Jack: Your excellency, thank you very much for giving us your time.
Ambassador Wang: Well,thank you. It’s a pleasure.
Jack: Why do you feel that it's important to do this interview?
Ambassador Wang: Well, I think in terms of the relationship, the bilateral relationship between New Zealand and China is standing at an important juncture, because we are faced with the complex and the rapidly changing world. Very complex challenges face both of us. As for the relationship itself, it keeps evolving in response to some of the changes that are taking place in both countries and around us in the world. So I think it is a good moment to reflect on the relationship and share some of my views and observations with the audience. So thank you for the opportunity.
Jack: It's a great pleasure to be speaking with you. And I think that reflections are a really good place to start. I was interested to know that since 2019 data from Asia New Zealand Foundation shows the number of New Zealanders who perceive China as being friendly has dropped to the low of 13%. The number of New Zealanders who perceive China as being threatening has almost doubled in that time. And I wonder why you think that is?
Ambassador Wang: Well, I've been talking with some of the colleagues in the Foundation as well as friends from other circles here in New Zealand why that is the case. I think part of the reason is the COVID, the impact, the lack of face-to-face exchanges, the visits. So in a way that has contributed to the increasing lack of understanding and the ability to see things as they are. And honestly speaking, people also tell me that probably the role being played by some of the media here in New Zealand is not being very helpful. Because of the COVID, the media is the main channel through which people will access information, for example, for people here in New Zealand about China. In that way, the media is playing an out-sized role. But because of what has happened, there's a lot of misinformation even disinformation going around about China that has contributed to, I think, the lack of accurate understanding of how things are in China. So probably that explains it.
Jack: Talk to me a little bit more about the media aspect, the media’s role. Are there any specific examples you can think of, where you think China has been misrepresented or poorly represented?
Ambassador Wang: Well, when you look at the reports on China carried on some of the platforms, very often, these reports or coverage is sourced somewhere else. Because they're very often syndicated reports originating in some of the foreign media, and a lot of these media when they cover what is going on in China and making comments,they don't necessarily reflect the real pubic opinion of New Zealand,and they may not have the best interest of New Zealand at heart.
Jack: You say it has contributed to misunderstandings, so what are those misunderstandings?
Ambassador Wang: Well, for example, about what is going on with the COVID, the policies, the approach, the state of the economy. And for example, how some of the foreign policy issues have been approached by China, the impact on the region and the wider world. And how it relates to New Zealand.
Jack: Let's focus a little bit on some of those geopolitical issues. What responsibility does China take for the increased tensions within the Pacific Region?
Ambassador Wang: Well, if what you mean is what is going on, for example, across the Taiwan Strait, I think the crux of what is going on relates to Taiwan is the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, and the One China Principle associated with it. At the very heart of that principle is the recognition that there is only one China, Taiwan is part of China, and the government of the People's Republic of China is the sole legal representative of China. So that is a widely recognized and supported international consensus, as affirmed, for example, in the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. It is also the political foundation of the diplomatic relationships we have established with over 180 countries in this world, including New Zealand, including the United States. What has happened with the latest visit by Speaker Pelosi to Taiwan, is an affront to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China. It is a violation of the commitment made by the United States itself on One China. It's also a serious threat to peace in Taiwan Strait and stability in the wider Asia Pacific region.
Jack: As a response to that visit, China held military exercises in the Taiwan Strait for several days. I know that those exercises disrupted shipping including New Zealand shipping. Is it fair that China's military exercises should impinge New Zealand exporters and their commercial interests in the region?
Ambassador Wang: Well,because of the serious nature of the visit, the impact on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as a country, we have no choice but to respond and our response has been legitimate, appropriate, but at the same time measured and proportionate. But first and foremost, the counter-measures we have taken are meant to be defensive, to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity. But at the same time, it's also meant to be pre-emptive as a deterrent against further escalation by the United States, and those separation and independence-seeking elements in Taiwan beyond the point of no return. Because if that happens, that will spell real disaster for peace and stability, first and foremost, in the Taiwan Strait, but with serious implications for the wider Asia Pacific region as well. In a way, what we are doing is the responsible thing to do, just to prevent something worse from happening that will damage the interest of everyone, including countries like New Zealand.
Jack: When you say something worse, what is your concern there? What do you mean?
Ambassador Wang: There's been a lot of talk about the status quo being broken. Indeed, the status quo has been broken, not by China, but by the United States and the Taiwanese authorities. What is central to the status quo ante would be the recognition that there is only One China and the commitment internationally on the One China Principle. But since the Tsai Ing-wen government came to power, it has been consistently taking steps, egged on by some forces, including some of those in the United States, to walk back the One China Principle, the shared recognition on both sides of the Taiwan Strait that there is only one China, and both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to that same one China. And on the part of the United States as well, more recently, they've taken steps to upgrade their official interactions with Taiwan. They've even forayed into military exchanges and military cooperation. And contrary to their commitments to phase down and eventually phase out arms sales to Taiwan, they have phased up those sales to Taiwan, both in terms of quantity and quality. And with this latest visit by Speaker Pelosi,they have upped the ante significantly. Instead of going for a course correction, they have doubled down with a follow up visit. So we need to take the counter-measures to draw a line in the sand. Because if this is allowed to go on, it's going to be a very slippery road.
Jack: To a military conflict? Is that your concern?
Ambassador Wang: Yeah, certainly, we won't seek any military conflict, because we have always stood for peace and opposed war. But if war or military conflict is imposed upon us, we have no choice but to respond. Let me make a follow-up point. You may have noticed the most recent white paper we have issued on the question of Taiwan and the unification with the motherland. This is the third white paper we have issued on the question. And in each and every white paper, we have made it clear consistently, that what we will be aiming for would be peaceful reunification of the country, and we've been making consistent efforts to bring about that result. At some point, we even made some significant progress with the cooperation from the authorities from the other side of the Strait. We've established a framework for dialogues to take place, and we've established a framework for economic cooperation across the Strait to take place. But again, since Tsai Ing-wen came to power, that process has gone into reverse. And we have made it very clear that we will still make our best endeavors to aim for peaceful solution, peaceful reunification of the country. But we won't rule out any options. We want to keep all options on the table. Not because we want to seek it, but because we want to keep it as an option, as a deterrent against escalatory moves on the other side. That would also serve as the best guarantee that there will be a peaceful solution,and the country will be reunified peacefully.
Jack: How has the reaction of New Zealand to that Solomon’s deal affected our relationship with China?
Ambassador Wang: I think when the news broke that a potential security deal, so to speak, between China and the Solomon Islands was in the offing, there's a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding. Because at the time there was the talk about the possibility of a military base or even long-term military presence by China in the Solomon Islands. That turned out to be entirely untrue. What happened, as far as the deal is concerned, is that we were responding to a specific request from the Solomon Islands for assistance and support in terms of law enforcement-focused security cooperation in response to what happened in Honiara for example towards the end of last year. And as part of the chaos or the riots that occurred in Honiara, a large part of the city center was burned down, and it turned out that the local Chinese community borne the brunt of the impact. Even today, as we speak, a lot of them are still left homeless because of what happened there. So I think in the wake of those developments, the Solomon Islands came to us with this specific request for assistance in terms of law enforcement to increase their capacity to maintain law and order and wider social stability. So that's what the deal or the agreement is about and nothing else and nothing more. But this is taking place at the same time in the context of the overall relationship we have with the Solomon Islands and with perhaps some of the other Pacific countries as well. As has been pointed out by, for example, Prime Minister Ardern, China has a long standing relationship with some of these Pacific Island countries. Because remember, we established between China and New Zealand diplomatic relations 50 years ago, and our relations with a lot of these Pacific countries are almost as old as our relationship with New Zealand. So we've been there for a long time, and what we've been doing essentially in the Pacific, because we are fellow developing countries, and within the framework of what we call the South-South cooperation, the fellow developing countries helping each other, we've been providing assistance to them aiming for common development, addressing some of the poverty issues that exist in these countries, but also helping them to increase their capacity to address some of the long-term issues like climate change. So in that sense, I think between New Zealand and China, we share a lot of common interests in the South Pacific. Both of us would like to see peace and stability, first and foremost,in the region. In that respect, let me say in very clear terms that as far as we are concerned, we're not interested at all in so-called geopolitical or geostrategic competition. We're not doing it here in the South Pacific, we're not doing it anywhere else in the world. What we are trying to do is to help them for common development. And in that respect, because New Zealand has been helping these countries as well over the years, and we appreciate that. We understand the New Zealand has long-term, traditional links and influence in this region, we respect those. And we hope that on that basis, we could work with New Zealand to pool our resources together to join our hands to help these Pacific Island Countries.
Jack: Did you have any concerns as to New Zealand’s response to the Solomon’s deal and to the proposed deals with other Pacific nations?
Ambassador Wang: As I said, there were some misunderstandings in the initial stage. But I think those misunderstandings have been clarified largely. So I think we have a better understanding of where we come from each of us on this as far as this region is concerned, and we appreciate the observation made by Prime Minister Ardern, again, at the China Business Summit, that New Zealand is willing to explore opportunities to work together with China. We are willing to do that as well.
Jack: It's really interesting you raised that because I interviewed New Zealand's Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta a few weeks ago. And I asked her at the time if Pacific nations were too indebted to China, and she said this, "I'd say there's a level of indebtedness that sits across the whole of the Pacific to financial institutions, including the way in which China has funded certain countries, and it's a key area of vulnerability." So I wondered in your development assistance goals, what responsibility does China bear in ensuring that Pacific nations don't end up in a situation like Sri Lanka, in economic and political turmoil?
Ambassador Wang: I'm glad you mentioned Sri Lanka. But let me come to this. What we've been trying to do in the South Pacific, and in other parts of the world, be it Latin America, Africa, or closer to home, Asia, with developing countries, is trying to increase their capacity for endogenous development, through development of infrastructure, building up some of the key industries, and helping the development of the local capacity as well through training and education. So South Pacific is no exception. And we're doing this largely through donations. But of course, we provide some of the loans as well. But most of them are on very concessional, and comparable terms as compared to some of the other donors like New Zealand and some of the multilateral financial institutions like the World Bank, and like Asia Development Bank. And if you look at Sri Lanka, the loans provided by China accounts for only about 10% of their overall external indebtedness. So most of that is owed to the other Western countries, and the multilateral financial institutions. So even the Sri Lankans themselves will tell you that what has occurred, the difficulties they are in at this moment, has very little to do with their cooperative relationship with China. As a matter of fact, both in Sri Lanka and in some of the South Pacific countries, again, what we're trying to do is to help them to develop their capability for long-term sustainable development. And none of these countries has fallen into debt distress because of their relationship with China. And actually, what we've been helping them is to make development in these countries more sustainable over the long run, so that instead of falling into traps of indebtedness, they could lift themselves out of the trap of underdevelopment.
Jack: I wondered what have you learned about the pandemic as New Zealand transitioned from COVID elimination, as we called it, to living with the virus?
Ambassador Wang: Well, I'm here as an observer. I have my opinions on what is going on. But I'd rather keep my counsel because who am I to tell you what is right or what is wrong, or what to do or what not to do. I think New Zealand has been generally recognized internationally as one of the best success stories in terms of your preparedness and response to COVID. And I congratulate New Zealand for that. And we have our own way of dealing with it. But we share some similarities, at least in the initial stage, in our approach, in terms of elimination, but I think the policies in both countries have evolved since then.
Jack: Why is China still pursuing a zero-COVID policy?
Ambassador Wang: We characterize it as Dynamic Zero-COVID policy. So if you look at the details, our measures have been evolving over time. For example, we don't have massive lockdowns these days. We are targeting some of the restrictive measures better, focusing on the smaller areas where we have surges in the caseloads. And we have also reduced the number of, we still have MIQ in place in China for travellers going back or into China. It has come down to seven days.
Jack: Seven days and three at home.
Ambassador Wang: Three at home. But as compared to what it used to be, at the beginning, it was 21 days. And at some point, it came down to 14 days. And now it’s 7. But I'm confident that with the virus being brought under further control, I think with the support of data, and the best available science, we'll further adapt our COVID measures.
Jack: Tell me a bit more about that. Because right at the start of this interview, you told me about the importance that China places on person-to-person relationships. I know that at the China Business Summit, you said "China's door of opening up will never close. It will only open wider." But at the moment, it is extremely difficult for people to visit China. Chinese citizens who leave China know they face that quarantine period, if they can make it home. Even your staff here in Wellington are still pursuing a version of zero-COVID in New Zealand. So how does China expect the world to maintain face-to-face relationships, if it’s shut off to the world?
Ambassador Wang: I think the face-to-face relationships, including the travels across borders, have resumed. And I think it is increasing in a sharply rising trajectory. Again, I'm confident that as things move, the border control measures will further ease. But there's a trade-off, to be honest. The trade-off between what happens in the short term ,the price we have to pay, with what happens in the long term. Because as we see, given the circumstances of China, because if you think doing it in a country like New Zealand, a country of 5 million, is difficult enough, try to multiply the magnitude of difficulty about 300 times. The population is simply so large, even when the rate of infection is relatively low with the control measures and the vaccination campaign. But still, because the base is so huge, even if a small number of people, small rate, small proportion of people get infected, that could be still quite significant by any standard, and those would exert enormous pressure on the public health system. And all along, I think this is what we share between New Zealand and China, we put people first. We put people at the center of everything we do, including the control and response to the pandemic. Our first priority here consistently has been protecting people's lives. So on that basis, we integrate the needs for wider economic and social development. And again, as things evolve, I think we'll be in a better position. And we're already taking measures to support the economy. We're already taking measures to restart the cross-border travels, and people are coming back to China. And at the same time, people are beginning to come back to New Zealand as well, particularly the students from China.
Jack: For several years on our program, we followed the plight of Mewlan NurMuhammad, who is the brother of a Uyghur New Zealander, who's in prison in Xinjiang. His family here say they've received intimidating phone calls from the Chinese Embassy and that they've been banned from contacting their family in Xinjiang. In what ways can you protect the rights of Uyghur New Zealanders to contact their families in Xinjiang?
Ambassador Wang: Let me tell you in very clear and unmistakable terms, none of those things that have been claimed has actually happened. Because none of my staff has made any calls to anyone of these people, about anything. But if there's a request for help, if we are approached, we will deal with that in accordance with the necessary procedures. And, providing consular help and support for our citizens here in New Zealand is an important part of our responsibility. But let me come to a wider point on the human rights situation in Xinjiang. Because we don't have much time, suffice it to say, most recently, we have a delegation of about 30 Ambassadors from the Muslim or Islamic countries visiting Xinjiang. They had some in-depth exchanges with the people there, including the Uyghur people, or what we call the "weiwuer" ethnic people. And the conclusion arrived at by these Muslim country Ambassadors, after their field visit, is that we have really protected our minority people well, including their religious rights. I don't know whether you're aware of, for example, in Xinjiang, the Uyghur population has tripled in its size as compared to decades ago. And the number of mosques in Xinjiang, you can guess where it stands, it's 24,000 mosques. That's the biggest intensity and the biggest concentration of mosques anywhere in this world, including a lot of the Muslim or Islamic countries. So that is a small window, showcasing the way the religious rights of people are upheld and respected in Xinjiang by the Chinese government.
Jack: Overnight, I know the UN Special Rapporteur for modern slavery has released a report which is China's treatment of the Uyghurs could amount to slavery as a crime against humanity. Do you personally feel any sense of shame as to the way that China has treated that Uyghur minority?
Ambassador Wang: Well, let me start by saying that you may have noticed as well that the spokesperson of our Foreign Ministry has rejected that report as completely baseless. You're right. It's a UN rapporteur’s report. It's not a UN report, because UN is essentially the membership. It's not even a report by the Secretariat of the United Nations. And the rapporteur is an individual entrusted with a special responsibility. But apparently, that particular person is not living up to his responsibility.
Jack:It's one of many reports though.
Ambassador Wang: Right. But if you look at it, there is only one paragraph making some generic accusations without any evidence to back it up. And if you look at the details and the notes, that's the interesting part, because it’s the usual suspects, the one or two so-called scholars or institutions with their reports used as backstop for the so-called conclusion drawn by this particular UN rapporteur. But actually, I think this is a classical case of what they call the wrap-up smear tactics. That's not from me, that's from Speaker Pelosi, about what happens in the United States politics. You make an accusation, you find a couple of people to do a write-up, you get it published somewhere, and you point to that as validation. That's exactly what has happened, as far as this particular report is concerned. But that's essentially a dog chasing its own tail going around in circles. But, but that's totally baseless. And you may also be aware that most recently we have notified the United Nations about our ratification of the two, what they call, the core conventions on forced labor, under the auspices of the International Labor Organization, the labor window for the United Nations family. So that, again, shows our firm commitment to stamp out completely forced labour in China. That is what we've been doing consistently through our domestic policies. And this latest ratification of these two conventions, is another indication of our strong commitment to that course.
Jack: Finally then, when will Jacinda Ardern be invited to Beijing? And what else can New Zealand and China do to improve our relations at a time of global uncertainty?
Ambassador Wang: We've been looking forward to another visit by the Prime Minister for some time now. But because of COVID again, this hasn't taken place. But hopefully, as the border controls ease further in both countries, we could have her in China as soon as possible. And hopefully, within the course of this year, because this year is very special for us and for our relationship. We'll be marking the 50th anniversary. It’s time to celebrate of course, because we've made tremendous progress together over the years. If you compare that to what the relationship used to be about 50 years ago. I think, we've come really a long way. But at the same time, as I pointed out in my presentation at the China Business Summit, there's no room for complacency, because as compared to the demand from both sides, as compared to the aspirations from both peoples, and as compared to the potential that exists, there's still a long way to go. For example, in terms of trade, which already has become arguably the strongest pillar of our relationship, we still have huge room for further growth. And apart from the traditional products, we could also diversify into some new areas, which could help stimulate the further growth of trade both ways between our two countries. We could go into agribusiness, we could go into Bio products. These are some of the strengths of New Zealand we could build on, and from which we could benefit, as far as China is concerned. I was yesterday attending a ceremony celebrating the 30 years of sister city between Palmerston North and Guiyang in China. I think that's a very good showcase of what has happened and how the relationship has benefited both sides. Because apart from the trade and New Zealand export going into China, the cooperation we have conducted in cattle farming, and in kiwifruit farming, have helped to grow the relevant industries in China. So this is another example of how both sides could benefit from such a relationship. But of course, again, the relationship between us is much broader than trade as such. It's way beyond the transactional. We have other areas as well, for example, the very strong, deep people-to-people links between our two countries. That's what I've found out since my arrival as Ambassador this time around. The community here, the Chinese community here is one of the biggest. It's about a quarter of a million people here. And they're contributing enormously to the relationship and to the local development. And also, at the international level, both of us support peace and development in the world. And both of us want to see peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. And both of us want to support international cooperation, to address some of the common challenges like climate change, like the ongoing COVID pandemic. And actually, we have started working together bilaterally, but more importantly, at the regional level, and even globally. And these, I think, are areas where we share enormous common interests. And these are areas, I think, with great potential for future growth in terms of the relationship. So as Ambassador, I'm excited to have come in at this opportune and important juncture in our relationship. And I'm ready to work with our friends in New Zealand to take the relationship to the next level, to give increasing substance to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership we have established between us.