LIU Quan brought with him 30 years of experience when he took office as the Consul-General of the People’s Republic of China in Kuching.
This Beijing-born diplomat’s foreign service started as early as 1985, after graduating from the University of Foreign Affairs, Beijing.
Before his posting to Kuching, he served in Gambia, West Africa, for four years and another four years in Houston, USA. His third posting was to Port Villa, Vanuatu, a country of many islands in the South Pacific.
Next, he served in Wellington, New Zealand, for another four years before he was sent to Jakarta as the deputy head of mission for the Chinese Embassy there.
However, his term was cut short as he had to be transferred to Kuching to replace Li Shugang after the latter’s retirement.
In anticipation of an even stronger bilateral relationship between China and Sarawak, Liu Quan, who has been here for 15 months, spoke to thesundaypost on the present positive development as well as potential for more collaboration between the powerful Dragon of Asia and the Land of Hornbills.
Q: How do you find Sarawak as a whole? What impresses you most?
Liu: Before I came here, my Chinese friends in Jakarta told me Kuching is a small city, quite comfortable. They said I would not be facing big problems here in Sarawak — that language was not a problem and food was good. They said I would enjoy the city. That was the message. And when I finally came here, I found this place more comfortable and pleasant than I had expected.
I have a heavy workload here because the relationship between China and Sarawak is getting stronger day by day. I notice the government of Sarawak places great importance on this bilateral relationship. State cabinet members, especially the Chief Minister, visited China last year.
And more and more Chinese companies are coming to Sarawak where there is economic collaboration. This will contribute to the state’s development.
The economic relations are encouraging. The exchanges between the high ranking officials are becoming more and more frequent and those between the people are also on the rise.
Q: What about the Chinese community here?
Liu: The Chinese community is large and they are very warm to the Chinese Consulate. They give great support to us.
Last year was the 40th anniversary of the setting up of diplomatic relations between China and Malaysia. We held about 20 official functions to commemorate the occasion.
And the Sarawak government, especially the Head of State (Tun Pehin Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud) and the Chief Minister (Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem), the ministers as well as the Chinese community, all gave us great support in celebrating this historically significant event.
The state government even designated a minister to host dinners to welcome our cultural troupes. There were two ensembles — one performing in Kuching, the other in Miri. The total number of spectators was more than 15,000.
I think last year was a very good year to start, especially for me, who came at the right time.
Q: What is your opinion on Malaysia opening its doors to Chinese nationals without visa?
Liu: This is not a correct interpretation. Chinese (nationals) still need a visa to enter Malaysia. Only the visa fees are waived but they still need to apply for a visa.
This needs to be corrected because a lot of people told me Chinese nationals do not need a visa to come here.
The visa is still required but they are given free. The Chinese nationals don’t have to pay to the Malaysian government but they still have to pay for their agents’ fees.
This is very good news to Chinese tourists coming here because they save on their visa fee. I think such a measure will boost the tourist numbers from China.
Q: Presently, what is the population of Chinese nationals in Sarawak? In what industries are they involved?
Liu: We don’t have the exact numbers, but I think at least 20,000 because we have big companies in Sarawak such as those involving dam building and other heavy industries in Samalaju.
These are where the Chinese (national) workers are found. They are under the employment of big companies which have the skills, technology and capacity to work with local partners to build mega projects such as dams and power stations.
Q: There have been cases where coal miners from China experienced some unfortunate accidents while working here. Are you satisfied with how the Sarawak side handled the situation?
Liu: It’s very unfortunate to have mine accidents. We attach great importance to the lives of our citizens. I went to the hospital twice to visit our workers who were injured.
There was already one death where Chinese (national) miners are concerned. What I would like to say is do recruit Chinese (national) miners through official or proper channels — which is a requirement of the Chinese government.
Also, I would urge the private companies engaging our miners to provide life insurance commensurate with their line of work which is of extremely high risk — for example, an insurance policy of RM500,000.
This is to ensure that in case of death, the family will still be provided for or taken care of.
Lastly, I hope these private companies have all the safety measures in place in their mining areas to prevent or reduce the occurrence of any unfortunate incidents. After all, it’s human lives we are talking about.
Q: In terms of trade, how much is the value between China and Sarawak? What are the main commodities?
According to Sarawak government statistics for 2013, the export value from China to Sarawak was RM3.32 billion and the import value from Sarawak to China was RM8.45 billion. For 2014, from January to September, the export value from China to Sarawak was RM2.85 billion while the import value from Sarawak to China was RM5.53 billion.
The main import commodities from Sarawak to China are agricultural products such as rubber and palm oil. Whereas exports from China to Sarawak consist mainly of machinery and daily necessities.
Q: In terms of tourism, what are the strengths of Sarawak that might appeal to Chinese (national) tourists?
Liu: Sarawak has been a popular tourist destination for Chinese (nationals) because the Sarawak government has been promoting this aggressively.
Your Tourism Minister (Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg) has been to China twice and he brought along local tourist agency operators.
The tourist agencies from China were also brought here to explore eco-tourism.
I think eco-tourism will become the main attraction for Chinese (national) tourists because they now like to visit places which are eco-friendly and offer opportunities for adventure.
In this context, Sarawak can offer a lot through its many rivers, mountains and caves such as Niah Caves and Mulu Caves.
There are also historical sites like Chinatown and India Street. Then, there are the Malay kampungs, the hornbills and the orang-utans.
Kuching is becoming more popular for the Chinese national tourists. The Chinese Consulate here is pushing very hard and working closely with the government of Sarawak to promote Kuching.
This is a city renown for its scenery, historical buildings and cleanliness. Kuching is very clean. The air is fresh and the people are hospitable. The food is very good and authentic. It is the kind of food we can easily get used to.
Q: How would you describe the relationship between China and Sarawak?
Liu: The consulate has already been here for the last 20 years. But our relationship can be traced back to hundreds or even thousands of years because Sarawak is centrally located in Southeast Asia.
Trading between China and Sarawak has been going on for a long time. Interaction between the people has existed for centuries.
Currently, the relationship between China and Sarawak is in very good shape. China is a huge market for Malaysia and also the state of Sarawak.
On the other hand, Sarawak is huge state, rich in a lot of resources. China and Sarawak have been enjoying a complementary relationship.
Both the Head of State and his wife attended my Chinese New Year reception recently. I spoke on the Chinese peace-loving policy in my speech. China and Sarawak have been sharing a lot of common interests.
Q: In what areas do you think the relationship between China and Sarawak can further be enhanced?
Liu: There is great potential for the relationship to be further enhanced. Economically, there is much potential to explore as Sarawak is politically very stable and socially, there is harmony.
I think the environment for investment is very good. Our Chinese companies would like to come and explore possibilities such as in agriculture.
There is also great potential in aquaculture. Then, there is the SCORE (Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy) project which promises to provide plenty of green electricity.
China is strong in industrial development and modernisation of industry. We have the technology and the innovation. We have the skilled workers and professionals. I believe China can contribute to helping Sarawak achieve Vision 2020 to be a high income state in Malaysia.
Recently, China adopted a few new policies and initiatives to further strengthen its relationship with the rest of the world, especially Asian countries.
One of these initiatives is the setting up of a new bank — Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank with a starting capital of US$100 billion. The Malaysian government has expressed support for the proposal.
Then there is the Silk Road Fund, which was given an initial allocation of US$40 billion to further enhance connectivity, increase investment and foster collaboration between China and all the neighbouring countries in Asia.
The fund, which is open to investors will cover land (known as Silk Road Economic Belt) and sea (21st century Maritime Silk Road).
I hope my Malaysian friends, especially my Sarawak friends, can seize these opportunities to further the cooperation between China and Sarawak for our common prosperity and progress.
Q: What is your Chinese New Year message to Sarawak?
Liu: On behalf of the People’s Republic of China, I would like to wish the Sarawak government and the people a happy, peaceful and prosperous Chinese New Year.