Fan Yong, Ambassador of China to Armenia, spoke with Armenian News-NEWS.am about the potential for the development of Armenian-Chinese economic relations and the development of tourism.
How would you rate the development potential of Armenian-Chinese economic relations? In which spheres do you think Armenia and China should strengthen economic cooperation?
In recent years, thanks to the joint efforts of both countries – China and Armenia, the economic relations between the two countries have developed steadily and the cooperation has achieved remarkable results. The trade level between China and Armenia has increased from USD 389 million in 2016 to USD 995 million in 2020, this is an increase of nearly three times. Although affected by the epidemic in 2020, bilateral trade volume has bucked the trend and increased by 31.88%, indicating that the development of trade between the two countries has potential. The interest of Chinese companies in economic and trade cooperation with Armenia is actively increasing, investment and other economic cooperation projects in Armenia are increased year by year, including North-South highways, power station construction, mineral water factory, clothing factories, etc.
However, the development potential of Chinese-Armenian economic relations has not been fully realized yet.
In terms of trade, China welcomes Armenian commodities to explore the Chinese market and share China's development opportunities. It is highly recommended for Armenia to increase the promotion of its own products in China, actively organize enterprises to participate in various trade promotion activities in China, promote the export of Armenian superior products, and promote the development of trade between the two countries. In terms of investment, we recommend Armenia to continue improvement of its business environment, introduce preferential policies to attract foreign investment, maintain policy stability, and timely introduce and disclose project conditions. The Chinese Embassy in Armenia will actively promote investment.
Armenia has always wanted to attract more Chinese tourists, Yerevan may also become a transit point for European countries, direct flights between Armenia and China have not been opened for a long time. What do you think is the problem?
The Armenian government attaches great importance to the development of tourism and considers it as one of the priority areas of economic development. Chinese government is willing to actively deepen touristic cooperation with Armenia. In recent years, personnel exchanges between the two countries have become increasingly frequent. In 2018, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Armenia was 9,189, comparing to the same period was increased by 59.9%, in 2019 the number of Chinese tourists visiting Armenia reached to 15,550, making a significant year-on-year increase of 69.2%. At the beginning of 2020, the agreement on mutual exemption of visas for holders of ordinary passports between the two countries came into effect. Affected by the epidemic, the global aviation logistics and tourism industry will suffer a greater impact from 2020 to the first half of this year, and the number of tourists will drop sharply. We believe that in the post-epidemic era, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Armenia is expected to continue to recover and grow.
Regarding the opening of direct flights, we are willing to work with relevant Armenian authorities to continue to promote the opening of direct flights between the two countries. Of course, opening of the direct flights is not an easy task to complete, for airlines, the passenger flow is the key. In short, only a certain number of passenger flows can ensure that airlines do not lose money in their operations. At present, most of the international tourists visiting Armenia are from Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Central Asia and other countries and regions of the former Soviet Union. For Chinese tourists, Armenia is still a niche country with few Chinese tourists considering Armenia as a direct tourist destination country. We recommend to increase the promotion of Chinese tourists. The exhibition is a good way of publicity. Every year, China hosts China International Fair for Trade in Services and China International Import Expos. Relevant Armenian departments are welcome to participate in the exhibition. At present, there is no shortage of direct flights between China and Europe. There are even multiple daily flights from major Chinese cities to central European cities. What if Armenia has sufficient policies or other attractions to stop international tourists from transiting? This question is worthy for the Armenian government and business friends to study.
Chinese aviation companies such as China Southern Airlines are actively researching concerning the opening of direct flights to Armenia, but this process has been affected in the context of the epidemic. After the epidemic eases, China hopes to discuss the details of cooperation with relevant departments in Armenia.
The integrity and security of Armenia’s borders worry us most. What is Chinese vision on that?
China respects the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Armenia. Chinese side welcomes Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan’s conclusion of the "Nagorno-Karabakh conflict" ceasefire tripartite agreement last year, and hopes that all parties concerned will earnestly abide by the ceasefire agreement and resolve conflicts and differences through political dialogue. China has noticed the recent tensions in the Armenian-Azerbaijani border area. Azerbaijan and Armenia are both friendly and cooperative partners of China. The two countries are neighbors. Friends can be chosen but neighbors cannot. China sincerely hopes that the two sides will resolve their conflicts through dialogue and consultation, work together to maintain regional peace and stability and people’s peace of life.
You met with the minister of Economy of Armenia. What development plans and prospects did you mainly discuss?
Recently, I had a working exchange with Mr. Kerobyan, Minister of Economy of Armenia. Mr. Minister showed out some project cooperation suggestions, including science and technology city, free industrial park, non-ferrous metal smelting, chemical plant transformation, agricultural land and effective use of water resources, etc., he also mentioned the issue of direct aviation between the two countries. Of course, the above-mentioned projects need to be supported by in-depth demonstration and more program details. China is pleased to see the two countries deepen practical and friendly cooperation and will encourage enterprises to actively study the possibility of investment and cooperation in Armenian projects.
In addition to lack of stability, what do you think Armenia lacks to attract Chinese investment (in Georgia, Chinese companies get huge tax incentives when investing in Georgia)?
At present, Armenia has listed attracting foreign investment as an important development direction. I think this is right. Formulating preferential policies for attracting foreign investment and maintaining policy stability and predictability are necessary to increase the confidence of foreign capital in operating in Armenia. Armenia is relatively closed and the logistics is not flexible. This is an important reason that affects the exchanges between China and Armenia and this is a problem that needs to be improved and resolved. Armenia has a creative nation, and companies often propose cooperation ideas to us. If we can formulate specific and operational business plans for these ideas, it will be very beneficial to attract foreign investment. China and Armenia are far apart, many Chinese people don't know much about Armenia. It is recommended to learn from Georgia's wine promotion and develop a special marketing plan for the Chinese market to expand the sales of Armenian products in China and attract Chinese tourists.
Armenia’s cooperation with the SCO is very weak, and it has not participated in “One belt, one road” initiative on a large scale like the Central Armenian countries. Does China have a regional development plan in Armenia like in Central Armenian countries?
“One Belt, One Road” initiative and the “SCO” are important platforms for China and Eurarmenian regions to carry out cooperation in various fields. At present, China and some countries have jointly formulated cooperation plans in certain areas. If Armenia is involved in “One Belt, One Road” and China is willing to conduct in-depth communication with Armenia regarding any ideas about cooperation in Central Asia under the framework of the "Shanghai Cooperation Organization".
I heard that you have practiced Chinese Kung Fu and are very interested in Chinese sports culture. The 24th Winter Olympics and Paralympics will be held in Beijing and Zhangjiakou, China in February next year. At present, less than 8 months left before the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, Beijing is confident to offer a wonderful, extraordinary and outstanding Olympic Games to the world. At 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the Armenian delegation achieved excellent results, and Beijing is a blessed place. Winter sports are not very popular in Armenia, but we sincerely welcome the Armenian delegation to participate in the competitions and make efforts to promote the Olympic spirit of "faster, higher and stronger"