In a few days’ time, we will mark the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Malta, a date that merits much celebration by both sides.

On January 31, 1972, the older generation of leaders of our two countries, with their extraordinary political wisdom and strategic vision, made the decision to establish diplomatic ties between China and Malta. That was a remarkable new start in the history of our relations.

Over the past 45 years, thanks to the strong commitment and hard work of both sides, the tree of China-Malta friendship has grown stronger and borne rich fruits. Touching stories of us standing by each other, rain or shine, are widely known and much appreciated among our people.

And to take this friendship and cooperation to a high level has become the strong consensus of governments and people in both countries. A review of the course of China-Malta relations shows the following.

■ We have stood together through thick and thin: In 1972, despite its own stretched means, China helped Malta build the No. 6 drydock, the biggest Chinese foreign aid project second only to the Tanzara Railway. Two Chinese engineers lost their lives during the construction and were laid to rest here in Malta. China also assisted Malta in building the breakwater and other projects.

Malta, for its part, has stood with China over the years. It has been committed to the one China policy and given China valuable support on China’s accession to the WTO and bidding for the Olympic Games and the World Expo.

During the evacuation of Chinese from Libya in February 2011, Malta provided safe passage for some 5,000 Chinese nationals on their way back home. The government and people of China will never forget such help from Malta.

■ We have worked together for mutual benefit through win-win cooperation: from assisting Malta in developing glassware, carpet, chocolate and textile industries, to the export of King Long coaches to Malta, more and more Chinese products have been well received by the Maltese people. Maltese products like Cisk beer and Kinnie have entered the Chinese market and become popular with Chinese consumers.

With the MOU on Mid-term Cooperation Plan signed 2014, economic ties between China and Malta have grown in both width and depth, and increased in quality and quantity. Cooperation in such areas as energy, infrastructure, finance and health has been booming. SEP (Malta), extending quality power service and clean energy across Malta, is now a new flagship project in China-Malta business cooperation. Malta has taken an active part in China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative and joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as one of the first European countries.

■ We have enjoyed deep mutual understanding through mutual learning: despite the geographical distance and differences in national conditions and social systems, China and Malta are bound by our proud history and splendid civilisation, our commitment to cultural diversity and the close cultural exchange between our peoples.

The China Cultural Centre in Valletta and the Traditional Chinese Medicine Centre in Paola are the first of their kind that China set up in Europe. Together with the Confucius Institute in the University of Malta, these institutions have forged a bridge of friendship between the two peoples.

Our economies are highly complementary and there is much untapped potential

Recent years have seen the signing of a series of cooperation agreements between the two governments in such areas as science, technology, culture, film and sports, which has boosted our personnel interflow. Events such as Happy Chinese New Year, World Taiji Day and Moon Festival Celebration have attracted an increasing number of local participants. There is a growing interest in China and to learn its language among the Maltese people.

In the past 45 years, the China-Malta relationship has gone through a clear trajectory of steady and sound growth without a hitch despite surrounding uncertainties. This is because we have built solid political trust based on mutual respect and mutual understanding, we have engaged in diverse cooperation of mutual benefit aimed at common prosperity, and our people have forged a strong bond of fraternal ties by helping each other through difficult times.

As a Chinese saying goes: “When drinking water, one should not forget those who dug the well.”

On this special occasion, let me pay high tribute to the leaders of the older generation in both countries for their historic contribution to China-Malta ties, and extend high regard to all the friends who have worked hard to promote China-Malta friendship throughout the years.

As we assume the noble mission of carrying this relationship forward, I wish to share with readers my thoughts on how our two countries could work together to accomplish even more in growing the bilateral ties.

First, enhance exchanges at the top and other levels. Modern technology offers no replacement to face-to-face communication between people. That’s why we believe the governments, legislatures, political parties and institutions of both sides need to conduct more exchanges to share experience on state governance and plan the future of China-Malta relations.

Second, deepen practical cooperation. Our economies are highly complementary and there is much untapped potential in growing the economic ties. Guided by the Mid-term Cooperation Plan and in line with our respective development strategies, China wishes to work with Malta to harness the opportunities generated by the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative and elevate our practical cooperation to a higher echelon for the benefit our peoples.

Third, strengthen cooperation and coordination in international affairs. Malta has a unique standing in the Mediterranean and in Europe and we value the active role Malta plays in regional affairs. As Malta assumes the EU presidency, we hope our two sides will enhance communication and coordination and make unremitting efforts for peace and stability of the region and the world at large.

Fourth, bolster people-to-people and cultural exchanges. Valletta will be the European Capital of Culture in 2018 while Beijing will host the International Horticultural Expo in 2019 and Winter Olympics in 2022. These events present us great opportunities to deepen people-to-people exchange and enhance the mutual understanding and friendship between our people.

We welcome more Maltese friends to China for study, sightseeing and business purposes, and will encourage more Chinese to come to Malta for the enchanting Mediterranean scenery.

The course of our exchanges has shown that as long as we stay on the right track of the bilateral relations, deepen mutual political trust, expand mutually beneficial cooperation and enhance the friendship between our people, China-Malta relations will stay strong and vibrant, delivering more tangible benefits to our people. I strongly believe that our relations will continue to forge ahead in the right direction.

As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of China-Malta diplomatic relations, we will also herald the Chinese New Year – the Year of Rooster very soon. For all those who love Chinese culture and support China-Malta relations, this Chinese New Year is a festival for double celebration.

Rooster, in the eyes of the Chinese, symbolises diligence, punctuality and enterprise. I believe this augurs well for our bilateral relations in the new year. Let us join hands to build on the good work we have done in the past and strive to bring in an even brighter future of China-Malta friendship.

Jiang Jiang is Chinese Ambassador to Malta.

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