Correspondent: What a reunion! Mr. President, it’s so wonderful to see you again in Davos.
President Ilham Aliyev: Thank you; I’m very glad to see you again. I remember our last meeting here. And thank you for this opportunity.
Correspondent: The friendship between Azerbaijan and China, between Mr. President and the Chinese people, is greatly cherished.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, you’re right. We have very friendly relations, and China and Azerbaijan are good friends. And I had the opportunity to meet President Xi Jinping many times. Our last meeting was just a few months ago, and we had an excellent meeting.
Correspondent: It was your birthday. He congratulated you on your birthday.
President Ilham Aliyev: Even before that, we met in the fall of last year at one of the international events and had very productive discussions about our future cooperation. And during my meeting with President Xi Jinping in Beijing during the Belt and Road Summit, he called me a big friend of China. That was a big honor for me.
Correspondent: Mr. President, thank you so much for sharing that information with us. Talking about China and Azerbaijan, there has been not only discussion but action, and that is really appreciated and, dare I say it, admired. So, how do you see the actions of cooperation that have now brought China and Azerbaijan together for the longer term in a sustainable way?
President Ilham Aliyev: We have established a very solid platform for our cooperation. We have had a political relationship for 30 years, which demonstrates that we are excellent partners and trustworthy friends. We have very good cooperation in international institutions. We always supported each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and established a very strong political platform. So, based on that, we are now constructing a framework for our economic cooperation. And in today’s world, it’s very important because we have new challenges, problems, and opportunities. And we’re looking forward to seeing more Chinese companies in Azerbaijan. Quite a few of them are already very active in different areas. We fully support the initiatives of President Xi Jinping with respect to the Middle Corridor. And in Azerbaijan, we’ve already done our homework. We established all the necessary segments of the transportation infrastructure. And also, we are looking forward to cooperating in the areas of energy, agriculture, and hi-tech. So many Chinese companies from the IT sector have been present in Azerbaijan for many years. So, we really have a very diversified relationship.
Correspondent: I understand there’s an enormous amount of discussion and action regarding investment in infrastructure, energy, and construction. For example, from Chinese companies in Azerbaijan. So, what kind of policies are you providing for them and other investors coming into your country, sir?
President Ilham Aliyev: In general, the investment climate in Azerbaijan is very positive. Foreign investments and local investments are duly protected. And we hope that there will be more investments in the non-energy sector, because most of the investments we receive are in the oil and gas sector. This was natural, and we understand it. But now for us, it’s time to think more about diversification — not to actually think, but to act. And therefore, investments in the non-energy sector, in infrastructure, in transportation infrastructure, and in particular in renewable sources of energy, are one of our priorities. We are now in the final stage of the inaugural phase of the free economic zone in the region of Alat, close to Baku. We hope that Chinese companies will pay attention to these opportunities, and of course, being situated between East and West along the traditional Silk Route creates a lot of opportunities for us. We just need to properly plan and structure our policy and create even better conditions for foreign investments. But, of course, we cannot force investors to come. We can only demonstrate what..
Correspondent: Having said that, I do want to talk about “Belt and Road,” because this year, Mr. President, is the 10th anniversary of the “Belt and Road” Initiative. Azerbaijan plays a very constructive role on the initiative of the Silk Road, which has now become the “Belt and Road”. So how do you reflect upon the achievements and coordination of cooperation regarding the “Belt and Road” Initiative with China? And how do we predict the future because the world is changing so fast? So, strategically, where are you going?
President Ilham Aliyev: So, first of all, the initiative, the “Belt and Road” Initiative, was a timely and very wise initiative that now embraces and covers a large geography. And Azerbaijan actively joined from the very beginning, and we started to invest in the infrastructure, which was not in place. So, over the last ten years, we built one of the largest, if not the largest, trade seaports in the Caspian, with a capacity of 15 million t, which we plan to expand to 25 million t. We build a shipyard to be able to manufacture the vessels to transport cargo across the Caspian. We invested largely in the railroad infrastructure, not only in Azerbaijan but also in the neighborhood. And now, we have allocated additional investments to expand the capacity of this railroad from Baku to the western destination. And we did all the necessary other projects, like highways and airports. So, Azerbaijan, a country that does not have open access to the ocean, became an international logistical and transportation center. So, the “Belt and Road” Initiative also activated transportation through different routes, particularly north-south. And now we’ll also talk about the Northwest. So, it’s really a global project that is moving successfully, and all the countries on route already see the benefits. Of course, it depends on the strategies of the countries and how they treat the transportation projects. For us, it was one of the main factors in our efforts to diversify our economy and reduce our dependence on oil and gas revenues. So I can tell you that last year, the transits through Azerbaijan increased by 75%, not only because of the infrastructure but also because of proper management. And the measures that have been taken allow us to speed up the process of cargo transportation to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles and make it physically more attractive. Another important matter is a tariff policy, because here we need the unification of efforts from many countries. So that we can have a good, agreed-upon tariff policy and no country tries to artificially increase its profit. We should learn to see the shared benefit. The more cargo that passes through our borders, the more benefits we receive, and the more jobs we create. And I am aware that China has already initiated and begun a new project: a railroad connecting China, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. This also relates to our destination, the Caspian Sea. This is a very important additional supply route. And the Middle Corridor has a great future.
Correspondent: The Middle Corridor is playing an ever-more crucial role in this regard. There have been a lot of updates and upgrades to the “Belt and Road” Initiative, as you know, Mr. President, making it greener, more environmentally friendly, and of higher quality. How can you see that being reflected in your cooperation with China and some of the other countries? Briefly.
President Ilham Aliyev: We would like to expand our green energy collaboration with China, because there is a lot of potential in Azerbaijan. There are also big technological achievements in China. So, we need to combine these efforts. With respect to our priorities, renewable sources of energy have now become one of our main priorities. During the recent several months, we signed documents that will provide investments to create 22 gigawatts of renewable sources of energy, both onshore and offshore. And that will completely change the regional economic configuration, because we know about the green transition that is taking place in Europe. At the same time, Azerbaijan is a supplier of oil and natural gas. So, now we’re planning to supply green energy, including green hydrogen, which will be produced from the offshore wind power stations. As I said, we already signed preliminary documents, and of course, agreements will be signed in the future. But this really has a very big potential, not only for our country but for the whole region. And we also need to invest in the transmission lines to be able to export because we do not need so much energy for ourselves.
Correspondent: Mr. President, I listened to your interview. Over the past 10 minutes, there has been a lot of “doing,” “having done,” and “having already achieved” in the air. And that is extremely impressive, because there are a lot of talks these days. Actions are mostly appreciated. Having said that, I recall that at one of the World Economic Forums I attended, we shared the stage because you were gracious enough to participate in the panel that I moderated. We conducted several in-depth interviews. I remember you being very constructive. You want to be on the front lines, telling people how ready your country is. I’ve always wondered what it takes to be bold and brave enough to make the promise and, more importantly, to have the courage to follow through on the promise.
President Ilham Aliyev: Well, first of all, I would like to say that I never make a promise that I cannot keep.
Correspondent: So, you are saying I am asking the right question?
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, absolutely. Never in my political life have I made a promise and then not stood behind it. All the promises I made have been implemented. The other thing is that I don’t give many of them, because I prefer to demonstrate the results. Because you are absolutely right. There are a lot of talks, a lot of statements, and a lot of announcements, all of which then completely disappear. And those who make these announcements and promises either forget or they pretend.
Correspondent: Also, disappear.
President Ilham Aliyev: Exactly. We have seen many political or election campaigns based on false promises, but that did not lead to success. Success was only temporary. Because the people understand everything very well and remember it, if you promise and then do not deliver, they will not support you. So, I always prefer to demonstrate what has been done, and I also always consult with the people about our plans. I have a very open communication channel with Azerbaijani society.
Correspondent: Oh, let me hear all the secrets. So, who are you talking to?
President Ilham Aliyev: I make roughly thirty to forty visits to the regions every year and hear about the problems, what concerns the people, what must be fixed, and what we should do. This is a part of the global project, like energy security, transportation, and the day-to-day life of the people—what they need to have a better life and how to provide this better life. And there are various instruments, the first of which is that you must be decent with your people in order for them to support you and trust you. So, with respect to all our programs, which we have initiated, all have been implemented. No one in Azerbaijan can say and then prove that once a program was adopted, it was not implemented.
Correspondent: Saying is easy; proving it is difficult.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes. So, I can be held responsible for every word that I have said during my almost twenty years as president. And one of the greatest results of our nation’s efforts was the liberation of occupied territories two years ago. And that was also a historical achievement. Maybe the most important historical achievement
Correspondent: You’re referring to the energy crisis, Mr. President. I do want to ask you about that; it is also one of the most important topics discussed at the World Economic Forum this year. Now, since the energy crisis, Azerbaijan has been strategically working with others to make sure it will play a crucial role in solving the world’s problems. So, Mr. President, tell me more about how you strategically managed to come up with these ideas, manage to bring all these stakeholders together, as they say at the World Economic Forum, and do it at a time that is quite urgent. I do want to hear, too: how do you see the evolution of this energy crisis as time goes on?
President Ilham Aliyev: You know, with respect to our initiatives and achievements in this area, first of all, we needed to create a good investment climate at the beginning of our path towards energy security and managed to attract multibillion-dollar investments in oil and gas without even having the extra tools. We accumulated our first investments when we didn’t have pipelines. So, pipelines came later. And in order to build these pipelines, we had to agree with transit countries —with our neighbors. So, we had to create a win-win situation and be fair, cooperative, and supportive. I always said in our energy policy that Azerbaijan will keep the balance between producers, transit countries, and consumers. If there is no balance, it will not work. Each part of the energy process must get its share of profit. Of course, this is dependent on contributions. It must be fair, and we have always been fair. As a result, we completed the construction of the Southern Gas Corridor two years ago, which stretches 3500 kilometers from Baku to southern Europe. Part of it goes under the sea, and part of it goes through high mountains. It’s a complicated, technically challenging, and expensive project that spans seven countries. More than 10 companies and leading financial institutions—the World Bank, EBRD, Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB), European Investment Bank (EIB), and ADB—all the five leading financial institutions—contributed to that. We managed to create teamwork. So, that’s how it worked. And now, when all these infrastructure projects are ready, it happens that our gas is needed more than ever before. There’s a gas shortage in Europe, and our pipeline to Europe is one of the elements of our contribution to energy security. Last year, we signed a document with the European Commission to increase by two times our gas exports to the European market. And we will achieve that target within five years. It is doable, though it will not be easy. So, Azerbaijan, of course, is not a very big supplier of natural gas, but we have our market in Eastern and Southern Europe. And the more gas we produce in the future, the more we will expand our geography.
Correspondent: So, you’re saying you’re ready? Will there be a chance? That’s what I’m trying to say.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, exactly.
Correspondent: You’re looking around the world right now. This is the World Economic Forum with the theme “Cooperation in a Fragmented World.” The reason it’s the theme is because it’s difficult to cooperate. On that note, how do you see cooperation as a leader of your own country now playing a constructive role in addressing global challenges? What makes cooperation so difficult?
President Ilham Aliyev: I believe that different countries’ ambitions, a kind of struggle for so-called leadership either in the region or in the world, miscalculation of potential, its own potential, and underestimation of counterparts or opponents are all factors. This leads to mistrust, this leads to tensions, and this leads to war. Our policy has always been based on cooperation in the real sense of that word, because we strongly believe that only through cooperation can you achieve success. The more you give and the more you help, the more you will get. That’s how to say how the world works.
Correspondent: It is like life.
President Ilham Aliyev: It is exactly like life. Politics and life are very similar, because both are being done by people. And one example, which I can also bring to your attention in answering this question, is our efforts as Chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement. For the fourth year, Azerbaijan has presided over the Non-Aligned Movement. By unanimous decision, we have been elected, and by unanimous decision, our chairmanship has been extended one more year until the end of this year. And during this period, we really demonstrated that we wanted this movement to be vocal. We want this movement to take its place on the world stage because the polarization of big powers is obvious. The gap between the interests of small and big powers probably will not shrink. Therefore, the Non-Aligned Movement, which was actually created as an alternative but then to a certain degree lost its potential, has great potential. Because the countries have more or less the same past, they have the same problems. Most of them have been colonized, and they know what it means to be under the control of others. During the time of the pandemic, we provided medical, humanitarian, and financial assistance to more than 80 countries, and we did it voluntarily. And we did it not for any monetary gain but simply because we believed that if we had this capability, we should use it. We had a time when we needed help at the beginning of the 1990s, when we were poor and had a lot of social problems. So, we know what it means to be poor. So, we need your help. And if this ideology or philosophy dominates, then the world will be much safer. And once again, the main problems that the world faces now do not have a legitimate source. It is just perceptions, ambitions, and the fight for so-called virtual leadership.
Correspondent: I like the way you put it.
President Ilham Aliyev: Because this leadership cannot be measured because it is virtual, it can be created by the media, which is under your control; it can be created by NGOs, which are also under your control; but you cannot prove it in a so-called competition. Therefore, let those who do it put down these weapons. Let them concentrate on the needs of mankind: on poverty, on malnutrition, on many countries having no access to drinking water or electricity — these are fundamental problems in the world.
Correspondent: It reminds me of the Chinese side, which implies a community with a common future. As humans, we all have the same basic needs. And we know who is nice to us, who our friends are, and with whom we can walk the long path.
President Ilham Aliyev: Exactly. I can tell you sincerely that what China does on the global stage with respect to support and cooperation must be highly valued by the international community. You do it on a global scale; we do it on a regional scale, but the same philosophy applies, and it works. Because, look, China is one of the most successful countries in the world and the leading economy in the world. And this you achieved with your own efforts, the wisdom of your people, your leadership, and your commitment to the result.
Correspondent: My final question, Mr. President, the Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke at the World Economic Forum ongoing right now. He talked about China’s unwavering commitment to economic development, reforms, and opening China to a higher level of quality for the rest of the world. I know you have been interacting with Chinese leaders frequently. So how do you see these commitments from China, and what they will mean for your country?
President Ilham Aliyev: What you say is extremely important. Because the Chinese economy, as you are aware, is more than just your country’s economy. The Chinese economy influences the global economy. And many prognoses of some analytical institutions are based on prognoses of how the Chinese economy will grow, what the growth rate will be, and what the interest rate will be. So, this is your responsibility, and your government fully understands its global responsibility. And when a high-ranking government official makes such a statement here in Davos, it sends a very good signal to the world economy. And I believe that growth in China is critical for all countries, including our own, as well as for countries like Azerbaijan. And you demonstrated consecutive growth for many years and decades. And we wish you success because, as friends, we want everything you plan to come true and for you to become a member of the global community. Because many countries and the global economy depend on your economic performance to a very serious degree.
Correspondent: You are very modest, Mr. President. Congratulations on the achievements of your country under your leadership. Mr. President, this year is the year of the rabbit for China’s Lunar New Year, and with just a few days to go, we are going to celebrate it. I really wonder, Mr. President, if you would be so kind as to provide your greetings to our viewers in China. So, this will be the end of the World Economic Forum and then the start of the Lunar New Year.
President Ilham Aliyev: Yes, of course. I want to congratulate our Chinese friends on the celebration of the Chinese New Year and wish all the people of China peace, prosperity, and success. We, in Azerbaijan, are your friends and good partners. For many years, we have had a very good relationship. And we really love your country, and we are really glad that more and more Azerbaijanis visit China and more people from China visit Azerbaijan. So, people-to-people contacts are very important in order to establish closer political relations. I am confident that China will continue to succeed in its economic and social development and that the Middle Corridor, which connects us, will be implemented successfully. Happy New Year!
Correspondent: Thank you so much, Mr. President, for your generous greeting! Thank you!
President Ilham Aliyev: My pleasure!
Correspondent: So, I hope that you will come to China soon because, in the year of the rabbit, everybody moves faster.