Zhao Jun 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
China is firmly opposed to an Iranian nuclear arms program, Beijing's ambassador to Israel, Zhao Jun, has told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.
Zhao's comments represent some of the most unambiguous remarks made by a Chinese official on the matter in recent weeks.
"China's position on the Iranian nuclear issue has been consistent and clear-cut. We support maintaining the international nonproliferation regime. In this sense, we are strongly against the idea that the Iranians should develop nuclear weapons," the ambassador said.
"And at the same time, we believe that each country, according to the nonproliferation nuclear weapons treaty, has the right to utilize nuclear power in a peaceful way and for a peaceful purpose," Zhao added.
On Thursday, China's Premier, Wen Jiabao, hosted Iranian First Vice President Muhammad Reza Rahimi in Beijing, and said Sino-Iranian relations had "witnessed rapid development."
Wen added that "cooperation in trade and energy has widened and deepened," according to the Chinese state Xinhua News Agency.
Back in Israel, Zhao told the Post his country would continue to back diplomacy as a means of solving the nuclear crisis, and denied that China's flourishing energy trade relationship with Iran was behind Beijing's refusal to back tougher sanctions.
China is the second largest crude oil importer in the world, while Iran possesses the globe's second biggest crude oil reserves. Twelve percent of China's oil imports come from Iran.
Iran also buys gasoline from China, due to the Islamic republic's inability to refine enough crude oil.
But those energy ties were not influencing China's approach to the nuclear crisis, Zhao insisted in his interview. "I don't agree with these claims or these assessments on China's position. I think some people drew this conclusion because they got distorted reports on China's position.
"China has been pursuing a foreign policy of peace and independence. We judge the issue according to its merits," he said. "We'll let people see by their own eyes, rather than read reports and jump to conclusions," he added.
The ambassador, who spoke with the Post on Wednesday, said he was optimistic over the chances of a renewed diplomatic push led by the US to resolve the crisis. "We welcome the recent progress made in Geneva. I hope that all parties could invest more diplomatic efforts to push for talks and negotiations to search for a more comprehensive, long-term and appropriate solution to the Iranian nuclear issue," Zhao said.
When asked if China's position would change if diplomacy failed, he said, "I think that so long the international community and all the parties make efforts together, there will be a breakthrough."
The ambassador said he hoped efforts to kick-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would succeed, adding that China had appointed a special Mideast envoy who visits the region twice a year.
"At the moment the international community is extremely concerned about the stagnation of the process. We do urge the parties concerned to resume dialogue and negotiations as early as possible, because it is in the interests of the stability of this region and its peoples.
"China will continuously play its part in the Middle East peace process," Zhao said.
"My hope, and that of the Chinese people, is that through joint efforts with all parties concerned, a lasting and just peace in this region will prevail," he added. "As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has always been playing an important role in the Middle East process."
Asked if China was concerned over recent threats made against it by al-Qaida following bloody riots between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese in the western Xinjiang province, the ambassador said, "We have been checking whether these threats are genuine or not. I can assure you if these threats are serious we will treat them accordingly."
China has sentenced six Uighurs to death in recent days for their roles in the disturbances. "These riots were premeditated and masterminded by a small group of separatists now in exile. Their main motive is to split the country. But the Chinese people, the entire nation, is strongly against this idea," Zhao said. "We consider them as terrorists because of the methods they used. Innocent people were killed in the streets using knives and swords. People's heads were chopped," he added.
"That's why they should be dealt with according to Chinese laws. This is a normal practice. For example, In Israel, I don't think the government would allow this to happen."
Turning his attention to Sino-Israeli relations, Zhao had warm words for the Jewish people, and said the future of political and economic cooperation between the two countries was bright.
"Both the Chinese nation and Jewish nation are great nations. In the long course of history, both the Chinese and Jewish peoples have made outstanding contribution to the advancement of world civilizations," he said.
Zhao noted how Shanghai had provided refuge to more than 30,000 Jews fleeing the Holocaust, and said that during a recent dinner with former prime minister Ehud Olmert, whose grandfather fled to safety in China, Olmert "was proud to consider China as his second homeland."
On the economic front, Zhao said Sino-Israeli trade was blooming.
"There has been tremendous progress in economic and trade relations. When we established diplomatic relations in 1992, the trade volume between the two countries was only $50 million. Last year, there was $6.4 billion US in trade. That shows remarkable achievements," Zhao said.
The ambassador noted that Israel imported household appliances, textiles, garments and shoes from China, while China imported hi-tech products, medical devices, agricultural technology and communications equipment from Israel. Some 200 Israeli companies now operate in China, he added, while Chinese companies are competing for construction tenders in Israel.
"We hope that in a couple of years, we can reach $10b. in trade between the two countries," he said.
Zhao avoided the sensitive issue of past military trade between Jerusalem and Beijing, which had sparked the ire of Washington in 2005, leading to the cancellation of an Israeli contract to upgrade unmanned aerial vehicles sold to China in 1999.
"There is no military trade between the two countries due to various reasons, and I'm not going to tell you exactly what the reasons are. But we are happy with the present situation of normal trade," Zhao said.
On Saturday evening, China is set to launch what it describes as the "largest cultural exchange program between the countries" since relations were established. The program, called "Experience China in Israel," is co-sponsored by the Chinese Information Office of the State Council and the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
It will include a performance by 55 dancers from the China Disabled People's Art Troupe, called My Dream, at Tel Aviv's Opera House on Saturday and Sunday; A Close Look at China, which will include photographs of the daily lives of members of China's 56 ethnic groups, at Jaffa's Museum of Antiquities, and the launch of Chinese movie week at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
Tel Aviv University will also hold a symposium on "China, Israel and the World economy," which will be attended by President Shimon Peres.
"This marks another milestone in bilateral ties and will help bring two peoples even closer," Zhao said.
"Israel is a very friendly country toward China. It is a very nice and beautiful country. I'm very happy - and proud - to be appointed ambassador to this great nation and country. During my two-and-a-half-year stay in Israel, I've made a lot of friends," he said.
Zhao said he has encountered some criticisms of China in Israel, but added that he found them to be "genuine, and from the bottom of the heart, without any ulterior motives. It's not like in some other countries."
He is a former director-general of the European Department in China's Foreign Ministry, and was based in London for more than five years, and in other European capitals.
"Not in every place I went to were the people like the Israeli people. The majority of people are nice, but sometimes you find... we call them the troublemakers," he said, laughing heartily. "So this is the impression I got from Israeli people. Genuine, honest, hard-working, extremely intelligence, and friendly."
"The Jewish people and Chinese people have been admiring each other even before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries 17 years ago," Zhao said.
"Anti-Semitism is not a word that is in the Chinese dictionary," he said.