Your Excellency, Vice Admiral Nikolaos Tsounis, commandant of the Hellenic National Defense College, Generals, Professors, dear friends, Ladies and gentlemen, Good morning!
I would like to start by thanking Mr. Tsounis for inviting me to visit the Hellenic National Defense College and give a speech. Since becoming the Chinese Ambassador to Greece over two years ago, I have cherished the wish to come your esteemed College, a cradle of senior commanders and important think tank, to express friendly feelings and pay tribute to the Greek military on behalf of myself and the Chinese people. Standing on the podium today, I feel extremely delighted and honored.
My first contact with the Greek military came half a year after my assumption of office. At the end of July 2014, the security situation suddenly deteriorated in Libya. Over 600 Chinese working and living in Libya were trapped in Tripoli, with their lives and property at stake. While talking to Beijing about how to assist Chinese citizens to evacuate from Libya, I got phone calls from then Greek Defense Minister Avramopoulos and Mr. Mitsalis, Secretary-General of the Foreign Ministry. They told me that in a few hours HN "Salamis" frigate would be leaving for Tripoli and the Greek side would do the utmost to help evacuate the Chinese citizens. I expressed gratitude to the Greek government and military and entrusted Senior Colonel Han Xiao to study details with the Greek Navy. Everything turned out to be smooth and efficient. On the morning of August 2, after nearly 30 hours of voyage on the sea, with 79 Chinese citizens and dozens of Greek, Cypriot and English citizens on board, "Salamis" safely docked at the Port of Piraeus. I lead hundreds of Chinese including embassy staff and representatives of the diaspora community to welcome them, chanting "Thank you, Greece", "Long live China-Greece Friendship". I presented flowers to Commander Efstathiou, captain of "Salamis", and said to him "You have written a new chapter in friendship between the two peoples". The Chinese citizens coming off board told media reporters that the service men and women of the Greek Navy had taken good care of them, providing them with food, water, and medicine, and cleared up the helicopter hangar to accommodate them during the journey. When getting on and off board, Greek soldiers helped them with their luggage. Upon arrival, the captain made sure that the Chinese got off first so that they might get to the hotels earlier. These details touched the hearts of many after they were widely reported. A few months later, the whole crew of "Salamis" was bestowed the "China-Greece Friendship Award" by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries.
In February 2015, after completion of its escort mission in the Gulf of Aden, the 18th Chinese Naval Escort Task Force paid a five-day visit in Greece. To our pleasant surprise, on the evening of the February 19th, Prime Minister Tsipras, less than a month in office, attended the deck reception on "Changbaishan" amphibious transport dock, flagship of the fleet, together with a dozen government ministers and senior officials of the military. The visit coincided with the Spring Festival, the most important traditional festival for the Chinese people. Prime Minister Tsipras, in his speech, sent festival greetings to the Chinese people and elaborated on the newly-elected government's policies on Greece-China relations. This was the first time that a Greek prime minister had got onboard a Chinese warship. The message that Prime Minister Tsipras sent on promoting the continuous development of bilateral cooperation was warmly received by the Chinese side.
Over the past two-plus years, I have visited the Greek naval base at the Gulf of Salamis and the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center (NMIOTC) on Crete, and have had meetings with top officials of the Defense Ministry and the military. The professionalism and devotion of the Greek military have deeply impressed me. I am also deeply aware that military exchanges and cooperation between China and Greece go beyond the military and bilateral scope, and play a special role in developing bilateral relations and in safeguarding peace and stability in the region and the world at large. Therefore, my embassy and I myself attach great importance to the exchanges and cooperation between the two militaries, which have covered the fields of education, training, and strategic sealift, etc. The Chinese Language Laboratory has been running with success for two years in the military multilingual learning center (MMLC), cultivating over 20 Chinese-speaking personnel for the Greek army. China will send observers to the Athens Multinational Sealift Coordination Center (AMSCC) very soon, aiming to become a full member in due time. In recent years, delegations from the Ministry of Defense of the PRC, the PLA General Staff Headquarters, Chinese army, navy and air force, the National Defense University of China, and the Armed Police Forces of China visited Greece. The chief of Hellenic National Defense General Staff (HNDGS), chief of the Hellenic Navy, chief of the Hellenic Air Force, and delegations from different services also visited China. Next month, Admiral Miao Hua, political commissar of the Chinese PLA Navy, will visit Greece. The Chinese Air Force will send a VIP plane with nearly 50 officers to visit Greece. It is fair to say that military exchanges between China and Greece in both width and depth are expanding and military relations between the two countries have never been closer or more fruitful.
Someone might ask, what is the driving force behind all this stepped-up exchanges and interactions? To find an answer to this question, we have to take a closer look into China's development, the changing relations between China and the world, and the big picture of China-Greece relations.
First of all, China needs to increase mutual understanding with the world in the military field.
With the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, modernization of the Chinese military has been strengthened, and will continue to be strengthened. For such a big country as China, it is imperative as well as legitimate to develop a defense force that is in line with the international position and economic strength of the country. Chinese leaders have repeatedly stated that "the independent foreign policy of peace" and "a defense policy that is defensive in nature" represent two cornerstones in China's pursuit of development and security. China is firmly determined to pursue a road of peaceful development, for it conforms to the fundamental interests of China and the interests of the world. China will never seek hegemony and is opposed to hegemonism in all its forms.
In order to increase the transparency of the Chinese military, starting from 1998, the Ministry of National Defense of the PRC began to release white papers on national defense on a two-year basis, which has a systemic introduction on China's national defense policy and the development of the military forces. A spokesperson system was established in the Ministry of Defense with regular briefings for domestic and foreign press. Every year the Chinese military academies and colleges host thousands of foreign military personnel for training and study. Foreign military delegations and military attachés are invited to visit our military facilities or observe our military exercises. Since 2003, China has trained over 30,000 military personnel for 130 countries. More than 100 Chinese military delegations make overseas visits every year. China has established mechanisms of defense and security dialogues with over 26 countries and international organizations including the European Union, the African Union, the US, Russia, India and Vietnam. In recent years, the Chinese troops have conducted over 80 joint counter-terrorism and disaster relief exercises with more than 50 countries. Last year, China and Greece conducted the first joint maritime exercises in the Aegean. Through these activities of "inviting in" and "going out", mutual understanding between the Chinese military and the world has been greatly increased.
It is worth special mentioning that in recent years some analysts have attempted to play up the so-called Chinese military threat, which is totally baseless. China's annual defense budget is only 1.4% of GDP, a percentage much lower than that of the US, and it is only a quarter of the US figure. The per capita military expenditure of China is around US$57,000, much lower than the US$430,000 of the US and the US$210,000 of Japan. In 2015, China made the announcement that it would cut the number of military personnel by 300,000 by the end of 2017. China has developed some high-end and sophisticated weapons including nuclear weapons, the aircraft carrier and outer space weapons with the aim to enhance its defense capabilities, deter potential enemies and maintain the strategic balance in the region and the world. China is the only country in the world that renounces preemptive nuclear strikes or strikes against non-nuclear countries. In recent years, China has updated infrastructure on a few islands in the South China Sea, setting up facilities such as light tower, meteorology and first aid facilities, aiming at fulfilling China's international obligations, ensure the safety of navigation routes and freedom of navigation, and provide public services and products. However, we did see certain foreign countries put their warships in Chinese territorial waters in acts of muscle-flexing, while claiming that China should respect its freedom of navigation according to international law. There is no such law on earth!
Second, the security of China cannot be achieved without the security of the world.
The world today, while maintaining overall stability, is undergoing unprecedented historical changes, with traditional and non-traditional security threats intertwined. Security and development of one country cannot be realized without that of another, thus forging a community of joint destiny that thrives or demises together. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China shoulders important responsibilities for world peace and development. It is committed to more constructive involvement in solving regional and international hot-spot issues. At the same time, the solving of hotspot issues would provide a better international environment for China's development.
Since 2002, the Chinese military has been actively involved in international security and rescue missions, carrying out 39 urgent international humanitarian assistance missions, and delivering 1.3 billion RMB Yuan worth of aid materials to 30 disaster-afflicted countries. Since the end of 2008, China has sent 23 escort fleet to the Gulf of Aden and Somalia waters, providing services for nearly 6000 ships including dozens of Greek merchant ships. China is a major contributor for UN peacekeeping in terms of personnel and funding. It is the largest troop contributing country among members of the UN Security Council. So far it has participated in 24 UN peacekeeping missions, sending accumulatively over 30,000 military personnel, of whom 10 people died on duty. Currently, over 3100 Chinese soldiers are serving on peace duties in 9 UN missions. In September 2015, China announced that it would set up an 8000-person standby troop for peace-keeping. Over 400 doctors and medical staff from the Chinese military forces were engaged in the fight against Ebola, setting up an Ebola patient-observing center in Serra Leon, and a 100-hospital bed Ebola treatment center in Liberia.
With China's interests expanding globally, more and more Chinese businesses and people have gone abroad. Currently there are over 30,000 Chinese businesses around the world, and millions of Chinese living in foreign countries. Chinese tourists make 120 million visits abroad every year. The Chinese government has the responsibility and obligation to safeguard the legitimate interests of the Chinese entities and nationals together with the international community.
Third, China regards Greece as an important bridge between China and Europe and between the East and the West.
Both China and Greece boast splendid history and culture. With its unique geopolitical position, Greece has always been a bridge between Asia and Europe and has forged a special bond with China in the integration of Eastern and Western civilizations over the long course of history. Today China and Greece share common or similar views on many major regional and international issues. Both countries stand for solving international disputes peacefully through dialogue and consultation instead of the random use of force or the threat of the use of force. Both are opposed to hegemonism in all its forms. China and Greece have maintained sound communication and coordination in the United Nations and other international organizations. We respect the core interests and major concerns of each other, and support each other to play a constructive role in international affairs. China regards Greece as an important partner and sincere friend in the European Union. Recently, Greece did not side with some EU members in signing a joint statement on the issue of the South China Sea. At the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, China commended the Greek efforts in dealing with the refugee crisis and the debt crisis.
Last year, the year of China-Greece Maritime Cooperation, which was the first of its kind in China's foreign relations, was successfully held. The maritime year scored nearly 30 outcomes covering port construction, ship-building and repair industry, shipping, sea tourism, marine economy, marine technology, marine environment, and maritime culture. China-Greece maritime cooperation has produced demonstrative effect and made breakthroughs in China-EU maritime cooperation. Last November, in Xiamen, a coastal city in China's southeast, the first China-Southern European Countries Maritime Cooperation Forum was held in parallel with the closing ceremony of the China-Greece Maritime Cooperation Year, bringing maritime cooperation between China and Greece to a broader stage. We hope that Greece will continue to play a leading role in maritime cooperation with China.
In addition to the observer status of the Athens Multinational Sealift Coordination Center (AMSCC), China is also considering the establishment of cooperation with NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center (NMIOTC). The above-mentioned projects will mark a new step in practical exchanges between the Chinese military and foreign forces. They will not only enrich interactions between the militaries of the two countries, improve their professional skills, but also build a platform for China to have mutual learning and cooperation with EU and NATO. The openness and enthusiasm of Greece in carrying out military exchanges are very much appreciated by the Chinese side.
Fourth, China is fully confident about the future of Greece.
The international financial crisis and the sovereign debt crisis have brought about severe losses to Greece. In spite of daunting challenges and difficulties facing Greece, China has always had confidence about Greece. We supported Greece to remain in the Eurozone, called on relevant parties to reach consensus with Greece on the debt issue and overcome difficulties together in order to boost confidence in the Greek market. China also played a positive role within the international and regional financial framework in helping Greece handle the debt crisis. I often say to the visiting Chinese delegations that Greece enjoys rich resources, talented people, a large number of innovative companies and research institutes, advantageous geological location, and close economic ties with the EU, West Asia and North Africa, all of which constitutes an important foundation for the Greek economy to get rid of the crisis. And there are a lot of complementarities between the Chinese economy and the Greek economy, which, if fully tapped, can lead to common prosperity. We believe that a Greece that is politically stable and economically developed is a bonus for the Greek people as well as for the EU and the world. The success of Greece is a success of the EU and the international community. Greece is a country that cannot be bypassed when it comes to combating terrorism, extremism and cross-border crimes, ensuring energy security of Europe and navigation security in the Mediterranean, and carrying out humanitarian assistance. We sincerely believe that Greece, when it has overcome the difficulties, will make greater contribution to world peace and prosperity.
China has several thousand years of splendid civilizations. However, in modern history it was also subject to untold sufferings from the invasion and bullying by Western powers and Japanese militarism. Chinese people paid tremendous sacrifices in order to gain national sovereignty, freedom, and dignity. The Chinese government, military and people will never waver from safeguarding our core interests. We will never tolerate any attempts aimed to separate China, interfere in Chinese domestic affairs, or undermine our sovereignty and major rights. Such ideas are imbued in our culture that "peace is precious", "enjoying other people's success together with one's own", "what you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others". China has never invaded any other country. It does not and will never seek hegemony. Facing complex international situation, we stand for building a new type of international relations with win-win cooperation at its core and forging a human community of joint destinies. While visiting Central Asia and Southeast Asia in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the initiative of the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and "Maritime Silk Road of the 21st Century". It is the Chinese solution on how to promote world peace and development as a responsible power. Currently, the "Belt and Road" Initiative has been warmly welcomed by the international community. Over 20 countries have signed the Belt and Road Cooperation Agreement. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund have been established. Today the "Belt and Road" Initiative has become an important international consensus and endeavor to deliver common security and development.
It is worth pointing out that the "Belt and Road" Initiative is a diversified, open and inclusive process. Its scope has expanded from Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East in its original plan to Southeast Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, and North Africa. The Piraeus Port has thus become a converging point between the "Belt" and the "Road". Together with the Hungary-Serbia Railway, the Port of Piraeus will form the European part of the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Route, which is a completely innovative one compared to the traditional route from East Asia to Rotterdam. Revival of the Port of Piraeus will integrate port resources along the East Mediterranean, the Caspian Sea, and the Baltic Sea. A pattern of coordinated development between Southeast Europe, Central Europe, Middle East, and North Africa will take shape. China-Greece cooperation will not only help Greece exit from the crisis and realize development, but also help the Chinese businesses to increase their international competitiveness. In this sense, China-Greece cooperation has gone beyond bilateral scope and assumed strategic importance, with repercussions on peace and development at regional and global levels.
While forging closer ties in economic and trade cooperation, the two sides have been making tremendous efforts in boosting our people-to-people and cultural exchanges. The Chinese Cultural Center in Athens is expected to open within the year. We are exploring new means of cooperation on underwater archaeology, cultural heritage preservation, local exchanges, the Marathon race, Olympic culture, scientific innovation, as well as press, broadcasting, television, and publication. This autumn, the 2nd ASEM Seminar on Cooperation in Science, Technology, and Innovation for Sustainable Development will be held in Athens with China and Greece as coordinators for Asia and Europe. I believe that the above-mentioned activities and events will further enrich our bilateral relations, promote mutual understanding and trust between the two peoples, and lay a solid foundation for an increasingly strong and fruitful cooperation between the two countries. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Greece. Prime Minister Tsipras is expected to make an official visit to China in July. The two sides are working closely to make the visit a successful one in order to set out an ambitious blueprint and bring our relations to a new era.
China regards Greece as an important strategic partner. The destinies of our two countries and two peoples have never been so closely connected. China is ready to join hands with Greece to press ahead and build together an anchor of stability and prosperity for the region. I am firmly convinced that China and Greece, two ancient great nations that have made outstanding contribution to human civilizations in the past, will be able to achieve common prosperity and revival in the interests of our two peoples and the peoples of the world.