BEIRUT: Annahar recently spoke with the Chinese Ambassador to Lebanon, Wang Kejian, at the Chinese Embassy. The following Q&A features insights on the life of a diplomat, Kejian’s posting in Lebanon, and the Ambassador’s thoughts on Chinese-Lebanese diplomatic relations.
What did you study at university? How did you come to choose the diplomatic field that led to you serving as an Ambassador?
I started my studies in Beijing majoring in English, but the people around me told me that there were too many students studying English, which prompted me to choose a different language. At the time, they were also giving scholarships to students to study Arabic in Jordan. I took the offer and spent four years studying Arabic; specifically Arabic literature in Jordan.
For young people, including myself at the time, entering the Foreign Service and becoming a diplomat was a highly appreciated and admired career choice. After I left Jordan, I was contacted by our embassy there which prompted me, in turn, to apply for the Foreign Service and become a diplomat.
Did speaking Arabic affect your perception of Arab culture? Having served in different Arab states, how is your perception of Lebanon?
I can’t tell if I see the world in a different way, but mastering the language has helped me comprehend the culture, tradition, values, and history of Arab countries. It also helped facilitate communications with other people whether on an official or unofficial level.
Lebanon is quite unique in the Arab world in terms of diversity in culture, politics, and religion. There is no Arab country comparable to Lebanon in that sense. But we cannot disregard that Lebanon also has many cultural similarities with its fellow Arab countries.
Was there anything you learned during your post in Syria that helped you in your post here in Lebanon? How did the crisis in Syria make you feel on a personal level?
Lebanon is very closely connected to Syria for historical reasons. Also, Lebanon is highly affected by the Syrian crisis; therefore, having served in Syria made me understand several aspects related to the crisis. The Syrian crisis saddened me, and was frustrating to witness, because of the destruction of Syria. It’s a beautiful country that’s filled with history. Many historical landmarks were destroyed due to the war.
What are the major priorities of the Chinese embassy in Lebanon? And what has been the biggest challenge for the Chinese embassy in Lebanon?
We would like to achieve a closer relationship between the two countries. Although we work on economic and trade aspects, and exchanges of personnel whether on an official or unofficial level, we would like to further develop the latter in particular and try to enhance tourism between the two states.
Per year, we receive almost 12,000 Lebanese citizens in China. Most of them go there for business. However, very few go to China from Lebanon, or vice versa, for touristic purposes. So, we are working with the Ministry of Tourism to change that.
As for the challenges, we find that the two sides need to know one another better. In spite of having good bilateral relations in many fields, we still need to work on this more. For example, in the minds of many Chinese, there is a war in Lebanon, which is what they see on TV. The embassy here and the Lebanese embassy in Beijing are working hard to paint more peaceful realities.
As for the refugee crisis, we collect information about the crisis in Lebanon whether in regards to the Syrian or Palestinian refugees. We then give a report to our government and we make suggestions and if our government decides to provide humanitarian assistance, we coordinate with the Lebanese government or other parties to carry out assistance. Thus far, we have provided a great deal of humanitarian assistance through the Lebanese government and international organizations.
China is a predominant trade partner to Lebanon; is the embassy looking at expanding this cooperation between the two states?
Trade is the most important area of cooperation between the two countries. Last year, China was the 2nd largest trade partner of Lebanon after the U.S.
Mainly Lebanon imports from China electronics and communication items. Yet, the Lebanese side has a large trade deficit with China. We are working with the Lebanese Ministry of Economy to try to promote certain Lebanese products such as wine, olive oil, nuts and other food items. Last year, the export of food from Lebanon to China increased significantly.
How does the One Belt, One Road initiative compare to the Marshall plan, and which do you think will have a larger economic impact? Also, how will it affect Lebanon?
I don’t think there are comparable similarities between the two. The Marshall plan was put forward by the US to help the European countries develop their economy, to open up their markets for American products, eliminate tax barriers and to make reforms toward a market-oriented economy.
The One Belt, One Road focuses on connectivity and cooperation between countries especially in terms of infrastructure, trade exchanges, closer link of financial institutions and human exchanges. The purpose of it is also is to have equal cooperation so that all parties will benefit on an equal basis.
Lebanon has responded very positively toward the initiative; and last year, the two countries signed Memorandums of Understanding under the framework of the initiative.
Amidst all the meetings and hard work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time in Lebanon?
I enjoy doing sports, shopping, going out, and visiting new places in Lebanon. For example, I recently hiked the Darb El Amar trail.
What advice would you give to aspiring young diplomats?
First and most importantly, I would highlight the importance of hard work. Hard work is important for any young person working in any sector. It is the essential element for success. Another thing I would advise young diplomats is to enjoy wherever they’re posted. Since they do not get the choice to pick their posting, they might get sent to a hardship condition post, given this uncertainty, they should be able to enjoy any condition.
This is part of Annahar’s ongoing series of interviews with ambassador currently serving as their nation’s representative to Lebanon. Thus far, we have interviewed the Ukrainian and Swiss ambassadors. Interview transcripts are only edited for length.
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