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Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian's Regular Press Conference on February 24, 2020
2020/02/24

Hua Chunying: Good afternoon, friends from the press. I hope you are well. After three weeks of online briefings, today our ministry officially resumes press conferences in Lanting. Today's spokesperson is not me, but my colleague and Deputy Director-General of the MFA Information Department, Zhao Lijian. Beginning from today he will be another MFA spokesperson to hold our daily press conference.

Many of you may have heard of Deputy Director-General Zhao though you haven't met him in person. During his diplomatic career of 24 years, he has worked in our ministry's Department for Asian Affairs and our embassies in the US and Pakistan with veteran diplomatic expertise and excellent communication skills. He has good relations and interactions with the media, too. I believe he will have pleasant and smooth cooperation with you, and I believe you will support his work as you do with me and my colleague Mr. Geng Shuang. Now I'll give the floor to Deputy Director-General Zhao.

Zhao Lijian: Thank you, Director-General Hua Chunying. It gives me great pleasure to meet you all here. It's the first MFA regular press conference I hold, which is on the first day that we resume the regular press conference in Lanting. As the 31st MFA spokesperson, I will emulate my predecessors and enhance communication, exchange and cooperation with you so that together we can tell China's stories and spread China's voice to the world. Thank you.

 

I'd like to share some figures with you first. According to this morning's update from the National Health Commission, February 23 saw 1,846 patients cured and discharged from hospital in China's mainland, bringing the total number of cured cases to 24,734 as of 24:00, February 23.

Q: The China-ASEAN special foreign ministers' meeting on COVID-19 held last week has seen positive reaction from the international community. On February 21, Philippine Foreign Secretary Locsin tweeted that "the meeting was science- and fact-based and enlightening", "we are stronger in broken places", and "we owe China for COVID containment on continental scale". He also cited Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian as saying that what does not kill us can only make us stronger. What is your response?

A: We commend the statements made by the Philippine, Singaporean and Thai foreign ministers. The China-ASEAN special foreign ministers' meeting on COVID-19 held in Vientiane, Laos last week was the first multilateral foreign ministers' meeting for regional countries to focus on public health security. It has set a example for regional countries to jointly deal with future public health events and sent a strong message that China and ASEAN members will get through tough times together.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic, China has taken the most comprehensive, strenuous and thorough measures which have showed their effects. We believe that with the strong leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, our experience from fighting SARS, our mobilization capabilities, and our institutional advantage of working under a nationwide framework, we have the capability and confidence in defeating the epidemic at an early date.

Virus respects no borders. No country will remain safe and sound by taking a beggar-thy-neighbor approach, while the advisable way forward is to tide over difficulties together with mutual support. In an open, transparent and highly responsible manner, China will continue to work with and support the international community, including ASEAN members, and make our contributions to regional and global public health.

Q: The US and Afghan Taliban announced their decision to sign a peace deal on February 29. The Afghan Taliban said there will be some countries and international organizations to observe the signing. Do you have any comment on that?

A: We noted media reports on that. China is keeping close communication and coordination with relevant sides on the latest developments of the Afghan issue.

China firmly supports the broad and inclusive peace and reconciliation process that is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. We support more dialogue between relevant parties and welcome the news that the US and the Afghan Taliban are expected to reach and sign a deal. We hope it will be smoothly implemented to create conditions for the final political resolution of the Afghan issue.

China believes foreign troops in Afghanistan should withdraw in an orderly and responsible manner to ensure a stable transition and avoid a security vacuum, which terrorist organizations may take advantage of to fester.

China stands ready to step up cooperation with all parties to the Afghan issue and the international community for peace, stability and development in Afghanistan.

Q: US State Department officials reportedly said that Russia launched a disinformation campaign on social media that promotes unfounded conspiracy theories that the US is behind the coronavirus outbreak in an apparent bid to damage the US image around the world. A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman denied the US accusations, saying this is a false story. I wonder what's China's comment?

A: We noted the response from the Russian side. I want to stress that when faced with the epidemic, we need science, reason and cooperation. All countries should unite and cooperate to deal with such public health emergency as it serves the common interests of all.

Q: Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission said on February 18 that incumbent President Ghani was re-elected with 50.64% of the vote in the presidential election held on September 28, 2019. What's your comment on that?

A: China noted that the Independent Election Commission announced President Ghani's victory. Afghanistan is our friendly neighbor. China respects the procedure of presidential election in Afghanistan, supports Afghan people's independent decision of their future, and stands ready to work with the newly elected Afghan administration and Afghan people to jointly advance Afghanistan's peace, stability and development.

Q: On February 20, 53 Wall Street Journal employees co-signed an email to WSJ's top executives, asking them to change the title of their article ("China Is the Real Sick Man of Asia") and apologize to those offended. It says, "This is not about editorial independence or the divide between news and opinion. It is about the mistaken choice of a headline that was deeply offensive to many people, not just in China". But the spokesperson for the WSJ said on February 22 that its position has not changed on this matter. Do you have any comment on that?

A: My colleagues have repeatedly stated China's position on WSJ's insulting article. I want to stress two points:

First, do not expect China to remain silent when faced with vicious insults and slanders.

Second, WSJ has been dodging its responsibility by saying news and opinion are separate divisions. It makes no sense. What we want to know is who should be responsible and who should apologize on behalf of WSJ.  It had the audacity to slander, why then, does it lack the courage to make an apology? There is only one news agency called the Wall Street Journal. It should bear the consequences of its willful acts.

Q: I want to follow up on that question about the WSJ reporters. I think they are on their way to the airport right now as things spilled over from the offensive headline. But given that the three reporters expelled had nothing to do with the offensive editorial in question, why were these three particular reporters expelled?

A: I think you should ask WSJ why it published an article that attacks and slanders a nation and its people, why it chose a clearly racist headline, why no one has come forward to assume responsibility so far, and why it refuses to apologize?

We are not interested in WSJ's structure divide. As I said, there is but one news agency called the Wall Street Journal. It should be responsible for what it said and did.

Q: On February 22, South Sudan has formed a new transitional government after its preparation phase ended as planned. President Salva Kiir will continue to serve as president and he has appointed opposition leader Machar as his deputy. What is your comment?

A: South Sudan has formed a transitional coalition government as planned. China welcomes that and sends congratulations. It shows that with the mediation efforts from the international community, especially from relevant African countries and regional organizations, the peace process in South Sudan has made significant progress. As a sincere friend to South Sudan, China will continue to support South Sudan's peace process and provide necessary help. We stand ready to work with the international community and make constructive contributions to peace, stability and economic and social development in South Sudan.

Q: As the representative of an American newspaper that also has a structural divide between the news and the opinion sections, I am very alarmed by China's arbitrary decision to expel three reporters over an eight-word headline. Do you think it's a proportionate response?

A: I answered your colleague's question on that earlier.

I want to stress that this WSJ article has roused indignation and condemnation from the Chinese people and the international community. As of now, WSJ has not yet realized the severity of its mistake. It has neither made any apology nor held those involved accountable. What they have been doing is coming up with all kinds of excuses, which only makes things worse. The Chinese side urges WSJ to take China's concerns seriously and make a duly serious response. I don't think this is unproportionate. We reserve the right to make further responses.

Q: Australia's Education Minister Dan Tehan said on February 22 that about 760 Chinese high school students are allowed to apply to return to Australia. Those approved would be subjected to a 14-day self-imposed quarantine upon their arrival. The Australian side said it is incredibly important to bring some normality back to the international student market, and that it would consider whether to allow the return of tertiary education students next week. I wonder what is your comment?

A: We have noted relevant reports. This is a right step taken by the Australian side to resume normal personnel exchanges between the two sides. But it is far from enough considering that around 100,000 Chinese students affected by the restrictions.

Since the outbreak of the epidemic, the Chinese government and people have been making concerted efforts in this fight. We have taken the most comprehensive, strenuous and thorough measures, which are forceful and effective as proven by facts. The situation is getting better and this positive momentum is consolidating. Of the 31 provinces, regions and municipalities in China, 24 reported zero increase of daily confirmed cases on February 23. The number of cured cases nationwide per day has far exceeded that of newly confirmed cases. The epidemic in Hubei Province is also under effective control.

I want to reiterate that WHO doesn't advise any travel or trade restrictions. All parties including Australia should respect WHO's professional recommendations, assess the situation in an objective and rational way, and lift unjustifiable entry restrictions at an early date.

Q: We noted that the French foreign ministry has sent the third batch of medical supplies to China. Also, the French consulate-general in Wuhan will remain open. Do you have more details on that?

A: The third batch of medical supplies France provided to China has recently arrived in Wuhan.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, President Macron has had two phone calls with President Xi Jinping to express France's condolences and support. Diplomats at the French embassy in China and consulate-general in Wuhan stay at their posts. In his meeting with Ying Yong, secretary of the Hubei Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), French consul general in Wuhan Olivier Guyonvarch said they're proud to be joining those who stayed in Wuhan at this unusual time. They will stand together with Wuhan people amid difficulties in this battle to safeguard the health of all people around the world.

As a Chinese saying goes, "It is in difficult times that one recognizes true friends." Amid this epidemic, French people, like those from many other countries, have reached us with support and assistance, which is an heart-warming act that speaks volumes about the high-level bilateral relations between China and France. We believe China-France friendship will be deepened in this joint fight against COVID-19. China is ready to continue working with France and the rest of the international community to safeguard regional and global public health security.

Q: Congratulations on your first briefing. To demonstrate solidarity with the Chinese leadership and people in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Imran Khan had a telephone conversation with President Xi last week. The Pakistani government dispatched medical supplies and a number of Pakistani students volunteered to fight against the virus. Do you have any comment on that?

A: Thank you very much for your congratulations. I feel deeply attached to Pakistan as I served two terms at the Chinese embassy there.

As for your question, China has issued a press release on President Xi Jinping's telephone conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Like you said, since the outbreak of the epidemic, the Pakistani government and people have offered strong support and assistance to China. We are deeply moved and would like to express our thanks again.

China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic cooperative partners with a fine tradition of mutual assistance. After the COVID-19 outbreak, Pakistan spoke in support of China at the earliest time possible, donated supplies despite its own difficulties and kept exchanges between the two countries as usual. Not long ago, Pakistan's National Assembly and Senate passed resolutions to fully support China's fight against the epidemic, making Pakistan the first country to do so in the world. Facts have once again proved that China and Pakistan are true friends and good brothers sharing weal and woe, and that the two countries stand as a community with a shared future, supporting each other in times of difficulties.

We stand ready to strengthen cooperation with the international community including Pakistan to jointly tackle the epidemic and promote global public health. In a highly responsible manner, we are also ready to step up communication and coordination with Pakistan, safeguard the health and safety of Pakistani nationals in China like they are our own, and take good care of them. I know there are many Pakistani students studying in China and we will take good care of them.

Q: Another question on WSJ. One of the journalists China expelled is an Australian citizen, which has triggered widespread unhappiness in Australia. An Australian foreign ministry spokesperson said that, Australia believes firmly in the freedom of expression and press, and that journalists should be able to carry out their work without unreasonable impediments. Would you like to make a statement on that? Will this affect Australia-China bilateral relationship?

A: We deplore and reject the erroneous remarks by the Australian side.

Regarding the revocation of press credentials of the three Wall Street Journal correspondents, I believe my answers earlier have made it very clear. The Wall Street Journal published an article that smeared China with a blatantly racist title, which has triggered great indignation and condemnation from the Chinese people. The Chinese people expect something to be done about it.

As I understand, racism is rejected in every country. Such behavior has gone far beyond freedom of speech. In fact, the freedom of speech has certain bounds and limits that one cannot overstep. No one should use it as a pretext to spread racial discrimination and hurt others' feelings without apologizing or claiming responsibilities.

Q: In recent days there has been a spike in coronavirus cases in South Korea and Japan. Is China considering travel advisories for its own citizens to go to these countries?

A: No, we are not.

Q: You previously mentioned that you see the WSJ as one organization and you are not interested in its internal division and are punishing it for what it has done. Does that mean the three journalists were randomly selected to have their visas revoked and that there was no reason at all for them specifically to be chosen?

A: I don't think I'm going to repeat what I just said since it couldn't be clearer.

Q: Congratulations on your first press conference. I've only been here for about five years and obviously don't have the China experience you have with all your years here with the foreign ministry. I've got to know China as a very proud and powerful nation that has overcome a lot of challenges and hopefully also that's the case for the current coronavirus that China is battling with many other countries. Why does a country that has grown so strong need to be revoking the press credentials of these three individual WSJ journalists? Why specifically these three journalists considering they, just like many foreign and Chinese journalists in this country, try to tell stories in the right way? What is the signal that you are trying to send to newsrooms around the globe, including in Australia, the US and Europe?

A: I already responded to this question repeatedly. If the WSJ has the freedom to insult, don't the offended have the right to fight back? I think the WSJ case is just an extreme example. As long as you report China objectively and fairly, we will facilitate your work as always. There is no other way to interpret our intention. I hope you understand this is the consequence that the WSJ has to bear for publishing such an insulting article.

Q: Last week the decision was explained that China deals with affairs related to foreign journalists in accordance with laws and regulations. What law or regulation did the three WSJ reporters break?

A: We manage affairs related to foreign correspondents in accordance with Decree of the State Council of the People's Republic of China No. 537. You may refer to it online.

Q: First question, recently Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said in an interview that if he becomes president of the US, he would not sit by and allow invasions to take place if China takes military action against Taiwan. Do you have any comment on this? Second question, you said that as long as we reporters do objective coverage, the foreign ministry will continue to support our work. My question is, what then can individual reporters do to protect themselves against the action of other parts of their publication that are not related to them, as in the case of the three WSJ reporters?

A: To answer your first question, we noted relevant reports. The Taiwan question is purely China's internal affairs and no foreign country has the right to interfere. We urge the US to abide by the one-China principle and the three China-US joint communiques and prudently handle issues relating to Taiwan so as to avoid causing harm to China-US relations and peace and stability across the strait.

Regarding your second question, instead of pestering the foreign ministry spokesperson, you should ask WSJ why it hasn't made public apologies and who should be responsible for the insulting article.

Q: Can you tell me more about why the announcement that Wuhan will ease its lock-down has been retracted again?

A: I refer you to the authorities in Wuhan.

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Since the COVID-19 outbreak, you have been working around the clock seven days a week to cover the situation on the ground and China's efforts to prevent and control the epidemic. With the pen, camera and microphone at your hand, you have captured how China effectively handled the epidemic with all-out efforts and collaborated with the rest of the world to overcome difficulties. I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to you all. I hope you will all take care of yourselves and stay healthy. We will provide necessary assistance and facilitation for your objective and fair reporting of China as always.

As President Xi Jinping stressed at a meeting yesterday to advance the work on coordinating the prevention and control of the COVID-19 and economic and social development, the Chinese nation has experienced many ordeals in its history, but it has never been overwhelmed. Instead, it has become more and more courageous, growing up and rising up from the hardships. After arduous work, the positive trend in the prevention and control work is now expanding. We must remain vigilant and continue making unremitting efforts. No victory should be lightly announced until there is a complete win. Today is the second day of the second lunar month in this year. In China we have the traditional saying of "the dragon raises its head on the second day of the second month". It means everything takes on a new look at this time of year. At this particular time, it also indicates that more good news will come as China and the world are fighting the epidemic together.

Thank you for attending today's press conference. See you tomorrow.

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