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Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Regular Press Conference on May 11, 2022

Phoenix TV: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus shared some views on China’s "zero COVID strategy" at a media briefing yesterday. WHO experts also stressed the need to balance COVID prevention and economic and social operation. What’s China’s comment?

Zhao Lijian: Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Chinese government has been committed to a people-first and life-first philosophy, to an approach featuring preventing imported cases from abroad and resurgence at home, and to a dynamic zero-COVID policy. We have been adapting prevention and control protocols to the evolving situation and achieved major strategic outcomes in this battle.

China’s dynamic zero-COVID policy is not aimed at realizing zero infection, but rather at bringing COVID-19 under control at the minimum social cost in the shortest time possible so as to effectively protect the health, normal life and production of the 1.4 billion Chinese people to the maximum. I can give you an example. When cases were reported in Tianjin in January 2022, more than 10 million samples were taken within just 4.5 hours. Surgical lockdown was applied to the specific shops and residential building units concerned. The overwhelming majority of the Chinese population in most parts of the country can enjoy normal life and production. The COVID-19 infection rate and mortality rate in China remain the lowest in the world. According to an analysis published by The Lancet in March, global estimates of excess deaths indicate 18.2 million people may have died because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the excess mortality rate estimated to be 120 deaths per 100,000 population globally, 179 for the US, and 0.6 for China. Beginning from March this year, it is thanks to the dynamic zero-COVID policy that China has withstood the severest test in COVID-19 prevention and control since the battle to defend Wuhan and achieved effective results at the current stage. The Chinese government’s COVID-19 policy can stand the test of history. Our science-based prevention and control measures have been proven to be effective. China is one of the countries with the most successful COVID-19 response in the world. This is a fact witnessed by the international community.

I have seen reports that based on new modelling by scientists in China and the US, China risks over 1.5 million COVID deaths if it drops its tough dynamic zero-COVID policy. China’s huge population also means that relaxing prevention and control measures will inevitably lead to the death of a large number of elderly people. China’s dynamic zero-COVID policy has offered effective protection to the elderly and vulnerable groups with underlying health conditions. It is distinctly different from the laid-back approaches of herd immunity and natural immunity followed by some countries. Not long ago, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific commended China’s COVID-19 response. He said that China has been keeping up with the evolving COVID situation by updating its prevention and control policies, revising guidelines, and adjusting testing and quarantine arrangements.

I would like to stress one last point that the Chinese government has formulated and implemented the dynamic zero-COVID policy based on China’s national realities and has been adjusting prevention and control protocols based on the changing conditions. The purpose is solely to protect people’s life and health to the greatest extent possible and underpin sustained, sound and steady economic and social development. In China, we have the foundation, the conditions and the capability to achieve dynamic zero-COVID. We have every confidence in winning this hard battle and making greater contributions to the united global response.

The Paper: It is reported that a senior administration official of the US said the other day that US is bracing for a challenging COVID-19 surge this fall and winter that could infect as many as 100 million Americans. Does China have any comment?

Zhao Lijian: I have noted relevant reports. The US has the world’s most advanced medical technologies and richest medical resources. The response failure of the US government is not only a natural disaster, but also a man-made calamity that reflects the US government’s indifference and inaction when it comes to people’s lives.

The rampant coronavirus, compounded by persistent social problems, has further aggravated the human rights condition in the US. The terms “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” made up by US politicians have led to an uptick of hate crimes against specific races, according to media reports. In 2020 alone, the number of anti-Asian hate crimes in the US rose by 149%. Systemic racial discrimination has left ethnic minorities more vulnerable in the face of the pandemic. Over 200,000 American children were orphaned by COVID-19, among which 65% are children of racial and ethnic minorities. Amid the ongoing pandemic, police violence has continued and gun violence incidents have kept increasing. In 2021, at least 1,124 people died due to police violence and the number of people who sought treatment for gunshots surged by 34%. They have strained medical resources direly needed by the people infected with COVID-19.

We sympathize with the American people who are given a hard time by the coronavirus. We hope the US can be more serious about COVID-19 response so as to avoid fulfilling the prediction of having 100 million Americans infected.

Al Jazeera: Occupying Israeli troops brutally killed my colleague Shireen Abu Aqleh, a journalist with Al Jazeera, today in Jenin, Palestine. The Israeli forces shot her in the head despite the fact that she was wearing a press flak jacket. What is China’s comment on this?

Zhao Lijian: I was shocked to read the reports. I am not aware of the specific situation. I can say that in principle, China consistently rejects and strongly condemns violence against journalists doing their job. We hope the incident will be handled in a just manner according to law.

Bloomberg: Just to follow up your first answer on the statement from the World Health Organization chief. Do you have a specific response to his statement about China’s policies?

Zhao Lijian: I just stated the Chinese government’s position very clearly. We hope relevant people will look at China’s COVID policy in an objective and rational light, learn more about the facts, and refrain from making irresponsible remarks.

Shenzhen TV: The High-Level Virtual Meeting of the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative (GDI) was held at the UN Headquarters the other day. Representatives of many countries at the meeting commended the significance of the GDI put forward by President Xi Jinping in responding to global challenges and implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. What is your comment on this?

Zhao Lijian: In today’s world, peace is under attack and development is in distress. Amid all kinds of new global challenges, President Xi Jinping put forward a series of major theoretical proposals including the Global Development Initiative (GDI) and the Global Security Initiative (GSI). With a view to building a community with a shared future for mankind, he provided China’s solution to make the global governance system more equitable and reasonable, and outlined the roadmap for actions to defend common security and promote common development. The major initiatives proposed by President Xi Jinping are rooted in the Chinese civilization and derived from the great practice of the building of a socialist country with Chinese characteristics by 1.4 billion Chinese people under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. They have fully demonstrated President Xi’s internationalist perspective with concerns for world peace and development and the demeanor of a leader of a major country, and enjoy the far-reaching influence and appeal in the world.

The series of important ideas and propositions of President Xi Jinping have evoked heated resonance in the international community and won extensive support. President Arif Alvi of Pakistan, Former Prime Minister Essam Sharaf of Egypt, and well-known British scholars including Martin Jacques, Stephen Perry and Martin Albrow said in recent interviews that President Xi elaborated the concepts with deep philosophical connotations including the community with a shared future for mankind in plain language from a perceptive historical standpoint and profound feelings for the people. China’s leadership in building a community with a shared future for mankind is not only reflected in a pragmatic sense, but also in a moral and value sense. It is encouraging and inspiring for the whole world. The West should respond to the idea of a community with a shared future for mankind, participate in China’s development, share in China’s development opportunities and achieve common development in mutual learning. At the High-Level Virtual Meeting of the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative (GDI) you mentioned, participants from all countries highly commended China’s leading role in promoting the implementation of sustainable development goals. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the discussions through the GDI can help move the needle on development progress across all countries. All parties agree that amid the ongoing pandemic, geopolitical conflict and complex and evolving international situation, the GDI will push the international community to refocus on development and speed up the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Guided by the vision of a community with a shared future for mankind, China responds to the common aspiration of the international community for peace, cooperation and development, and is committed to providing more public goods and playing a bigger positive role for world peace and security. We are ready to work with all countries that love peace and seek development to actively implement the GDI and the GSI, strengthen solidarity and cooperation, jointly meet challenges and create a better future for the world.

Bloomberg: You’re citing your initial remarks that China’s COVID policies are to protect people’s lives, especially the elderly and those who have underlying conditions. In that situation, why hasn’t China done more to vaccinate the elderly? Secondly, why hasn’t China approved mRNA vaccines which was shown in Hong Kong to be slightly better at both preventing transmission, severe illness and preventing death?

Zhao Lijian: Both questions concern very specific technical aspects. So I would like to refer you to the competent Chinese authorities. To my knowledge, China has done a good job vaccinating the elderly, whose inoculation rate is higher than that of many other countries. As to your specific questions, I suggest you ask relevant Chinese experts.

China Daily: Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Marise Payne met her Solomon Islands’ counterpart in Brisbane the other day. Payne said that Australia has been consistent and clear in stating its respect for Solomon Islands’ sovereign decision-making, but has reiterated its deep concerns about the security agreement with China, including the lack of transparency. Does the Chinese side have any comment?

Zhao Lijian: I have noted relevant reports. Pacific Island countries including Solomon Islands are all independent sovereign nations. They are not the backyard of any country. Since Australia claims to respect Solomon Islands’ sovereign decision-making, then it should match its words with actions and stop making wanton comments on the latter’s exercise of sovereign rights in pursuing international cooperation independently and stop resorting to pressure and coercion.

The Chinese side has repeatedly shared information on its security cooperation with Solomon Islands. I would like to reiterate that it is the sacred right of two sovereign countries to independently conclude through consultation agreements like the inter-governmental framework agreement on security cooperation between China and Solomon Islands, which is normal law enforcement and security cooperation in keeping with international law and customary international practice. China-Solomon Islands security cooperation is open, transparent and not targeted at any third party. It does not contradict Solomon Islands’ cooperation with other partners or existing regional mechanisms. It serves the common interests of Solomon Islands and the South Pacific region. The rumor that China will build a military base in Solomon Islands is pure disinformation fabricated by a few individuals with ulterior motives.

I want to stress that Australia, without communicating and consulting with Pacific Island Countries, put together a military group with the US and the UK, both non-regional countries, spurred an arms race, and brought nuclear proliferation risks to the South Pacific. Australia’s shady maneuver in the true sense is neither open nor transparent. Countries in the region are all deeply concerned about this. Australia should reflect on its behavior and change course.

Global Times: According to Cambodian media reports, a US-made bomb weighing almost one ton containing more than 500 kilograms of explosives was uncovered opposite the Royal Palace in the capital Phnom Penh the other day. In April this year alone, at least five unexploded US aerial bombs were discovered in Cambodia by the Cambodian Mine Action Center, each weighing more than 200 kilograms. Some local scholars pointed out that the US self-styled global peace and democracy is built on hypocrisy, deception and violence incited all over the world, and only brings chaos, instability and threats to the peace and security of countries smaller in size with less power. They called on the US not to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs in the name of democracy and human rights, or use double standards to create chaos and turbulence, which undermines peace, democracy and human rights. What is China’s comment?

Zhao Lijian: I have also noted relevant information. During the Vietnam War, the US used cluster bombs and bio-chemical weapons and committed heinous crimes in Southeast Asian countries including Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

I did my homework before coming here and I have some examples to share. Back then, the US used more than 15 million tons of bombs, landmines and shells in Vietnam, of which about 80,000 tons are unexploded and remain scattered in nearly 20% of the country’s territory. Over the more than 40 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the unexploded ordnance has killed more than 40,000 people and wounded more than 60,000, or about 1,000 and 1,500 respectively per year. By the current speed of removal, these explosives are expected to be cleared in 300 years. The US sprayed about two million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which infected nearly five million Vietnamese and killed 400,000 people. About two million people got cancer or other diseases. And many children were born with congenital deformity and disabilities.

In Laos, the US troops dropped 270 million bombs, weighing two million tons together, meaning one ton or 135 bombs for each people in the country. About 80 million bombs, or nearly 30% of the total, did not detonate and are still buried in 37% of Laos territory. More than 100 incidents of unintentional detonation occur each year after the war, killing a total of over 20,000 people already. That has also taken a heavy  toll on local socioeconomic development. In Laos, 46 out of the 47 most impoverished districts are located in areas heavily contaminated by unexploded ordnance.

The still-incomplete data of Yale University reveals that from October 1965 to August 1973, the US dropped 2.7 million tons’ worth of ordnance on Cambodia. Statistics of the Cambodian government show that from 1979 to 2021, nearly 20,000 people were killed and more than 45,000 people were crippled by unexploded ordnance including landmines. The US keeps talking about defending democracy and human rights in Southeast Asian countries. They should not profess this until they remove all the unexploded bombs.

But sadly, tragedies of the last century are being repeated in the new era. In the past two decades, the US military has launched over 90,000 air strikes on Syria, Iraq and other countries, killing approximately 48,000 civilians.

History has proven that the US is a destroyer of rules and order, a maker of violence and conflict, and a perpetrator of coercive diplomacy. It is typical US-style “double standard” for the US to pin the label of “coercion” and “militarization” on others while forming small cliques and instigating confrontation in the name of democracy, human rights and rule. What the US defends is its own hegemony and “house rules” at the expense of the fundamental interests of small- and medium-sized countries.

It is the common aspiration of regional countries and shared hope of the international community to seek peace, solidarity and cooperation rather than turmoil, division and confrontation. No matter how lies are disguised, they will be debunked at the end of the day. Attempts to provoke bloc confrontation and create turbulence and tension will gain no support. Asian countries have a deep memory of history and can tell right from wrong. We will never allow the region to be used as a chessboard for major-power rivalry, and Asian countries will not become a chess piece for major-power confrontation.

AFP: US President Biden has said that he’s exploring ways to end trade tariffs on China, but no decision has been made yet. Has the US side approached China for discussions on this? Second question, can the foreign ministry confirm the date on which the UN human rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet would arrive in China? A spokesperson for her has said that she’s expected to arrive in late May, but is there an exact date for her arrival?

Zhao Lijian: We have noticed relevant reports on your first question. Please ask competent authorities for the questions on trade and economy.

Here I can tell you that China-US economic and trade cooperation is mutually-beneficial and win-win in nature. There is no winner in a trade war or tariff war. Tariffs imposed unilaterally by the US on China are not in the interest of China, the US or the whole world. I would like to quote Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang here. He mentioned some figures in a recent interview with Forbes.

The tariff war so far hasn’t reduced the trade deficit of the US. On the contrary, it brings more costs to American companies and American consumers. It cost American companies 1.7 trillion US dollars. And it costs American households 1,300 US dollars each year since the tariffs took effect. Besides, since 2018 when the tariff war was launched, in the first three years — the years 2018, 2019, 2020 — US export to China of each year was below the level of the year 2017, a year before the trade war was launched. So how many jobs does it cost? More than 240,000 jobs in the US. The figures fully demonstrate that the tariff war does no good to anyone. I think it’s time for the US administration to reconsider and to cancel it as early as possible.

As to your second question, China welcomes High Commissioner Ms. Bachelet’s visit to China, including Xinjiang, in May. The preparatory team of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has arrived in China and is in quarantine as required by COVID protocols. They have begun their work already. The two sides are holding consultations on the detailed arrangement for the visit.

Reuters: Earlier you said that the Chinese government decides on the dynamic zero-COVID policy according to its own circumstances. But we have learned that some people have recently questioned this policy. What is China’s comment on this?

Zhao Lijian: I already talked at great length about China’s COVID situation and dynamic zero-COVID policy. I can tell you unequivocally that no matter how many difficulties lie ahead, the Chinese government and people have every confidence in winning this hard battle. We have the foundation, the conditions and the capability to achieve dynamic zero-COVID.

With regard to the different views of some people, I also stated China’s position just now. I’m convinced that the dynamic zero-COVID policy suits China best.

PTI: Yesterday, you made a comment on the evolving situation in Sri Lanka, especially the deteriorating conditions politically and economically. Can you comment on the resignation of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa? Probably you could also comment on how China sees the current political situation in Sri Lanka.

Zhao Lijian: China pays great attention to the development of the situation in Sri Lanka. We sincerely hope that all sectors in Sri Lanka can keep in mind the fundamental interests of the country and its people, stay united, uphold stability and tide over difficulties together.  

Follow-up: I also asked about your reaction of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa’s resignation. One of very close friends of China, he has resigned due to the violent conditions and demand from across the political spectrum of the country.

Zhao Lijian: I already stated clearly that we have noted the latest developments in Sri Lanka and are closely following the situation. It is our hope that all parties in the country, be it the government or the opposition, could proceed from fundamental national interests, stay united, and restore political and economic stability at an early date.

PTI: Regarding UN High Commissioner Madame Bachelet’s visit, does she have to undergo quarantine?

Zhao Lijian: As I just said, the preparatory team has arrived in China. The two sides are coordinating the specific arrangements of the visit.

Bloomberg: ABC News of Australia reported that Wang Yi is planning or is likely to visit Solomon Islands in coming weeks as part of a visit to a number of Pacific Island countries. Does the foreign ministry have any comments on this?

Zhao Lijian: I am not aware of relevant information.

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