By Zou Song
“I first met President Xi Jinping in 2013. He was then visiting South Africa, one of the destinations of his first overseas trip since assuming the office of president,” said Anil Sooklal, deputy director-general for Asia and Middle East at the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) of South Africa, in a recent interview with People’s Daily.
Sooklal, who is also South Africa’s BRICS Sherpa, often comes into contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping on many occasions, such as mutual visits between Chinese and South African leaders and BRICS meetings.
“We held a grand ceremony to welcome Xi in our administrative capital Pretoria. It was a bright day. The honor guard played the national anthems of South Africa and China, and performed a 21-gun salute to welcome President Xi with the highest courtesy,” Sooklal recalled the first time he met Xi nine years ago.
Sooklal, as an official with the DIRCO, greeted Xi with his colleagues at the square where the ceremony was held.
“With a smile on his face, he walked toward us and shook hands with us one by one. He made us feel that he was both a venerable elder and a long-expected friend. I can actually feel his great personal charisma,” Sooklal said.
As time passes and their association increases, Sooklal has learned more about Xi. “I found that President Xi never evades problems when talking with leaders of other countries. Instead, he always faces them with a positive attitude,” said Sooklal, who believes that this derives from Xi’s deep thinking about the international landscape.
“President Xi has called African countries China’s ‘good brothers’ on many occasions, and believes that countries, no matter big or small, strong or weak, should coexist peacefully and respect each other,” Sooklal said, adding that as the leader of the world’s second largest economy, Xi’s engagement with Africa with such a gesture reflects the global vision of the leader of a major country and his concern for African countries.
“If I had to describe my feelings about Xi with one word, it would be ‘sincerity’,” he continued.
“To understand Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, we definitely need to read ‘Xi Jinping: The Governance China’,” said Sooklal, who has read all three volumes of the book.
Under the leadership of Xi, the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese government have adhered to the people-centered development philosophy over the past decade, Sooklal said.
Through the battle against Covid-19, China has always put the people’s lives and health before everything and united the entire nation in the strongest way, Sooklal pointed out.
This has not only fully guaranteed people’s safety and health, but promoted the resumption of work and production under the normalization of epidemic prevention and control measures, ensuring economic growth and people’s livelihood, he noted.
High-quality development is one of the changes in China over the years that have deeply impressed Sooklal.
China has strived to develop innovation-driven economy, and become a front-runner in Internet economy, high-speed railways, long-distance high-voltage power transmission and transformation technology, and other fields.
“During my visits to China, I noticed that more and more high-tech parks have been built across the country, especially in the eastern coastal areas. Some new business forms have constantly emerged, and traditional labor-intensive industries are undergoing transformation and upgrading in China,” Sooklal said.
China is endeavoring to make manufacturing more intelligent, which will benefit the entire world, he added.
Noting that China’s development is oriented toward the world, Sooklal believes that the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has expanded trade and investment exchanges, promoted infrastructure construction in countries and regions along the routes of the initiative, raised their industrialization level and improved people’s life in these countries and regions.
China’s proposal of building a community with a shared future for mankind represents China’s wisdom in solving global issues and realizing peace and development of human society, and has become a distinct banner leading the progress of human civilization, Sooklal pointed out.
“As an African diplomat, I deeply understand that the ever-growing China has always been a defender and promoter of the interests of developing countries. In particular, China has provided a large amount of selfless assistance, including vaccines, for many countries, especially African countries, amid the pandemic. It has sent a clear signal to the world through practical actions: the CPC not only leads the Chinese people to a better life, but also works unremittingly for the building of a world featuring common development,” he said.