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from issue no. 06/07 - 2008

The most beautiful game is goodwill

The expectations of the People’s Republic of China after the Olympics. Interview with Sun Yuxi, Ambassador to Italy

Interview with Sun Yuxi by Giovanni Cubeddu

In Mandarin Chinese, which the Chinese call putonghua, the common language, it took three signs (world, whole, transformation) to express the new concept of globalization, not to mention the different tonal reading of the ideograms ... Such is China today, a great country with five millennia of civilization, attentive to its traditions, a fifth of the world’s population proud of having taken the path that leads it to a prime place in the world economy, even with all its contradictions. These we leave to the cluttered desks of the analysts. Even in these times of change Master Kong (K’ung fu-tzu, known to Westerners, thanks to Jesuit missionaries, as Confucius) is not sparing of his wisdom, suggesting in the Dialogues (the chapter devoted to “benevolence toward one’s neighbor”) a spirit of moderation and common good as medicine for contrasting arrogances: “No one is better than the one who dedicated himself to cultivating goodwill”.
Sun Yuxi, the new Ambassador to Itlay of the People’s Republic of China, tells us of the world seen from Beijing.

Ambassador Sun Yuxi

Ambassador Sun Yuxi

What does Beijing hope to gain from these games, in addition to medals?
SUN YUXI: First of all we consider it already a gain just to have had the right to organize these Olympics, and we have worked very hard to offer everyone a wonderful sporting event. The Olympics are the means of expressing to the entire international community the Chinese desire for peaceful coexistence and more lively exchanges of friendship. The Games, we believe, help to restabilize world peace and harmony, and we care that our friends from all over the world, should leave with a good memory, which will enhance their affection for us. Finally, you know that my country is going through a period of rapid growth and that the mission of my government is to continue on this road, improving the living standard of our people. The Olympics in short strengthen our policy of development and friendship.
When things go well the Chinese speak of harmony. Some, however, see in your country a dangerous rival. How to reconcile harmony and globalization?
SUN: Worldwide there are still things that are not harmonious, both in politics and in economics. In the first case I refer to regional conflicts and the difficult relations between countries, in the second to globalization, when it creates problems of an inflationary type: increase in the cost of living, pollution… The goal of China is to achieve harmony. Our main aim is, on the one hand, to improve the standard of living of our people, on the other, to live together in friendship and peace with the rest of the world. Peace, development and cooperation: those are our guidelines. Using political negotiation and not force. Finally, now we’re working hard with enormous human and economic resources on a policy of energy saving: alternative energies, environmental protection ... Let me cite as an example the aid provided by the Italian government, and agreements made during the last visit to Rome of our foreign minister for construction in China of a “model” ecological city that will be called Caofeidian. I thank your country.
The USSR collapsed, the West hailed the end of communism. Today China governed by the Communist Party is a leader in world markets. And presumably will be so in the future.
SUN: The People’s Republic of China, at this preliminary stage of socialism, is under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party. And we intend the country to continue its development according to its own characteristics and situation. Our government is paying at the same time attention both to the reform of socialist democracy as well as to that of the economy. In our opinion democracy means that the ruler of the country is the people, in whom all decisions are vested, in view of their own interest. And this at all levels: in the provinces, as at the center, popular assemblies are held each year, which are fundamental because they provide the content of what the people think and want. In addition, in China there is not only the CCP, but nine other party formations, which have a role of collaboration with the Communist Party and which are represented in the various assemblies. The National People’s Congress also plays a role in supervising the government, as well as the CCP, which operates a Monitoring Committee. But even in the government there is a Ministry of Supervision, which also oversees research institutes and the media. China is not a regime where everything is in the hands of a few. The people are carefully listened to: the leadership of the CCP is elected by 70 million Party members, the appointment of ministers was approved by the National People’s Congress, the village leaders are elected by direct local poll … There is no other political system like it, but it corresponds to our characteristics and we will maintain it, while promoting its modernization. The secret of China, in the globalized world, is that our government is able to produce development because it knows how to direct these mechanisms…
How does today’s China maintain its own traditions and simultaneously adhere to modernity?
SUN: The democratic system in China is the guarantee of development. The starting point is the protection of the fundamental interests of the people, and in our view they must match and not conflict with the highest interests of others, so we offer the rest of the world total cooperation. We act according to a detailed program. China comes out of a situation of backwardness and poverty, so in a first phase the objective – already reached by the end of the twentieth century – was to ensure that the people could eat and be properly dressed. By 2020 we want to create a prosperous society, and by 2050 we would like to reach the standard of living of countries like Italy. The nation is progressing under the correct leadership of the CCP: in the ’eighties there were 250 million poor people in the country, now there are 20 million. The Chinese represent a fifth of the world’s population: if our people can live in a somewhat more dignified manner, won’t this also be a contribution to fighting poverty worldwide?
The growth of China has long been identified as the first cause of the scarcity of resources, especially in the energy sector. Lately, in the case of oil, the finger instead points toward speculation.
SUN: The rapid development of our country requires greater use of resources, this is a fact. But remember that 70 percent of energy in China comes from coal and most of the coal consumed in China is extracted in our country. We also produce oil, and for many years only half of the crude oil we consume comes from abroad. I agree that it would be wrong to correlate the oil crisis and consumption in China, while I would rather look to the difficulties in the Middle East and international speculation. China is seeking to increase its production, to implement energy savings and develop alternative energy sources, not least because the increase in oil prices concerns us, and we are trying to stabilize it.
On May 7 last, a concert of the Shanghai Philharmonic Orchestra was held in the Paul VI Hall in Vatican City, in the presence of y to maintain direct relations with the Pope… Among the six thousand people present at the concert, there were high-ranking Vatican and Italian figures, and the general reaction was really positive. Many people think that it was a good initiative, which will give an impetus to the normalisation of Sino-Vatican relations. Indeed, as a gesture of cultural exchange at a popular level, it has already given this impetus to the normalisation between China and the Holy See. I repeat, we are very happy.
You are, indeed, the first Chinese ambassador to Rome to have these contacts with the Holy See and the Holy Father. May I ask you for a comment, even personal one, on the matter?
SUN: Look, I am very pleased.
Benedict XVI greeting the Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra and the Shanghai Opera Choir at the end of the concert in the Paul VI Hall on the evening of 7 May 2008

Benedict XVI greeting the Chinese Philharmonic Orchestra and the Shanghai Opera Choir at the end of the concert in the Paul VI Hall on the evening of 7 May 2008

What is new in the cultural exchanges between the People’s Republic of China and Italy?
SUN: This is an important issue. China and Italy represent two great cultures. In my view four great civilizations exist in the world: the Chinese that developed between the Yellow River and the Blue River; that of India, then the European and finally the African. I regard Italy as the cradle of Western civilization, so the cultural exchanges between the Chinese civilization and the Italian – to which China is very committed – can make a contribution to peace and cooperation, not only for our countries but on a global scale. The Sino-Italian cultural exchanges nourish the mutual understanding and friendship between Western and Eastern civilizations. Immediately after the establishing of diplomatic relations between our two countries a protocol for cultural exchange was signed, with programs to be updated every three years. Fruitful relations between Italian regions and provinces of China were inaugurated and initiatives from the bottom up have become very frequent in recent years, involving the people. In 2006 we held “The Year of Italy in China” and this year in Rome we organized together the festival “China is close.” In the future we will continue to promote these initiatives, my efforts are a step in this direction.
Let me also emphasize that the increase in the number of Chinese students in Italy and viceversa, is a very effective way of promoting cultural exchanges. Today five thousand young Chinese study in your country, and I hope that this number will double every year. In addition, we have set up in Italy two “Confucius Institutes” and many universities are asking us to establish new ones, knowing that our embassy is ready to help. Finally, the Chinese language courses are much more popular than before.
May I be allowed a word of appreciation for the Italian diplomatic mission in Beijing?
SUN: Relations between China and Italy are experiencing perhaps their best period. With Ambassador Sessa we work profitably, in particular in facilitating visa procedures. For my part I laud the fact that the issuing of visas to Chinese, for tourist, commercial or study reasons, is now taking place in the proper amount of time.
In Italy we are talking about federalism... In China there are officially fifty-six ethnic groups. How can Beijing ensure their coexistence today?
SUN: Because they are equal members of the same Chinese family, guaranteed by the Constitution and laws, and every ethnic group has helped to build modern China, knowing at the same time how to maintain their own traditions and culture. The Chinese government has always regarded the protection of every ethnic group a fundamental commitment to safeguarding unity and development in China. In government and in the National People’s Congress ethnic groups have a percentage representation, and the status of autonomous region is guaranteed these minorities in the home territory: there are already five of them and the chairman of the autonomous region is an expression of local ethnicity. If the minority is suffering from backwardness, the central government intervenes with funds to promote their recovery. Not only that: we have built schools, universities and research institutes to ensure the cultures of individual ethnic groups, and in the classroom both Mandarin Chinese and the local idiom are taught. This is the traditional, firm policy of the Chinese government, supported by all ethnic groups.
For how long will a rapidly advancing China remain a Confucian country?
SUN: For more than two thousand years the thinking process of the Chinese have been impregnated with Confucius. The very concept of harmony, as coordination between the various classes and social factors of production, which we have already spoken of, comes from him. And harmony, Confucius explained, is like a treasure. The same Confucius advised avoiding any excess and maintaining balanced relations with all. The Chinese leaders, from Mao Zedong to Deng Xiaoping, down to the most recent generation of Hu Jintao, have all been affected by Confucius and use his words and thought. He was the first teacher to open his own school in China. Here, I note simply that to understand how the Chinese think it is necessary to read the texts of two personalities: Confucius and Mao Zedong. The latter in fact testifies not only to the ideas of Marxism, but also to those of Confucianism. And they are all very much alive.

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