On Tuesday this week, Kizzy Kalsakau sat down with Ambassador Liu Quan to get his impressions on the relationship between Vanuatu and China, on development, and on numerous other topics.
The Ambassador, who is leaving his post on Wednesday, spoke for an hour with Kizzy in a frank and friendly conversation. The partial transcript below covers selected topics that have been in the news of late. The transcript has been edited for length, and some changes have been made to address grammar and clarity.
Infrastructure, loans vs grants, military base
Are these really roads to nowhere? How does China see it role in Vanuatu’s development?
You know… one thing I want to make sure is that any project, including infrastructure, aid programme and grant programme—they are all at the request of the Government of Vanuatu. It’s not Chinese investment. It’s requested by Vanuatu Government.
As for the infrastructure projects, we have been trying our best to help Vanuatu because our view is that to be reached, you’ve got to have roads first.
I saw that your products are not coming to the market because you don’t have roads. You don’t have accessible roads to the market. I’ve been to Tanna, and I saw the growing, booming business there.
And also, with good roads, visitors [find it] easier to get to the volcano. So you’re attracting more and more foreign tourists.
I went to Malekula, you know, this is a very big island in Vanuatu, an agriculture base for Vanuatu. Sure, the road will contribute a lot to the development of Vanuatu.
The government is very clear that these [projects] are essential for our national development. I remember that in your newspaper, you commented very well that this is the road leading to our home. That’s the story I read from your newspaper. I appreciate it very much.
I think the term ‘leading to nowhere’ is not correct. It’s really benefiting the people of Vanuatu.
For us, we are doing our job [at] the request of the government. And the government, all the time, wants to develop faster. Because, you know, they complain a lot to me. You know, the outer islands… because of no roads, sometimes people die on the way to hospital. Babies… you know, they cannot deliver their babies in hospital, because there’s no accessible road. So this kind of hardship and difficulty for the people of Vanuatu.
So you know, as to how do you want to build your national infrastructure is totally up to the Vanuatu government. It’s your strategy. It’s not our strategy. It’s your national development strategy.
Yesterday, I talked with your president, and he said, “I’m from Ambrym. We have a beautiful volcano, but there’s no road.” And, you know, for tourists to get to the volcano, it’s very hard.
I think people have the aspiration [to] develop infrastructure. That’s our [China’s] experience. Without infrastructure, you can do nothing. That’s the starting point. China now, we are very mature now in terms of infrastructure building, because you go to the villages… all villages, we have tar-sealed roads. We’ve been doing it for more than 40 years.
Now Mr Ambassador, why is it so easy for China to, you know, get on to Vanuatu government requests and accept that request and develop them, bringing all this infrastructure to Vanuatu. Is it not a give and take situation?
No. It’s not easy, actually [laughs]. In Vanuatu, they want to have a… in every island, they want to have a road, but China’s a very responsible country. We will… carefully study your debt-paying abilities, and also we’ll conduct feasibility studies for every project. It’s not so easy to get it, because you know, it’s kind of a…
I think the government of Vanuatu is very cautious. The government’s quite cautious. They have prudent management of your budget. I talked with your government officials. They said, “We know how to run our own country. It’s the government’s responsibility to run this country. It’s not China’s.”
Meaning it’s not in grants, but loans?
These kind of projects are all concessional loans. Yeah, they are loans.
And also some grants that are given to Vanuatu to build all this big infrastructure?
What do you mean?
Also big grants come from the Chinese government to build all these big infrastructure [projects]?
You know, these things are divided into two categories.
One is concessional loans, that’s only for… things like the road projects in Tanna and Malekula, the wharf project and maybe small project—others. The main from China is grants. It’s money that’s provided for free, like the Convention Centre, the Korman stadium, the PM’s Office, the [University of the South Pacific upgrades], the Agriculture College in Santo… so many projects… Malapoa College… which all… Malapoa College is a huge project. It’s going to be completed very soon. I’ve been there twice and I think we will be on schedule.
These are grants. People in Vanuatu are sometimes confused. They say we waste all our money on this, on that, but quite a lot of projects are based on grants. Not the money you will borrow.
Now Mr Ambassador, just to clear the air: what about the military base that’s [making] waves not only in Vanuatu but worldwide? Could you give a comment on that?
You know, it’s groundless. Like your newspaper has said, it’s baseless. It’s not China [who] wants to build the wharf; it’s the government of Vanuatu. Make sure [of] that difference. It’s under the request of Vanuatu.
I don’t believe those rumours.
Mr Ambassador… China’s increasingly important role in the Pacific islands. What can China do to maintain peace, stability and prosperity in the region?
You know, China’s role is increasing not just in the Pacific. It’s a global role—increasing globally. We also have helped a lot in the African countries. China’s role in the development of Vanuatu is based on South-South dialogue. South-South cooperation. We are developing countries. China is the biggest developing country in the world. We are in the same group. I think this is a very important point, because we are developing countries. We are like brother and sister. We help each other.
In the Pacific, the main thing is that we would like to help our friends develop together. We have a policy, we call it ‘Shared future for Mankind’. We want to have a shared future of mankind. So everybody will benefit from this kind of peace and prosperity.
China’s aim is mainly for peace and prosperity. And also for development…. We want to grow together, to achieve a kind of win-win situation. Our relationship is termed a ‘strategic partnership’, featuring mutual respect and common development. This is normal for a big country.
You know, we have normal relations between China and Vanuatu. We have relations with… 160 [countries], or more than that—diplomatic relations. When you have diplomatic relations, it means you help each other. You have a formal relationship and so I think our policy is very clear. I would like people to understand that we want peace and development. Because when you have peace outside China, it’s good for China to grow.
We think that a peaceful environment is so important, not only for us, but for the world. So we do not think ‘hegemony’, we do not think ‘sphere of influence’, we do not think ‘expansion’, we do not think [of] this kind of… hegemonic dominance.
China is a country which people need to understand. It has its own ideas, its own policies. And of course, we promote free trade, we promote globalisation, we support [action on] climate change.
You know, China has done a lot in climate change. In the Pacific areas, you are facing disasters. Vanuatu is especially prone to disasters. We are trying to help our friends. Last time, since the Ambae volcano, I think the Chinese government altogether has contributed about US$ 900,000.
We are doing our part to help our friends. Of course, it’s a kind of mutually respected and mutually beneficial relationship.
Mr Ambassador, the spreading of China not only to the Pacific islands but other countries, doesn’t it show the world that China wants to take over from one country to another, to show its power to countries round the world, that you are growing as you said, compared to Australia and New Zealand, the major countries in the Pacific that are always there to see to the needs of the Pacific island countries?
I think that people need to understand this country, China. We are for peace and prosperity. We are not… to have people thinking with Cold War mentalities, zero-sum game, geopolitical thinking…. From their mind, from their angle, they misunderstand China.
China is a global [power]. China is a big country—1.4 billion people. We have relations with so many countries. It’s normal. It’s normal. We are fulfilling our responsibility as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. And also we are helping a lot, to countries to help them meet the goals of 2030 [The UN Sustainable Development Goals]. We are doing our part.
I hope that people will understand this country. That they won’t see China with tinted glasses. Two points:
Some people see China all the time from the ideological [stance]. China is a socialist country. We are confident in our system. We are confident in our culture. We are confident in our theories. We are confident in our road. Why not? We do our own road. Our mode of development.
But we do not export our mode of development. That’s our system. What you do is your own view, but we do our own way. But you all the time see China in this angle, with ideological bias. You make wrong misjudgements of this country. You never reach objective conclusions [about] this country. This is one point from the angle of the ideological.
Another angle is the Cold War mentality. Zero sum game. Colonial ideas. This is my place, and that is your place and you should not be…. We have no such ideas. We want to grow together. We want to grow the cake, so everybody can share. We want peace and development.
We want to develop relations with countries based on five principles of peaceful coexistence. Respect sovereignty and territorial integrity; non-aggression; mutual benefit; non-interference in internal affairs; and peaceful coexistence.
We respect Vanuatu as a sovereign state.
I think people need to discard—discard—those kind of Cold War mentalities and ideological bias. You need to see China… you need to have a true picture of this country. You go to this country… and seeing is believing. Take off your tinted glasses first. Then see this country.
We hope that people will understand this. But you know, sometimes it’s difficult to wake up someone who is pretend sleeping. I hope I have the medicine… that they can take… that they can not just pretend. [laughs] You know… that they really understand the situation.
I think this is really important, you know. Some people with ideas—set ideas—when they see China, they just start from their set ideas.
Thank you very much for your comments. Now, just to end our discussion for today: You are leaving Vanuatu…. Could you give a little advice to the new Ambassador who will replace you?
I enjoy living and working in Vanuatu. I enjoy my life. My wife as well, she has enjoyed her life. And she has helped a lot. Not only as a diplomat, serving as first secretary, but she is also my wife, helping my family affairs. And also she organised a lot of women’s activities, you know, cultural activities. We always enjoy our life in Vanuatu. We have so many friends. In every sector. In every sector.
We express our gratitude to the government and to the people of Vanuatu, helping us to forge a strong relationship between our two countries.