As China and Azerbaijan celebrate the 27th anniversary of establishing bilateral diplomatic ties, Hikmat Hajiyev, head of the Foreign Affairs Department of the Presidential Administration of Azerbaijan and a loyal reader of China Daily, gave an exclusive interview about China-Azerbaijan relations, trade cooperation and the great prospects of the Belt and Road Initiative which tightly connects the two countries, as well as other countries in Europe and Asia, ONA reports.
As a country located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Azerbaijan signed a memorandum of understanding for friendship and cooperation with China in 1994 and has maintained mutually beneficial cooperation with China since then. "Bilateral relations of the two countries, from high-level political dialogue, economic and trade cooperation, to energy, education, culture, and humanitarian spheres are developing," Hajiyev said.
"The Belt and Road Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013 has touched the hearts of the Azerbaijani people, as the restoration of the ancient Silk Road is for the benefit of the entire world, and the development and prosperity of all countries," Hajiyev said.
"The Belt and Road Initiative is not imposing anything on anyone, it just provides a framework for mutually beneficial cooperation," he added. The fundamental features of the Belt and Road Initiative are that every country knows how to develop in their own way. As China and Azerbaijan have a strong traditional friendship, Hajiyev believes the initiative will provide immense opportunities to bring China and Azerbaijan closer.
According to Hajiyev, Azerbaijan fully supports the initiative, and is building new bridges of cooperation and friendship. "We are looking forward to the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the end of this month, and Azerbaijan will actively participate in this high-level event," he said.
People-to-people contacts, as a non-ignorable component of the Belt and Road Initiative, are boosted by China and Azerbaijan via linking people of the two countries in cultural exchange, education, humanitarian dialogue, and tourism cooperation. China and Azerbaijan signed a memorandum of understanding to stimulate tourism between the two countries. "Data from 2018 shows 15,000 Chinese tourists visited Azerbaijan last year, which is not enough of course, and we aim to do more to attract more visitors in the coming years," Hajiyev said.
He also highlighted education exchanges between the two countries, as China has sent students to study language in Azerbaijan and vice-versa. "We are looking forward to increasing the number of (students) because we see they can play the role of a humanitarian bridge between our countries."
As Azerbaijan has a favorable political and geographic location, the country aims to become a transport hub connecting Europe and Asia under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. "The point of the transportation network is to integrate it with the original countries," Hajiyev said, adding Azerbaijan has built a network of transportation including seaports, airports, railways and land roads.
"15,000 kilometers of land roads have been built in the past couple of years, and the country also constructed one of the biggest seaports in the Caspian Sea," Hajiyev said, adding all these are important pillars of the ancient Silk Road. Besides infrastructure construction such as transportation hubs, Azerbaijan is working on information communication technology lines to build a modern Silk Road.
The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway became operational on Oct 30, 2017, and aims to complete a transport corridor linking Azerbaijan to Turkey and Central Asia and China to Europe by rail. "It works as a major exporter and middle corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative, and Azerbaijan is also working on the East-West line and North-South Line, linking the railway systems of Iran and Russia."
Thanks to its geographic location, Azerbaijan boasts great wine as well as tea, dried fruit, fruit juice, and sweets. The country has had extensive discussions about exporting Azerbaijan agricultural products to China, Hajiyev said, adding Azerbaijani companies are actively taking part in food and agricultural exhibitions in China to promote their products, as the Chinese market is one of the biggest markets in the world with immense opportunities.
Azerbaijan sent a delegation to the first China International Import Expo in Shanghai last November. "This kind of expo is extremely important, and provides a chance for Azerbaijan to reach out to the Chinese market and establish contact with Chinese companies," Hajiyev said, adding last year's event was extremely helpful to Azerbaijan and helped traders to understand the requirements and demands of the Chinese market.
Almost 50 percent of China's trade with the Caucasus region are from Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan has invested $1.7 billion in Chinese securities. Current trade volume between China and Azerbaijan is above $1.5 billion, and Hajiyev believes there is still more to do to promote bilateral trade, as the two countries have very good relations.
Companies from the two countries are engaged in projects for the petrochemical industry, and the two countries can touch upon other strategic areas such as energy and communication, the foreign affairs head added.
Hajiyev also noted multilateralism should be further promoted in free trade. Good governance, trust, peace, and cooperation should be promoted at an international level, he said.