanism. All these are effective platforms for the two sides to leverage our comparative industrial strengths and deepen sub-national cooperation.
Of course, our bilateral business ties are not free from specific issues. But it is worth pointing out that they are the natural result of our deepening cooperation and growing shared interests. The most effective way to address them is to take an innovative and multi-pronged approach to expand cooperation areas and unlock the full potential of our practical cooperation, such as scaling up mutual investment, widening market access, facilitating trade and investment activities, and boosting cooperation in agricultural trade, e-commerce and trade in services. By enlarging common interests, we can upgrade our business cooperation so that it will improve in both quality and quantity.
— Could you share some insights on China’s economic outlook?
— The Chinese economy has achieved tremendous growth since the founding of New China 70 years ago, and especially since the start of reform and opening-up 40 years ago. China is now the world’s second largest economy, the largest manufacturer, the largest trader in goods, and holder of the largest foreign exchange reserves. In 2018, the Chinese economy passed the RMB90 trillion yuan mark and per capita GDP was close to US$10,000. Our 6.6 percent economic growth rate, one of the highest in the world, meant that China accounted for around 30 percent of global growth last year.
In spite of a slowdown in global growth and trade, the Chinese economy has had a strong start this year with key economic indicators kept in a proper range. In the first quarter, our GDP grew by 6.4 percent, sustaining its momentum of steady growth in recent years and representing the 14th consecutive quarter of staying in the 6.4 percent to 6.8 percent range. Domestic consumption remained the main driver of growth. Employment continued to expand, with 4.59 million urban jobs added in the first four months of 2019. Personal income grew faster than the economy. Prices were generally stable, with consumer prices posting a modest growth of 2 percent. Total imports and exports were up by 4.3 percent year-on-year, and China’s foreign exchange reserves stayed above US$3 trillion. Apart from all this, we were able to improve the economic structure, transform the model of development and enhance the quality and efficiency of economic performance, thus strengthening the momentum of steady and robust growth.
The trajectory of our economy toward more steady growth has not changed and will remain so in the long run. Looking ahead, a number of factors will support the steady, healthy and sustainable growth of the economy. These include:
- First, China’s large pool of human resources. China has a population of nearly 1.4 billion, a 900-million-strong workforce, a talent pool of 170 million college graduates and people with professional skills, the world’s largest middle-income population, and more than 100 million market entities.
- Second, China’s strong internal driving forces. The Chinese economy is mainly driven by domestic consumption. In 2018, domestic consumption contributed 108.6 percent of economic growth; in particular, the contribution of final consumption was as high as 76.2 percent.
- Third, China’s growing economic dynamism. China’s R&D spending ranks second in the world, accounting for around 2.18 percent of its GDP. Emerging strategic industries, the sharing economy and other new economic forces are seeing continuous expansion.
- Fourth, China’s mobilization capability. We have in China the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the political advantage that comes from being able to mobilize resources for major undertakings, the spirit of a nation united as one, the solid material and technological foundation built through decades of rapid development in the era of reform and opening-up, the enormous resilience, potential and flexibility in development, and the rich experience in macro-regulation as well as ample policy space. We therefore have all the necessary conditions as well as the capability and confidence to deal with any risks and challenges.
— President Xi, you successfully hosted the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in April. How do you see the future of connecting the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)? What is your take on the potential of the Arctic shipping routes and its significance for advancing Belt and Road cooperation? In what way will China participate in infrastructure development for the Arctic shipping routes?
— The BRI put forth by China aims to deepen practical cooperation focusing on connectivity, jointly address risks and challenges facing humanity, and bring about mutual benefit and common development. The second BRF held in Beijing last April was a great success. The participants had in-depth discussions on relevant topics and reached broad-based consensus on promoting high-quality Belt and Road cooperation supported by refined principles, clearer priorities and stronger mechanisms. We are highly appreciative that President Putin has attended both of the two BRFs held in 2017 and this year at my invitation.
The BRI and the EAEU are both committed to facilitating the development and rejuvenation of the participating countries and regions and to promoting open and inclusive cooperation in our region. China and Russia have shared interests in many areas of cooperation. In May 2015, President Putin and I signed a Joint Statement on Cooperation on Joint Silk Road Economic Belt and Eurasian Economic Union Projects, kicking off the process to connect the two initiatives. Last year, China signed an agreement on economic and trade cooperation with the EAEU. It was a significant first step and an important “early harvest” in connecting the two initiatives that provides the institutional underpinning for stronger economic cooperation and trade between the two sides. China will work with Russia to foster stronger synergy between the two initiatives in the spirit of mutual support, advance negotiations on an Eurasian economic partnership agreement, enhance facilitation of regional trade and investment, and make a still greater contribution to the development and rejuvenation of our two countries and the prosperity and stability of our region.
Development and use of the Arctic shipping routes will provide new opportunities, a new platform and new impetus for synergizing the BRI and the EAEU. It is also conducive to better connectivity and mutually beneficial cooperation among China, Russia and other relevant parties. Security and environmental protection are crucial in developing these routes. We encourage Chinese companies to take an active part and make practical contributions to the commercial operation of the Arctic shipping routes and local economic and social development. At the same time, environmental standards must be met and sustainability ensured in the development and use of the Arctic shipping routes. We hope there will be win-win results for all involved — a plus for both China-Russia cooperation and world economic growth.
— How do you see China-Russia cooperation within the frameworks of BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the development prospects of the two?
— Over the last 10-plus years, BRICS countries have followed the BRICS spirit of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, deepened exchanges and cooperation in economic and financial, political and security, and cultural and people-to-people fields, making BRICS an important force that plays an active, stabilizing and constructive role in international affairs. It has been proven that BRICS represents the right direction of global development, as evidenced by its ever-widening cooperation and promising future.
Russia is the birthplace of the BRICS Summit. It was in Yekaterinburg that BRICS leaders held their first meeting in 2009, opening a historic chapter in BRICS cooperation. The adoption of the BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy at the 2015 Ufa Summit was another milestone in BRICS economic cooperation.
Coming from different continents, BRICS countries are brought together by a shared aspiration to grow our economies, deliver better lives for our peoples, and play a bigger role in regional and international affairs.
The world today is undergoing major changes rarely seen in a century. This means both opportunities and challenges for the development of BRICS countries. Such a backdrop makes it all the more important for our five countries to stay united in the spirit of equality and mutual assistance, and deepen the BRICS strategic partnership to defend the common interests and development space of emerging markets and developing countries and achieve development and progress for all. We BRICS leaders will meet again in Brasilia in November. I hope and believe that our five countries will work together for a fruitful Summit, and take further, solid steps toward our vision of the second Golden Decade.
China and Russia are comprehensive strategic partners of coordination, and important members of BRICS. Our two countries have had close communication and coordination within the BRICS framework. As Russia will take over the BRICS chairmanship next year, China looks forward to strengthening coordination with Russia to make sure that with the sustained efforts of successive chairmanships, BRICS cooperation will yield still greater results to deliver more benefits to the people of our five countries and contribute more to world peace and development.
The SCO is a successful example of the commitment of both China and Russia to forging a new type of international relations and a good platform for such efforts. In the 18 years since the SCO’s inception, China and Russia have maintained close coordination and collaboration. As a result, the Organization has kept growing and made important contribution to peace, stability, development and prosperity in our region. As I see it, China-Russia cooperation in the SCO has the following features:
First, we have stayed committed to the Shanghai Spirit. The Shanghai Spirit of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diversity of civilizations, and pursuit of common development is the underlying philosophy of the SCO. China and Russia, together with other SCO member states, have firmly rejected such anachronistic ideas as clash of civilizations, Cold War mentality, and zero-sum game. Instead, we have forged a constructive partnership featuring non-alliance, non-confrontation and not targeting any third party, and set up a paradigm of a new type of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness and justice, and win-win cooperation.
Second, we have stayed committed to advancing the security and development interests of SCO member states. Stability and development are the common pursuit of countries in our region. China and Russia have worked with other member states to deepen all-round cooperation in political, security, economic and cultural fields, make effective responses to new security threats and challenges, and seek greater complementarity between the BRI, the EAEU and other regional cooperation initiatives, and the development strategies of individual countries in pursuit of integrated development of our region. All these efforts have made the SCO irreplaceable for the lasting peace and stability of the whole region and the development and prosperity of individual countries.
Third, we have stayed committed to raising the global profile of the SCO. Our Organization is an important and constructive force in Eurasia. China and Russia, together with other member states, have engaged extensively in regional and international affairs, upheld international fairness and justice, supported the building of an open world economy, and promoted a fairer and more equitable international order.
The SCO, responsive to the call of our times for peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit, enjoys strong vitality and a bright prospect. At last year’s Qingdao Summit, we together drew up a blueprint for a new phase in the SCO development. The upcoming Bishkek Summit will therefore become a new starting point in the development of the Organization. China will work with Russia and other member states to enhance unity, mutual trust and cooperation in various areas so that our Organization will keep developing to add more stability and positive energy to the world and make unique contribution to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
— How would you describe your personal friendship with President Putin?
— Since 2013, President Putin and I have met nearly 30 times on bilateral and multilateral occasions, and talked on the phone and written to each other many times. I keep fond memories of each interaction I had with President Putin. We have had in-depth and most wide-ranging exchanges on both major issues like the international situation, bilateral ties and governance, and more light-hearted topics like literature, art and sports. We have taken a high-speed train ride together, watched an ice hockey friendly between Chinese and Russian youth teams, celebrated his birthday in Bali, exchanged phone calls and congratulatory messages on each other’s important festivals, and been awarded medals of the highest honor by each other’s countries.
I have had closer interactions with President Putin than with any other foreign colleagues. He is my best and bosom friend. I cherish dearly our deep friendship.
My engagement with President Putin is built on a high degree of mutual trust. That is the solid foundation of our close friendship. We treat each other with respect, candor, understanding and trust. We share similar views on the international landscape and approaches to national governance, and we both shoulder historical responsibilities for national development and rejuvenation.
Most importantly, we share a high degree of consensus on the strategic significance of the China-Russia relationship and therefore the same resolve and desire to deepen and sustain its growth. I look forward to continued close interactions with President Putin. Together, we will take our bilateral ties to new heights and work tirelessly for the development and prosperity of our two great nations and for the happy lives of our peoples.
— The situation in Syria is stabilizing. The Syrian government has repeated on many occasions that it is ready to work with all relevant parties and restore its war-ravaged infrastructure as soon as possible. Does China intend to take part in Syria’s reconstruction? In Venezuela, the situation has flared up lately. What is China’s assessment? In addition, the deepening political confrontation between the US and Iran is leading to rising tensions in the Persian Gulf. How does China see the prospects for resolving the Iranian nuclear issue?
— Syria is a time-honored civilization and an important country in the Middle East. It is heart-wrenching for us to see Syria caught in protracted turbulence that has wreaked havoc on its infrastructure and inflicted untold sufferings to its people. Fortunately, the situation there is improving, as the process of political settlement is making progress and the Syrian government and people are starting to rebuild their nation. The Chinese and Syrian people have long enjoyed a traditional friendship. As such, China stands ready to take part in Syria’s reconstruction to the best of its capacity and help the Syrian people regain their normal life and work at an early day.
On Venezuela, China’s position is consistent and clear. Bearing in mind the importance of upholding the UN Charter and the basic norms governing international relations, China maintains that the issue should be left to the government and opposition of Venezuela to resolve through inclusive political dialogue and independent consultation within the constitutional framework. China opposes external intervention, unilateral sanctions, and the use or threat of force. China will work with the rest of the international community to play a positive and constructive role on this issue, do more to facilitate talks for peace, and uphold international equity and justice, the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and regional peace and stability to help Venezuela return to the track of normal development as soon as possible.
With the US imposing maximum pressure and unilateral sanctions on Iran in recent months, tensions have been escalating surrounding the Iranian nuclear issue, and for that matter, in the entire Middle East. Such developments are indeed a cause for concern. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the embodiment of multilateralism, is crucial for the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and for peace and stability in the Middle East. It must be respected and implemented effectively in its entirety. China and Russia have highly aligned views and positions on the Iranian nuclear issue with both countries calling on all relevant parties to act with reason and restraint and increase dialogue and consultation to deescalate the tensions. China and Russia will stay in close coordination to push for positive developments while upholding the authority of the UN, peace and security in the world, and the common interests of the international community. Besides, China will continue to stand firm for its own legitimate rights and interests in this process.