Cyprus Eyes EU Membership

Despite unification difficulties at home, Cyprus focuses on joining the EU

Petros Kestoras, Cypriot Ambassador to China, recently sat down with BEIJING REVIEW reporter ZAN JIFANG, to discuss the UN-led direct negotiations on the Cyprus problem and Sino-Cypriot relations.

BEIJING REVIEW: The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders started peace negotiations on February 19, a move widely welcomed by the international community. Is there any progress to date? What is the major stumbling block hindering the negotiation process in your view?

“No people like living in a divided country and in an uncertain environment.”

—Petros Kestoras

AMBASSADOR KESTORAS: Whether the negotiations started in Nicosia on February 19, 2004 will lead to the solution of the Cyprus problem depends exclusively on whether the Turkish side has decided finally to abandon its intransigent policy and negotiate in good faith and in a constructive way.

I should underline that we are not looking for a lot of changes in the Annan Plan, which according to the UN Security Council Resolution 1475 is the basis for the negotiations. These changes are in the framework, the philosophy and the parameters of the plan. They are not disturbing its balance and philosophy and they benefit both the Greek and Turkish communities. Our aim is to make the plan functional and consequently viable. We want to ensure the effective participation of Cyprus in the EU.

Unfortunately, the Turkish positions submitted in New York and, more specifically, at the negotiations in Nicosia, are outside the Annan Plan and they are disturbing its balance and philosophy, aiming at the legitimization of the fait accompli created by the use of force.

Because of this, no substantial negotiations have been held since the start of the process. This is due exclusively to Mr. Rauf R. Denktash’s (Turkish Cypriot leader) insistence on his unacceptable positions and continuous reference to the document he presented on February 24, 2004. I should recall in this respect that Mr. Denktash considered till recently the Annan Plan “dead and buried.”

What are the attitude of Greek and Turkish Cypriots and political bodies to the peace negotiations?

Since no people like living in a divided country and in an uncertain environment, it is obvious that the fervent wish of the people in Cyprus, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, is a solution to the Cyprus problem and the accession of a united Cyprus into the EU. We should not forget in this respect the massive rallies organized last year in the occupied part of Cyprus by the platform “This Country Is Ours,” demanding the solution of the problem and accession to the EU.

There is no doubt that the two communities can live together as they did before. Tangible proof of this is the spontaneous friendship shown by the two communities in meeting each other when the occupation regime partially lifted the restrictions of movement across the demarcation line, imposed since the invasion. This buried the Turkish myth that the two communities could not live together.

How do you evaluate the role of the United Nations in facilitating a solution to the Cyprus problem?

Both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council have adopted a series of resolutions on Cyprus calling for the withdrawal of all foreign armed forces and calling upon all states to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Republic of Cyprus.

Unfortunately, these resolutions have not been implemented, although UN Secretary General has undertaken several initiatives, because of the intransigent policy of the Turkish side, which considers these binding resolutions one-sided. Considering that the UN Security Council is entrusted with the maintenance of international peace and security, I should stress that the UN Security Council has legal, as well as moral, obligation to ensure the implementation of its resolutions.

What does the reunification of Cyprus mean to its entry into the EU?

The European Union has always emphasized its preference for a reunited Cyprus to join the Union on May 1, 2004. In order to allow all Cypriots to enjoy a secure and prosperous future and the benefits of the accession, the EU has called for a just, viable and functional settlement by this date, consistent with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.

In this respect the EU has called repeatedly on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community leadership to strongly support the UN Secretary General’s efforts. It has reiterated its willingness to accommodate the terms of a settlement in Cyprus in line with the principles on which the EU is founded.

In case where a united Cyprus accedes to the EU, this means that the aqcuis communautaire will apply to the whole of Cyprus. It is noted in this respect that the Accession Treaty to the EU provides that “the application of the aqcuis shall be suspended in those areas of the Republic of Cyprus in which the Government of the Republic does not exercise effective control.” This suspension will be withdrawn in the event of a settlement in Cyprus by a unanimous decision by the European Council, following a proposal by the Commission.

How do you describe the current relations between Cyprus and China? In which fields does Cyprus cooperate more closely with China?

Despite the geographical distance between the two countries, a traditional friendship, mutual understanding and close cooperation link Cyprus and China both bilaterally and in the international arena.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations on December 14, 1971, relations between Cyprus and China have developed steadily and smoothly reaching a remarkable level of cooperation. These encompass close and growing cooperation in politics, culture, trade, technology and tourism.

I would like to repeat Cyprus’ well known position, which for us is a matter of principle. We strongly support the one-China policy, a policy that is based on the principle of territorial integrity of states. Needless to underline that Cyprus recognizes the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole representative of the Chinese nation.

Furthermore, I would like to stress Cyprus’ high appreciation for the staunch support of the People’s Republic of China to the achievement of a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem, on the basis of relevant UN resolutions.

The numerous exchanges of official visit, at all levels, are indicative of the sound relations between our two countries as well as of our determination to strengthen them further. I would like to mention the visit of the then Vice President Hu Jintao to Cyprus in January 2001. Of great importance is also the fact that four out of the five successive Cypriot presidents since its independence had paid official visits to China. We are looking forward to the visit to China of the new President, Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos, who was elected last year.

Despite the aforesaid, there is still room for further enhancement and expansion of our relations, especially in the fields of economy, trade and tourism. In this respect, I would like to underline that during my term of office, I will spare no efforts to further develop and improve relations between our two countries.

At present, most Chinese do not know much about Cyprus. Do Cypriots have much knowledge about China? In your view, in what areas should the two countries make more efforts in order to further mutual understanding and exchanges?

I will try to promote Cyprus as a tourist destination. Cyprus is such a popular tourist destination that the number of tourists visiting Cyprus annually is almost four times the island’s population. This is attributed to the island’s rich 9,000-year-old history, natural beauty, good weather, excellent tourist infrastructure as well as the warm hospitality and friendship of its people.

The imminent entry into force of the EU-China ADS tourist agreement, which also covers Cyprus, will facilitate our efforts in promoting Cyprus as a tourist destination for Chinese citizens. I assure you that Cyprus will actively support the implementation of this agreement and will facilitate organized group travel from China. I should note here that China has already become a popular tourist destination for Cypriots.

Trade between the two countries has increased considerably, which increased by 250 percent in the last five years. It is noted in this respect that Cyprus’ total exports to China in 2002 were worth $956,000, while its imports from China reached $218 million.

We will also pay special attention to encourage Chinese companies to use Cyprus as a transit trade center for their exports to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Cypriot companies could also take advantage of the low production cost in China by creating joint ventures with Chinese businesses.

Cyprus is today a very reputable international business, financial and shipping center, both for services and shipping management, as well as a transit trade center. Cyprus’ accession to the EU, on May 1, 2004, will further enhance its attractiveness.

The Cyprus Problem

Cyprus declared independence from Britain in 1960 and was divided in 1974 when Turkey sent troops to the northern part of the Mediterranean island following a coup attempt by Greek Cypriots. While the Greek Cypriot Government in south Cyprus is internationally recognized, only Turkey recognizes the breakaway Turkish state in the north.

To address the Cyprus problem, the United Nations has mediated several times. In December 2002, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan put forward a resolution plan, proposing both sides form a single federal government. But the Turkish side refused the plan. Annan was forced to halt the five-year-long mediations in March 2003.

With Cyprus’ pending accession to the EU on May 1, 2004, hopes have risen to resume peace negotiations. In January 2004, Annan paid a visit to Europe, meeting with leaders of Greece, Turkey and Britain (former suzerain of Cyprus), soliciting their promises to support an early resolution of the Cyprus problem. In view of its own desire join the EU, the Turkish Government also pressed Turkish Cypriot leaders and came up with a schematic for a peaceful resolution. After a deadlock in negations on the night of February 12, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the US Secretary of State Colin Powell also made phone calls to Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, urging both sides to iron out differences. In addition, after contemplating long exclusion from the EU, the Turkish side made a final concession.

Under the deal, Greek and Turkish Cypriots resumed talks in Nicosia on February 19 on reunifying Cyprus with the aim of allowing a reunited Cyprus to join the EU on May 1. But after nearly 20 rounds of talks, the two sides remain split on the return of refugees and the powers of a new federal government, among other major issues.