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Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Regular Press Conference on March 18, 2022

2022-03-18 20:26

CCTV: US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said that the US is concerned about Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure which caused civilian casualties. However, China has yet to state its position explicitly. How does the foreign ministry view such criticism from other countries on China?

Zhao Lijian: Human lives are precious. Civilian casualties under all circumstances are heart-rending and lamentable. China has all along called for every effort to avoid civilian casualties. We still remember that in March 1999, the US-led NATO, without the Security Council’s mandate, flagrantly unleashed a ruthless bombing campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for 78 days, killing at least 2,500 innocent civilians and injuring around 10,000 people, most of them civilians. Over the past two decades or so, the US conducted tens of thousands of air strikes in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. The number of innocent civilians killed can be anywhere between 22,000 and 48,000. When professing its concern for the welfare of the Ukrainian people, shouldn’t the US first express concern over the civilian casualties caused by all these military operations?

China has all along held an objective and just position on the Ukraine issue. We have been taking concrete actions to promote talks for peace ever since the conflict broke out. Our just position and constructive efforts, witnessed by all, have received the understanding and support of the international community, especially the vast developing world. What China provides to Ukraine are much-needed humanitarian supplies such as food, baby formula, sleeping bags, quilts and damp-proof mats. In contrast, what the US provides to Ukraine are lethal weapons. On March 16, the US “announced an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, bringing the total US security assistance committed to Ukraine to $1 billion in just the past week”. Here I would like to share with you the list that Spokesperson Price mentioned. The new package includes, among others, 800 anti-aircraft systems, 9,000 portable, high-accuracy anti-armor systems, 7,000 small arms including machine guns and grenade launchers, and 20 million rounds of ammunition, artillery, and mortar rounds. The list goes on. Will the latest US assistance of weapons bring stability and security to Ukraine or cause more civilian casualties? Which do the civilians in Ukraine need more, food and sleeping bags or machine guns and mortar rounds? It won’t be difficult for anyone in his right mind with a shred of common sense to make the right call.

Xinhua News Agency: It is reported that White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the other day that there are discussions in the US about ways to support Ukrainian refugees. Do you have any comment?

Zhao Lijian: China is gravely concerned over the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine and is grieved for the increasing number of civilian casualties and refugees as reported by the media. The most urgent task is for all parties to cease fire and end the fighting as soon as possible, exercise maximum restraint, ensure the safety and basic humanitarian needs of civilians and prevent a more massive humanitarian crisis. China attaches great importance to the humanitarian situation in Ukraine and has put forward a six-point initiative. The Red Cross Society of China has provided three batches of humanitarian supplies to Ukraine. The third batch is mainly supplies to help the Ukrainian Red Cross Society deliver relief to displaced children affected by the conflict. 

We welcome all initiatives and measures proposed by all parties with an eye on alleviating and resolving the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. You just mentioned that there are discussions in the US about ways to support Ukrainian refugees. We hope the US can come up with a plan and take concrete actions to follow through on the discussions as soon as possible. 

The Ukraine crisis has created millions of refugees. The US should have done otherwise as it knows the consequences. Some deep reflections have to be made. What is the root cause of the ongoing refugee crisis? What role did the US play in the Ukraine crisis? What are US’ due responsibilities and obligations? Could the situation evolve to where it is today had it not been for the seriously imbalanced regional security caused by NATO’s five rounds of eastward expansion? Did the countries that insisted on NATO’s eastward expansion despite opposition expect the suffering of refugees today? Don’t you think they are most supposed to accept the refugees? On top of the 11 million displaced refugees with their families torn apart due to the 20-year war waged by the US in Afghanistan, another 2.6 million refugees fleeing the Russia-Ukraine conflict have entered European countries, which are the real victims of the current situation, to be honest. However, the US is still looking on and fooling its European allies. During a recent visit to Poland, the US Vice President responded with a laugh rather than a direct answer to whether the US would accept Ukrainian refugees. What people across the globe are seeing is that as the one who initiated and instigated the conflict, the US is hypocritical on the issue of refugees. This is very ironic and telling. You should all think about this.

AFP: Ahead of tonight’s call between President Xi and President Biden, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Biden will make clear that China will bear responsibility for any actions it takes to support Russia’s aggression, and added that the US will impose costs if China decides to assist Russia. What is the Chinese side’s response to this statement? What will Xi tell Biden on tonight’s call? What are China’s expectations for the outcome of this call?

Zhao Lijian: Regarding your first question, on the Ukraine issue, China has always made its judgment independently and in an objective and just manner based on the merits of the matter itself. China has always stood for respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, abiding by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, attaching importance to the legitimate security concerns of all countries, supporting all efforts conducive to the peaceful resolution of the crisis, and committing itself to promoting peace talks to ease the humanitarian situation. China’s position is aboveboard, just, objective and beyond reproach. In fact, our position is in line with that of the vast majority of countries in the world. 

Some people on the US side keep spreading disinformation and smearing and pressuring China. Such practices are extremely irresponsible and do not help to solve the problem. China firmly opposes this and will never accept it. What the US should do is to seriously reflect on its role in the Ukraine crisis and the part it has played, effectively assume its due responsibilities, and take practical actions to ease the situation and solve the problem, instead of continuing to add fuel to the fire and shifting problems.

Regarding your question on the talk between the Chinese and US leaders, the head of states are in communication in various forms. As for the upcoming one, I believe you have read China’s press release. Chinese President Xi Jinping will exchange views with US President Joe Biden upon invitation on China-US relations and issues of common concern. 

As for the specifics about this exchange, we suggest you follow the information to be released in due course. 

Bloomberg: Just on the Xi-Biden call, does China see the possibility for the leaders of the two countries to work together to end the war in Ukraine?

Zhao Lijian: I think the talk between the two heads of state will certainly cover international and regional issues of common concern including, of course, the Ukraine issue. The talk between the two heads of state is an important opportunity for the two sides to exchange views on the Ukraine issue. Let us wait and see the outcome of this exchange.

AFP: The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday repeated President Biden’s assertion that Russian forces are committing war crimes in Ukraine by deliberately targeting civilians. You just spoke about China’s awareness of the scale of damage and civilian casualties in Ukraine. But I’d like to ask whether China has any concerns at all that these civilian casualties have been caused by Russian forces? If it’s possible, could we avoid talking about previous US actions that may have caused civilian casualties in previous conflicts?

Zhao Lijian: I have answered many questions about civilians in recent days. Of course China is saddened by civilian casualties. 

There is no point in badgering us on this question. I also have a question for you. As a journalist working with AFP, a mainstream media and news agency in Europe, you need to think about the following questions. As the culprit of the Ukraine crisis, why does the US keep smearing China instead of reflecting on the security predicament in Europe caused by the eastward expansion of US-led NATO? Why doesn’t the US listen to the observation by Dr. Kissinger and other experts that Ukraine must not be either side’s outpost against the other? Why doesn’t the US reflect on its hypocritical move of watching the fire from across the river after fanning the flames? I am not sure if it occurred to the Europeans that the US was fully capable of pushing for NATO’s eastward expansion but sent no troops to support the Ukrainian people. Did you forget that the US was among the first to evacuate civilians and diplomatic personnel from Ukraine? Have you ever imagined that the US would never send a single soldier to fight and die for Ukraine? You are associated with a media outlet from Europe. Did you ever think about why has Europe become a battlefield and a wrestling ground of major-country rivalry? Why has Ukraine become a pawn to be sacrificed in major-country rivalry? Maybe our friends from major European media outlets should also raise these questions to the US. 

The last thing the US should do is to sling mud at China which is not a party directly concerned. The despicable move of the US only serves to reveal its guilty conscience and true intention to shift the blame and profit from the Ukraine crisis. 

Reuters: China sailed its aircraft carrier, the Shandong, through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Friday shadowed by a US destroyer, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. This took place just hours before the Chinese and US presidents were due to talk. Was the timing of this a coincidence?

Zhao Lijian: This doesn’t fall within the purview of the foreign ministry, does it? You yourself wondered if it is a coincidence.

I’m not aware of the specific situation about the Shandong aircraft carrier you just mentioned. But I’m sure the aircraft carrier has routine training arrangement. One shouldn’t link this with the communication between the Chinese and US heads of state. I think you may be too sensitive. Perhaps what is sensitive is you, not the Taiwan Strait.

AFP: Given the COVID-19 outbreaks near China’s border with North Korea, is China satisfied that there are no COVID cases in that country as its authorities claim? Has China asked North Korea to follow a zero-COVID strategy to protect communities in China? And are the two sides considering any further tightening of border controls?

Zhao Lijian: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, normal people-to-people exchange and trade between China and the DPRK have been affected to some extent. I think the problems will be solved gradually when the epidemic ends. I don’t have any information about the COVID-19 situation in the DPRK, and I would like to refer you to the competent authorities.

Reuters: Just now my colleague over there from AFP asked questions about civilian casualties. So I’m not looking to ask for your opinion, but I just wondered as far as the Chinese government is aware, most of the civilian casualties that China has just said it is grieved about, were they caused by the Russian military or the Ukraine military?

Zhao Lijian: You may have to ask Russia or Ukraine this question. Is China a party directly related to the situation? I can tell you that China’s position is very clear. It makes no sense to pursue an answer to a question like this.

Bloomberg: Can we just ask, does Xi Jinping have any plans to speak with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine?

Zhao Lijian: I answered this question yesterday.

Reuters: Following on my colleague from Bloomberg there. We’ve observed that President Zelenskyy has spoken to politicians in various countries, most recently the German parliament. I know the Two Sessions have finished now, but I wondered if China planned on inviting Zelenskyy to speak to them in a similar way?

Zhao Lijian: I’m not aware of such arrangement.

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