The Slovenia Times

Chinese ambassador says 17+1 summit new opportunity for cooperation


Ljubljana - China and Slovenia have had good relations in all fields. As Chinese Ambassador to Slovenia Wang Shunqing told the STA, a new opportunity to deepen the relations will be the 17+1 initiative summit in Beijing, which has been moved to the second half of the year due to the pandemic. Wang hopes Slovenia will be pragmatic in picking 5G technology.

In an interview conducted last weekend, Wang said that the exact date of the 17+1 summit was not known yet. When the date is known, the ambassador expects information about Slovenia's participation.

Slovenia's participation had already been announced by former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, but Wang has not had the opportunity to speak about this with representatives of the current government due to the coronavirus epidemic. The ambassador has only met with Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek.

Wang expects that the good bilateral relations between China and Slovenia, which were confirmed by the visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi last December, will continue also with the government of Janez Janša taking over.

China is the most important trade partner to Slovenia in Asia, and Slovenia is the most important partner to China in the Western Balkan region, he said. "It is true that Slovenia records a trade deficit with China, but the countries are striving to balance the trade," Wang added.

According to the ambassador, China uses various platforms to promote Slovenian products. One of them is the China International Import Expo fair in Shanghai, where Slovenian companies get invited every year.

The Chinese state and local authorities provide all necessary support for Slovenian investments in China, among which Wang singled out the investments by the ultralight aircraft maker Pipistrel.

As for Chinese investments in Slovenia, the ambassador noted the takeover of the household appliance maker Gorenje by Hisense two years ago. "The Hisense investment is currently the most important Chinese investment in Slovenia," he said, adding that China supported Hisense in its further expansion and investments in Slovenia.

Wang is concerned about the announced lay-offs in Gorenje. "Lay-offs in companies, although they are part of the business, are always very sensitive, but it is not unusual that something like this takes place during the pandemic," he said.

The ambassador has been in constant touch with the management of Hisense Gorenje lately. It was explained to him that the lay-offs are a consequence of the new coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced orders considerably, and of a low efficiency in comparison to competitors in the industry, an issue Gorenje has been facing for quite a while.

"Measures should be made to make the company competitive. This needs to be our common goal," he said. In talks with the management of Hisense Gorenje, Wang said that lay-offs should be carried out carefully and gradually, and in accordance with the Slovenian legislation.

Wang is convinced that the management will make a lot of effort to this end as, after all, it has reduced the planned number of lay-offs, which it will try to carry out using soft methods as much as possible.

Wang stressed that - the company donated protective medical equipment to Slovenia at the end of March - has a long-term interest in Slovenia. "Cooperation with Hisense and Gorenje is strategic," he said, noting that Hisense had picked Slovenia for its seat of European operations. In this light, he also mentioned Hisense's plans to build a new television plant this year and to invest in a development centre in Velenje.

Wang would like to see Chinese companies in general participate in projects in Slovenia. With four Chinese companies currently in play for the main construction work on the planned new railway line between the port of Koper and Divača, Wang would like to see one of them succeed in the tender.

"Chinese companies have a lot of experience in rail construction, as they have built them all around the world, they have well-developed technology and a lot of experience in construction of tunnels and in constructions in unpredictable terrain, such as karst."

The ambassador hopes that the selection procedure for the main contractor for the railway line will be "just and fair", but he is worried about the EU guidelines which allow for the exclusion of bidders from third countries from public procurement contracts. "I hope that Chinese companies will be able to participate," he stressed.

Wang also touched on the implementation of the fifth generation mobile network (5G) and the technology of the Chinese company Huawei, which is a thorn in the US's side, and the US is calling on its allies to reject Huawei's 5G technology for security reasons.

"But let's look at the facts. In the last 30 years, Huawei operated in more than 170 countries, and none of them reported about security issues. The US is talking about espionage, but there is no proof for this whatsoever. It is a question of technology which has been completely politicised by the US. We strongly object to this," Wang said.

The Chinese ambassador hopes that Slovenia will take a decision on 5G based on its own interest and needs, while taking into account the costs and quality of the selected technology. "I hope that it will take a pragmatic approach and that it will not succumb to the US influence," he said. As for security, Wang said that security risks could be avoided by setting common standards.

Wang admits that the coronavirus pandemic has eroded the relations between the EU and China, but he believes that problems can be bridged with cooperation. He sees potential for cooperation in the economic recovery measures presented by the EU. Wang stressed that the EU and China share similar ideas, especially when it comes to measures for combating climate change and protecting the environment. "Efforts have been made on both sides for cooperation to be facilitated."

China encourages European business executives to visit China, to re-start their businesses which had to be suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. "We also support European companies to relaunch their operations in China," he said, adding that China was offering a special visa regime to Slovenian business executives.

Besides the 17+1 initiative summit, no high-level political or business visits or events between the countries are planned for this year. The plan was different but, as Wang put it, they were blown away by the coronavirus pandemic.

"I hope that we will also make agreements about this after the situation normalises," said Wang, who also announced China's support to Slovenia's presidency of the EU Council in the second half of next year. He also pointed to the links in culture and education among the important elements of the countries' cooperation.

"I don't dare to be an optimist," Wang said when asked how he imagines the new reality after the pandemic. The disease is far from being defeated, he warned, adding that if China developed a vaccine for Covid-19, it will be made a global public good, as announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly.

Countries must defeat the new coronavirus together and in solidarity, he said to conclude the interview for the STA.


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