Ji Yanchi: We are ready to develop Georgian-Chinese relations in all directions
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to Georgia Ji Yanchi tells about Georgian-Chinese relations, Free Trade Agreement between China and Georgia, jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt, Georgian wine in China and Chinese tourists in Georgia and much more in an exclusive interview with newcaucasus.com.
— The Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia and the Minister of Commerce of China Zhong Shan signed the Free Trade Agreement in Beijing in May of the current year. How will the economic relations between Georgia and China develop?
— A resolution on launching the negotiations regarding the Free Trade Agreement between Georgia and China was made in September, 2015, at the World Economic Forum held in Dalian China, during the meeting of the Prime-Ministers of two countries. In December 2015, during the meeting of the Trade-Economic Commission, the Ministry of Commerce of China and the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia signed a memorandum on cooperation and a process of preparation of the agreement was started. In February 2016, the first group of experts on negotiations regarding the FTA visited Georgia and in October of the same year, we ended all procedures required for its signing.
On 13 May of this year, the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia and the Minister of Commerce of China Zhong Shan signed the Free Trade Agreement in Beijing. Now the parties are working on ratification of this agreement.
In my opinion, signing and implementation of the FTA has a very significant meaning for stimulation and development of bilateral trade-economic cooperation between Georgia and China.
The agreement gives good perspectives for further development of the mutually beneficial cooperation and partnership; it is also very significant for construction of the Silk Road Economic Belt initiated by the President of China, Xi Jinping.
I think that we are on a right track with Georgia. I am very glad that this year we signed the Agreement and I hope that it will enter into force before November.
— On the International Economic Forum held in Beijing, support for the Chinese investments and assistance to state-owned and private Chinese companies to invest into the Georgian economy was initiated. Which role will China play in this process?
— The International Economic Forum “One belt – one road” was held in China’s capital during the 14-15th of May. The Georgian delegation led by the First Vice Prime-Minister, the Minister of Finance of Georgia DimitryKumsishvili and the Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia Giorgi Gakharia was among the participants of the Forum.
1500 representatives from 130 states participated in the Forum; over 700 foreign guests were present. Representatives of Georgia took part in two panel forums and represented their initiatives and proposals concerning the economic development and cooperation between the countries under the One Belt, One Road initiative. In order to construct the corridor, investments in agriculture, infrastructure, industry, transport, electronic trade, culture and other spheres should be stimulated.
China, in cooperation with other states of the region interested in this project, will construct a peaceful corridor and a belt for the prosperity of the whole world.
— The Vice-Premier of Georgia DimitryKumsishvili, during his visit in China, signed a declaration on foundation of the Bank of Development of Georgia with two Chinese companies “CEFC China Energy Company Limited” and “Eurasian Invest LLC”. When will this project be launched?
— As I am aware, the company “China Energy Company Limited” is one of the largest companies in China. The Chinese Government supports all Chinese enterprises, state-owned and private likewise. We will support their initiatives if they bring benefit to Georgia and China. This project will be implemented with the support of the Government of Georgia, but the terms have not been specified yet.
— On the 28-29th of November, the second International Forum “One belt – one road” will be held in Tbilisi. To what extent is this event important for the development of economic relations under the “One belt – one road” project?
— As far as I know, the representatives of Georgia put this initiative forward during the Beijing forum. The Georgian side invited guests of the Beijing Forum to participate in Tbilisi International Forum “One belt, one road”. The Chinese Embassy supports this initiative as continuation of the work of the Beijing Forum and I think that the Georgian Government has chosen a good time. We hope that this initiative will be successful and the Government of Georgia is developing a specific program.
— The discussion about the increase of a number of flights between Georgia and China was held at the Beijing Forum…
— Many representatives of Chinese air companies wish to launch flights from Georgia and have already visited Georgia, researched the local market, including the Chinese air company “Air China” which is owned by Hauling Group.
Nowadays, we have direct flight Tbilisi-Urumqi-Beijing. From Urumqi you can also fly to any other Chinese city by China Southern Airlines, which has a broad network in China as well as in the whole world.
We have already signed the Free Trade Agreements with 22 states, including Switzerland and Ireland. Among them, 11 were signed under the One Belt, One Road, including Georgia. Moreover, negotiations have already been launched with Bulgaria and Moldova.
These agreements have a great significance, and Georgia can use its geographic location, to develop its links and trade-economic cooperation with the CIS, the EU and Turkey.
— Are the Chinese Companies going to start production in Georgia?
— I consider that putting the new agreement into force will increase an interest of the Chinese businessmen towards researching the market. It is up to them. Georgia is a transit country; it has a small market. If the Chinese companies create their enterprises in Georgia, their aim will be to export the products to other countries, e.g. the manufactured products may be sold in Europe, China …
At the moment, a Chinese company “Jing Feng Heng Ye” is assisting to restore tea plantations in Tsalenjikha (Samegrelo region). They have started a test-project on 20 hectares, and have already picked five tons of tea in the first harvest. I visited the plantation not long ago. It was very interesting when the employees of the Chinese company found a tea plant dating back to 1930. Even though this sort of tea was introduced from China, we have lost this sort of tea, but it was preserved in Georgia. The Chinese companies restore traditions of cultivation of the green tea (spring tea) which is the most valuable tea in China. Restoration of tea plantations rise a great interest among local peasants, as they are able to find a job. We hope that the development of plantations will help to restore popularity of the Georgian tea in China and all over the world. We know that Georgian tea was very popular, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it lost its market. I hope that China will become the largest market for the Georgian tea. As I am aware, tea was imported in Georgia in XIX century by Mr. Liu Junzhou and his tea was named “Liu Cha”. We have ancient cultural links and all this may be included in the One Belt, One Road. We often say Silk Road, and why can’t we say “Tea Road”? It could attract a great interest not only in Georgia, but also in the whole world. It could further promote Georgia.
— With technical support of the Chinese Government in Marneuli, village Shulaveri a demonstration greenhouse complex was opened. Is the Chinese Government planning to proceed supporting of the agricultural sector of Georgia?
— In Marneuli, we opened a demonstration greenhouse complex that is designed to assist the Georgian farmers in cultivation of vegetables in greenhouses. With the help of the experts from China’s south-western Hunan province, 6 large and 27 small solar greenhouses were constructed on the 5 ha area in Marneuli.
The complex is equipped with the newest technologies. Under the guidance of Chinese experts, Georgian farmers are taking practical courses on cultivation of vegetables there. A group of Chinese experts from Hunan province held 10 training courses in Georgia and 2 – in China, and about 500 Georgian farmers were retrained. Under the technical support, the Chinese Government allocated 20 million RMB (3 mln. USD) in 2015. To summarize results of two years of work, Georgian and Chinese specialists concluded that this experimental base should continue retraining of specialists that will stimulate the development of greenhouses of such type in other regions of Georgia.
I would like to add that the Chinese side is planning to continue its support in this direction.
At the moment, our Embassy is discussing further plans on supporting the agriculture. I think that such greenhouses should be built in all regions of the country. Georgia is ecologically clean country and it is the best place for the development of industry of ecological character, for example – agriculture and tourism. Thus, I pay a great attention on cooperation in the field of agriculture. Georgia has a great potential for the development of agriculture, as 42% of the population is occupied in the field of agriculture, and almost 2/3 of them are unemployed.
I personally visited an experimental base several times. It is a profitable business that allows to receive a high harvest using only solar energy, which saves the electricity expenses on small plots of land up to 600 sq.m. Construction of such greenhouses will stimulate employment of peasants and will bring a positive economic effect.
Today China exports its agricultural products in Korea, Japan, South Asia, Europe and Georgia. I know that the Georgians are very diligent and I think that Georgia will manage to provide its own market, and even export its vegetables abroad in no time.
— At what extent is Georgian wine known and popular in China?
— I would like to give a high assessment to activity of the Georgian Government on popularization of the Georgian wine in the Chinese market. Surely, the Chinese Government supports and appreciates this work.
I think that this is a mutual process and China has already more than 20 Georgian pavilions where anyone can buy Georgian wine. There are many prospects for the increase of the export of the Georgian wine in China.
Chinese are very detail-focused clients and now our market has French, Chili, Italian, Spanish wines and they create a serious competition to Georgia. I appreciate Georgian wine and we have a lot of them in our Embassy. However, I can’t promote it, but when we have delegations from China I always say that we have the best wine in our Embassy.
— The first railway train arrived in Georgia from China in 2015, tracking across the territory of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. What are the prospects of the development of this railway route?
— Container trains “China Railway Express” move along the route China-Europe. We tested all directions and routes, including Georgia. This year we launched a new route from the city Yiwu (located in the eastern part of the province Zhejiang) to London. We have a large trade base in Yiwu. It is a very successful and profitable project. We have also routes crossing the territories of Russia and Kazakhstan. In reality, too many routes.
We do not know which routes will be chosen by businessmen; the routes are selected by private companies proceeding from their economic benefit. Each country attracts transit via its corridors. For Georgia it is very competitive. I know that the Government of Georgia makes all efforts for construction of its transport corridor. Nowadays, the Chinese company provides modernization of the Georgian Railway. As I am aware, for the last years the Chinese companies built in Georgia 40 km of railway and 82 km of autobahn. I reckon that Chinese companies play a large role in this direction.
— Earlier, we had information that Anaklia Port will be built by Chinese investors …
— The tender on the construction and development of a deep water port in Anaklia in Western Georgia was won by a Consortium of Development of Anaklia, — a cooperative enterprise with participation of the Georgian Company TBC Holding LLC and a developer from the USA Conti-International.
It is a pity that the Chinese company lost that tender. This was a very perspective project and many efforts are necessary for completion of construction of the port as in the case of delay, we may lose many opportunities. I suppose that for competitiveness of the port, a good railway and autobahn are necessary. Georgian Railway should be improved.
— Do the Chinese investors face difficulties due to the complicated relations between Tbilisi and Moscow?
— I suppose that Georgian-Russian relations should normalize and your Government makes all efforts for this.
We usually say the closest neighbor is more valuable than a relative is. Thus, we always follow a principle of friendship with our neighbors as friends may be chosen, and neighbors may not. I appreciate a right line of your Government on overcoming the problems connected with Russia and improving of relations. Surely, all of us should respect territorial integrity of each other and I agree with it.
I think that Georgian-Russian relations do not impede the cooperation between China and Georgia. We are ready to continue the development of our relations in all directions, in political and economic, as well as in cultural and humanitarian spheres.
As for our humanitarian aid to Georgia, we have presented scanner equipment to the high mountainous region Kazbegi.
We should mention Chinese investments in construction of Khadori HPP in Pankisi. This HPP was built in 2000 and it has been providing a region with power for 17 years. Khadori HPP became the first Chinese investment in Georgian economics. It is not a large investment but it may be considered as an assistance of the Chinese side in improvement of economic situation in high mountainous regions of Georgia.
— How do the Chinese Government support studying of the Chinese language in Georgia?
— Interest in studying of Chinese language in Georgia is increasing every year. Students learn Chinese language at the Free University, Institute of Confucius, Tbilisi State University and other universities, as well as in 20 schools. Every year the Chinese government grant 25 stipendiums for education of Georgian students in China and the students learning Chinese language have an opportunity to go to China for internship for one or two years, to graduate and to receive a diploma in China.
Learning the Chinese language will enable Georgian students to find a good job in future. I think that Chinese language is not difficult if you speak Georgian fluently. In my opinion, studying Georgian language is more difficult for a foreigner than that of the Chinese language.
— Is Georgia popular among tourists from China?
— Georgia is a touristic country. Tourists from China visit Georgia, but their number is very small, as they do not know the country quite well. As a rule, tourists from China visit Georgia individually. We should constantly promote touristic opportunities of Georgia having a beautiful nature, delicious cuisine and excellent wine. Georgian people are very friendly and I have numerous friends here. We often gather together, serve ourselves with wine and dishes of the Georgian cuisine. However, the Georgian cuisine is not so diversified, as the Chinese one but I think that we have not tried many dishes.
Georgia has excellent skiing resorts Gudauri and Bakuriani and unique springs of mineral waters. Chinese like skiing and often rest in skiing resorts of Switzerland. They may rest in Georgia as well. Yet, they know nothing about this, thus it is very importing to promote Georgian resorts on the Chinese market. I think that after entering of Chinese businessmen, the tourism potential of Georgia will increase.
To attract tourists from China we need a good advertising campaign. When we speak about Georgia, we say that it is a motherland of Joseph Stalin it raises interest among Chinese. When we simply talk about Georgia, people in China do not even know where it is situated. I think that for advertising of the tourism potential we should use the name of a historical person Joseph Stalin that is well known in China. Many people, including young people, will visit Georgia just to see the museum of Joseph Stalin in Gori. However, attitude to Stalin is not positive, but it is history and history is very interesting. Tourists will be interested in buying wine with a portrait of Stalin on its label. All Chinese know that Stalin served the Chinese leader Mao Zedong with Georgian red wine Kindzmarauli, so this wine is very popular among Chinese.
— Recently, the 25th anniversary of establishing of diplomatic relations between China and Georgia was celebrated in Tbilisi…
— I would like to use this opportunity for advertising of China. In the middle ages, the greatest Chinese inventions was a compass, gunpowder, paper and book printing; now we can name high speed train, electronic trade, payment system Alipay and bike-sharing. All these contemporary inventions simplify our life and lead to the development of economics. I want this mode of life to be applied in Georgia as well.
China is fourth among major trade partners of Georgia, trade turnover for the first quarter of this year reached 176 million USD.
Georgia exports steel ores and concentrate, alcoholic beverages and wines to China. China is on the second place, after Russia, by the volumes of imported Georgian wine. Export of the Georgian wine to China for January-April of this year was increased by 270% in comparison with the last year. Volume of direct investments from China to Georgia for 25 years reached 600 million USD, in addition to it, 60 million US Dollars was assigned by China as an aid to Georgia.
Lika Zhorzholiani, for newcaucasus.com