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Ambassador Zhang Ming Answers Questions At the Press Briefing on COVID-19 and China-EU Relations

From Chinese Mission to the European Union)


On 18 February 2020, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, held a press briefing at the Brussels Press Club to give a presentation on the effective measures taken by the Chinese government and people in response to the COVID-19 outbreak and the progress they have made. Ambassador Zhang also answered questions from the audience. The following is a transcript of the Q&A section.

Q: At the just-concluded Munich Security Conference, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and others attacked China and Huawei. Do you think the US strategy works or does it make it harder for you to do your job?

A: Huawei is a private Chinese company that has worked with international partners for decades. It proves to be an outstanding and honest business widely recognized by the international community. The U.S. administration has been seeking to bring down Huawei for some time, labelling its products as unsafe. Yet the US has yet to come up with any solid evidence at all. According to a recent media report, U.S. intelligence agencies have been using the company CRYPTO to steal secrets from some countries for decades. After reading this report, I seem to understand why some people in the U.S. are bent on knocking down a Chinese high-tech company. They take advantage of companies for the purpose of espionage, and it is so convenient to discredit a Chinese company for the same purpose. They are simply assuming that others would behave like them. Since the U.S. has no evidence to support its accusation against Huawei, this is the best guess I can make.

The response of the EU and its member states are so far encouraging. They have upheld the principles of fairness, impartiality and non-discrimination. What China asks for is that the international community abides by the fundamental principles of a market economy.

There is also a view that the U.S. move against Huawei is an attempt to impede China's development. China is an ancient civilization with a long history. Modernization is an inevitable trend and the aspiration of 1.4 billion Chinese people. This cannot be stopped. There is an old Chinese saying that a man of virtue will seek to help establish others while establishing himself. The U.S. is doing just the opposite and eventually it will harm itself.

Q: Can the EU provide greater help to China in its fight against the outbreak?

A: In a recent phone conversation with Premier Li Keqiang, President von der Leyen spoke highly of the efforts made by the Chinese government and people to combat the outbreak and expressed the EU's readiness to make every effort to provide support and assistance. The EU quickly translated its kind words into actions by delivering 12 tons of protective equipment to Wuhan. The second batch will soon follow. The Chinese people very much appreciate such support and assistance.

In addition to material supplies, the EU has also given strong moral support to the Chinese people. When speaking to the European Parliament last week, Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli condemned some Europeans' acts of discrimination against Chinese and Asians. Some MEPs echoed the view, saying that this goes against European values. I appreciate such comments. This reflects a responsible stance for both the Chinese and European people.

As for whether the EU could provide greater help, I would say there is always more to be done. China stands ready to step up communication and exchanges with the EU and work more closely on the health front to benefit the people of both sides.

Q: You just talked about the outbreak's impact on the economy. Will it affect the execution of the China-U.S. Phase-1 trade agreement?

A: The China-U.S. Phase-1 trade agreement was concluded the basis of serious negotiations in a spirit of equality and mutual respect. This agreement is good for China, for the U.S. and for the world. Both China and the U.S. are delivering on the agreement. Will the outbreak affect its execution? I would be dishonest to say "not at all". However, China wants to work with the U.S. to overcome the difficulties and effectively execute such an agreement that is in the interests of all.

Since the agreement has been signed, China will surely fulfill its part of the commitments. But obviously, the U.S. complete ban on personnel exchanges with China has a negative impact on the agreement's execution. The ban is not in line with WHO's professional recommendations and the International Health Regulations (IHR). According to the IHR, there are two core principles to follow in the control of infectious diseases. One is to be science- and evidence-based, and the other is to avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic and trade. We hope that the U.S. will seriously consider WHO's recommendations and revoke the excessive measures as soon as possible.

Q: What do you think of some international airlines stopping their operations in China?

A: WHO has made clear recommendations against restricting the flow of people and trade due to the outbreak, and advises against suspension of flights to and from China under the current circumstances. During the Ebola outbreak in 2014, I was personally involved in the international efforts to help West Africa. At the time, a Belgian airline did not stop flights to and from the affected areas from beginning to end. It was via Brussels that Chinese medical staff were transferred to Sierra Leone. I would never forget that, and I am grateful to the Belgian airline. I hope that European airlines will respect WHO's recommendations in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. China is making all-out efforts to fight the epidemic, and at the same time, to resume business activities. Suspension of flights will serve neither and will harm Europe's economy.

Q: Will the China-EU Summit, which was scheduled to be held at the end of March, be affected by the outbreak?

A: This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the EU. It is crucial for China-EU relations with a packed agenda ahead. The outbreak is unexpected, but it will not weaken our determination to make this year successful and take China-EU relations forward. The two sides have decided to hold the 22nd China-EU Summit in Beijing in late March. Preparations are now underway as planned. You may have noticed that I have been to the Berlaymont building quite frequently these days to keep close contacts with the EU on the Summit.

Q: Will the isolation measures, such as travel restrictions, be more stringent or will China gradually relax its control?

A: Traffic control in Hubei is still strict. In other provinces, the situation is better. People's travel needs are provided for and the health conditions of riders of public transport are closely monitored.

Q: It is impressive that China has shown great strength in containing the outbreak, but some of its weaknesses have also been exposed. For example, Dr. Li Wenliang was admonished for early disclosure of relevant information. Do you agree?

A: This is a good question. Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the issue when presiding over the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. We have done our job on three fronts since the beginning of the outbreak. First, contain the outbreak and treat patients. Second, resume business activities in an orderly way to ensure the fulfillment of this year's development targets. Third, sum up the good experience and learn the lessons. We will keep doing what is right and make up for what is not. There will be reforms and improvements as needed. In this regard, President Xi has made instructions on the need for institutional reforms in a dozen of aspects. We will consult with the public throughout the process.

Back in 2003 when the SARS outbreak happened, there was hardly a sound system for public health emergency management in China. After the outbreak, the Chinese government became aware of the deficiencies and channeled large amounts of resources into the development of a sound emergency response system. Over the past 17 years, the system has proved to be effective in responding to natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and droughts, and epidemics. The history of mankind and China shows that the process of rising to challenges is also a process of learning and making progress. We will take this outbreak as an opportunity to make improvements on various fronts and gradually promote modernization of China's system and capacity for governance.

Q: Will China accept Europe's development of its own 5G technology?

A: It is the EU's right to spur the development of its 5G industry by introducing industrial policies. In fact, the EU's 5G industry is very competitive, with outstanding companies such as Ericsson and Nokia. European telecom companies and Chinese companies like Huawei have been partners for many years, using each other's patents. It takes more than a single country or company. We need international cooperation. It is also true when it comes to addressing cybersecurity. We need to work together.

Q: The UN Climate Change Conference will be held in Glasgow at the end of this year. What are the prospects for China-EU cooperation in this regard?

A: Climate change is a highlight of China-EU cooperation. In 2015, China and the EU worked closely toward the conclusion of the Paris Agreement. We have noticed that the new European Commission has presented an ambitious Green Deal. We are now looking for new opportunities of cooperation with the Green Deal. The UN Climate Change Conference will be held in the UK at the end of this year, and the UN Biodiversity Conference will be held in Kunming, China. We believe that China and the EU will deepen cooperation in these fields.

Q: A piece of good great news about COVID-19 is that the number of newly confirmed cases outside Hubei has dropped for two weeks in a row. What's your take on the further development of the outbreak?

A: Like many of my fellow citizens, the first thing to do every day is to check the figures released by the National Health Commission. Frankly, I would not say that the outbreak has been contained, but there are positive signs. The number of confirmed cases in the Chinese mainland is declining. Data as of 24:00 yesterday show that the net increase in confirmed cases was only four if we subtract the number of confirmed cases from that of cured ones. I am not an expert, but as an ordinary citizen, I am heartened by this. Yet we must not slacken off in the slightest at this critical juncture. This attitude is clear-cut.

Q: Is there any information about the first COVID-19 case?

A: Specialists are reviewing the whole thing and trying to figure out how the virus was transmitted to humans. I learned from media reports that Dr. Zhang Jixian was the first person to report the outbreak. On 26 December 2019, Dr. Zhang received a few patients with similar symptoms, like fever, dry cough, and CT abnormalities in the lungs. She was sensitive enough to become alert and immediately reported to the leadership of the hospital. The hospital organized experts to discuss the situation. They concluded that this might be a new infectious disease and then reported to the municipal, provincial and national centers for disease control as part of the emergency response mechanism. I believe the experts will continue to conduct retrospective investigations based on the relevant clues. Once the results are available, China and WHO will officially release the information.

Q: China and the EU have agreed to uphold the Iran nuclear deal. Do you think the deal can still be saved? Have the parties concerned made sufficient efforts to achieve this?

A: The Iran nuclear deal was reached thanks to the joint efforts of the international community. It is an important international public good, and Europe has played an important role. This deal may not be perfect, but it is good for regional and global peace and stability and has been endorsed by the UN Security Council. It is regrettable that the U.S. has withdrawn from the deal, and the feeling resonates even more strongly with our EU partners. I believe that, regardless of the position of the U.S., China and the EU will do their best to keep this multilateral agreement alive.

Q: Over the past month or two, Many international companies cooperate with China to develop vaccines and drugs, and China uses various overseas resources at the same time. This seems to be unconventional for China. Is it just an expedient measure in case of emergency, or will it be as open as this in the future?

A: We have always been open-minded about R&D cooperation. This is definitely not a result of the outbreak response. Reform and opening-up is China's stated policy that has been upheld for more than 40 years. We consider the EU as an important partner on science and innovation, and there has been close and effective cooperation over the years. For example, in the 5G field mentioned just now, Chinese and European companies have been working together closely. The outbreak will not change China's commitment to reform and opening-up. We will take even bigger steps forward.

Q: China is the producer of many key pharmaceutical raw materials. Will the suspension of work caused by the outbreak lead to a shortage of medicines in Europe?

A: I have noticed that Europeans are concerned about the outbreak's impact on the supply of raw materials to European pharmaceutical companies. As I mentioned, China is working on both containing the outbreak and resuming productive activities. The pharmaceutical industry is vital to people's life and health, and is among the first to see the resumption of operations.

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