On 23rd January 2012, Chinese ambassador to UK Liu Xiaoming had a live and one-on-one interview with Jeremy Paxman on BBC 2’s Newsnight programme.
The China Times has retrieved the detail of the interview from BBC, the audio download and transcript of the interview go as follows, you may also visit the Chinese version (驻英大使刘晓明接受BBC专访) on our website, or watch the video on BBC.
Jeremy Paxman: Happy New Year! Mr. Ambassador.
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: Thank you.
Jeremy Paxman: Let’s try to define our terms. Are you a communist?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: Well, in China, the ruling party is the communist party. The communist party now has more than 80 million party members. But you have to remember China is a country with 1.3 billion people. So I don’t think you can call China a communist country, just as you can not call the UK conservative UK.
Jeremy Paxman: But you could call the UK a capitalist country.
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: And we say China is a socialist country. We could call China a socialist country with Chinese characteristics.
Jeremy Paxman: Talking to the young people, in particular in Beijing, I very strongly got the impression that they were pretty optimistic about China’s international role. They saw this as a century which was developing very much in a way that was going to make China a much more significant force in the world. Do you think that?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: China will certainly contribute its part for maintaining peace and prosperity of the world. But we do not see China as a superpower. I would characterize China as the largest developing country with increasing international influence and responsibilities.
Jeremy Paxman: But people look at what China does on the UN Security Council, for example, over the question of—you opposed the sanctions on Syria, sanctions on Iran, and they wonder, you know, what you are trying to achieve?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: That’s not the right impression. In fact, China voted four times with other members of the Security Council on the issue of Iran. China is strongly opposed to Iranian nuclear weapon programme. But on the other hand, we believe diplomatic and peaceful solution is the most beneficial solution to the problem. It costs less and it’s in the interest of maintaining peace and stability in the region.
Jeremy Paxman: But do you accept that Iran is a potential threat to world peace, a nuclear armed Iran?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: I would say, yes, Iran with nuclear weapons is not in the interest of peace and stability in the region. So that is why China made it very clear from day one that we are strongly opposed to Iran developing nuclear weapons. That has been reaffirmed by Chinese premier in his recent visit to the region.
Jeremy Paxman: So why not impose sanctions, then?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: There are already sanctions in place. But we don’t think sanction for the sake of sanction serves the purpose. We also encouraged peaceful negotiations to engage Iran for a peaceful settlement of this issue.
Jeremy Paxman: Do you think China has a moral role in the world?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: I think China has a role to play, in terms of building a more peaceful, harmonious world.
Jeremy Paxman: But what do you try to promote? The United States, for example, says it promotes, and will go to war, to promote democracy. What do you try to promote?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: We are promoting a harmonious world. We believe the world will be more peaceful, prosperous, if all countries respect each other, rather than imposing their own ideas and systems onto others. We believe mutual respect, mutual accommodation and working together for the common good, common security is in the interest of peace and stability of the world. So we are strongly opposed to any military solutions.
Jeremy Paxman: What about economic power? China sits on this mountain of trillions of dollars worth of foreign exchange. What’s that for?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: What’s that for?? China is still a relatively poor country. Though China now is number two in terms of GDP, after only the United States. But in per capita GDP, China is still behind 100 countries. There are still about 700 million people living in the countryside. And there are about 150 million people living under one US dollar a day, that is the UN poverty line. So there is an enormous responsibility for the Chinese government to improve livelihood of those parts of the population of China.
Jeremy Paxman: And let’s talk a little bit about that difficult matter of human rights. Ai Weiwei, the well known artist, says that without free speech, you are living in a barbaric world. Do you understand what he’s getting at?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: I think Ai Weiwei has his freedom to express his view. Otherwise how could you get his opinion on this?
Jeremy Paxman: Unfortunately, he has been in prison of course, isn’t it?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: No, he was under investigation on suspicion of evading tax, destroying his accounting books. In any country of rule by law, you have to respect and abide by the law. Nobody in a country ruled by law should be above the law. So even a so-called well-known artist has to abide by the law. When he violates Chinese law, he should be punished. There’s no doubt about that in China, I guess it’s the same in Britain.
Jeremy Paxman: He should be free to say what he likes, shouldn’t he?
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: If he is forbidden to voice his opinions, how could you get to know them?
Jeremy Paxman: All right, Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.
Ambassador Liu Xiaoming: Thank you for having me.