Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s Press Conference of February 26, 20
Q. There have been an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in Japan and the ROK. As we understand, some localities in China are taking restrictive measures targeting those entering China from Japan and the ROK. There are people saying this is overreaction, and ROK Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also expressed concerns. Can you comment on that?
Zhao Lijian: As China, Japan and the ROK are all at a critical stage of fighting COVID-19, China completely relates to what these two countries are going through and expresses sincere sympathies to them. Since the epidemic broke out, the ROK and Japanese governments and people have given us strong support and assistance.
We are deeply grateful for that. While combating the virus at home, China is ready to reciprocate such kindness by sharing information and experiences with the ROK, Japan and the larger international community, strengthening cooperation and tiding over the difficulties together. We want to help them as much as we can. China believes that the concerted efforts by China, Japan and the ROK will be turning into a huge impetus for friendship and cooperation between us.
Virus knows no borders. Recently some countries have taken necessary border restrictive measures aimed at protecting the health and security of their citizens and foreigners as well as safeguarding regional and global public health security.
As long as those measures are science-based, professional and appropriate, they can be understood and accepted. One of China’s epidemic control experiences is to go out less often and stay away from the crowd, which is the best way to prevent cross infections. China is ready to work with the ROK and Japan to conduct joint prevention and control, enhance relevant measures at border entry, and reduce the number of unnecessary travels.
Q. This morning, State Councillor & Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić who is here on an official visit. Could you provide more information?
Zhao Lijian: This morning, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with Serbian First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić. They also met the press together. You may find more details our press release.
Here I’ll talk a little bit more on that. During their talks, State Councillor Wang Yi updated First Deputy PM Dačić on the latest developments of China’s epidemic prevention and control efforts and economic and social development. He said that China is fully confident and capable of winning this battle against the epidemic at an early date.
This visit came at a special time when the Chinese people is fighting an all-out battle against the epidemic. By taking this concrete action, Serbia demonstrates their friendship with the Chinese people and the impregnable, iron-clad relationship between the two sides.
State Councillor Wang Yi described China-Serbia relations with four phrases using the word “good”: good brothers, good partners, good friends and good comrades. China and Serbia are good brothers cherishing the same aspirations and sharing weal & woe, good partners in jointly implementing the Belt & Road Initiative, good friends in promoting China-EU cooperation, and good comrades in fostering a China-Serbia community with a shared future while participating in building a community with a shared future for mankind.
China and Serbia should trust and support each other, explore new areas of cooperation, and focus on substantiating bilateral cooperation so that bilateral relations will be elevated to a new level.
First Deputy PM Dačić said that the Serbia-China comprehensive strategic partnership is performing at a high level. The two sides share deep political mutual trust and the two peoples enjoy iron-clad friendship. The Serbian people always regard the Chinese people as their true brothers. Serbia truly believes that under the strong leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government and with the concerted efforts of all Chinese people, China will defeat the epidemic at an early date.
Q: Does China consider imposing travel bans, visa restrictions or any kind of restrictions on people coming from countries with high rate of coronavirus infections? I’m thinking about the ROK, Japan, Iran or maybe Italy.
Zhao Lijian: I answered similar questions these two days. We are studying on prevention and control measures that are science-based, appropriate and calibrated.
Q: US Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said that Beijing’s pernicious measures were aimed at turning Muslims into good, placid Chinese citizens, and that this is a war on faith. I wonder if you have any comment?
Zhao Lijian: This is not the first time certain people in the US make wanton accusations and rumours attempting to undermine China’s ethnic harmony and interfere in our domestic affairs under the pretext of religious freedom. We firmly oppose that.
The Chinese government protects its citizens’ freedom of religious belief and people of all ethnic groups enjoy full religious freedom in accordance with law. There are 24,400 mosques in Xinjiang, one for every 530 Muslims. By contrast, the number of mosques in the US is even less than one tenth of that in Xinjiang.
According to poll results released by Gallup and Pew Research Center, 42% of Americans say that they are very concerned about race relations and 75% of Muslims in the US believe there is serious discrimination against them.
My advice to this ambassador-at-large in charge of “religious freedom” affairs: do get more knowledge of the truth and have more respect for others, and stop interfering in China’s domestic affairs under the pretext of religion.
Q: It is reported that WSJ sent another letter to the Chinese side, acknowledging that its insulting article has roused wide indignation among the Chinese people and it is troubled by that. Can you confirm it and what is your comment?
Zhao Lijian: In recent days, WSJ has reached to us through different channels, acknowledging that it is a mistake to publish such an insulting article and they will learn their lessons. However, so far, it has yet responded directly to the demand of the Chinese side.
Q: Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak passed away on February 25. Can you offer some comments on that?
Zhao Lijian: We express deep condolences over the unfortunate passing of Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt, and we extend sincere sympathies to his family.
The Chinese government and people will not forget Mr. Mubarak’s important contribution to China-Egypt relations. We will continue to work with Egypt for new progress in our comprehensive strategic partnership.
Q: On February 25, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that expelling WSJ journalists exposes the issue in China’s coronavirus response. Had China permitted its own and foreign journalists to speak freely, China and other nations would have been far better prepared to address the challenge. What is your comment?
Zhao Lijian: When the Chinese people are going all-out to fight this hard battle against the epidemic, Secretary Pompeo once again launched groundless accusations against China. This is so abhorrent and we are firmly opposed to it. I want to stress two points:
First, Secretary Pompeo did not even get the facts straight. The Chinese government has been open, transparent and highly responsible in its epidemic prevention and control efforts.
As for the WSJ article with its insulting headline, it is never a question of freedom of speech and press. All people, as long as they have conscience and bottom line, should make reject and resist such racist and wrongful words and actions. Now, as even WSJ has admitted its mistake and been learning some lessons, how come Secretary Pompeo, in total disregard of the public opinion of the international community, made yet another attempt to back up WSJ by badmouthing China? One has to wonder if WSJ is an agent of the US State Department.
Second, since Secretary Pompeo talks about freedom of speech so much, would he care to explain why he cursed at a NPR journalist? Why was the journalist denied press credentials to travel with him? Is that Secretary Pompeo’s definition of “freedom of speech”? I think it’s typical discourse monopoly and double standards.
We urge Secretary Pompeo to give up his bias against China, discard the Cold-War mentality and zero-sum game mindset, act in ways that suit his status, stop undermining China-US mutual trust and cooperation, and make no more attempts at sowing discord among the Party, the Chinese government and the Chinese people.
Q: UN Secretary General Guterres said during his visit to the WHO headquarters on February 24 that the Chinese people are sacrificing many aspects of their normal lives to prevent the virus from further spreading, and he praised China’s contribution for humanity. I wonder if you have any comment?
Zhao Lijian: We highly commend Secretary General António Guterres’ remarks. COVID-19 is a common challenge faced by all and shall be countered by the international community working together. We have taken forceful measures to deal with the epidemic because we want to be responsible not only for our own people but also the whole world. In this battle against the epidemic, “the Chinese speed” has won precious time for the whole world to respond, “the Chinese strength” has enacted strong defence lines to stem the spread of the epidemic, and “the Chinese practice” has set a new example for global epidemic prevention.
So far, more than 170 State Leaders & over 40 International Organisation representatives have expressed their sympathies towards China and their confidence and support in China overcoming the epidemic. Faced with the public health crisis, all countries should unite and cooperate to tide over the difficulties together.
China will not relent its efforts and will well coordinate its next-stage epidemic prevention and control work. We will strengthen international and regional cooperation, keep good communication and coordination with WHO, share our experiences with relevant countries, and do as much as we can to help those countries and regions affected by the virus as we are a community with a shared future for mankind.
Q: Can we have any update on whether there’s any foreigners in Hubei confirmed or suspected to have the virus? Are there still any foreigners stranded in Wuhan or other cities in Hubei? What are their nationalities that you know of?
Zhao Lijian: According to relevant departments, a total of 10 foreign nationals have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Hubei, among whom 7 have been cured and discharged from hospital, and 2 died. China sets much store by the safety and health of foreign nationals in China, and will continue to take effective measures to ensure their protection and needs. Infected foreign nationals in China get medical treatment same as our own citizens.
Q: First, you just said that the WSJ has admitted their mistakes. Does that mean the three WSJ reporters will be allowed to work again as reporters in China, including the one currently stranded in Wuhan? Second question, regarding ROK nationals coming to China, what are the restrictions placed on them at the moment? What is the threshold for China when it comes to numbers of cases before China imposes certain quarantine requirements or restrictions on them?
Zhao Lijian: I have repeatedly stated China’s position on WSJ.
Regarding your second question, I gave my answer to a similar question earlier and I have no further information to provide at the moment.
Q. Follow-up: With regard to the WSJ reporters, will they be allowed to come back again now that they have, as you put it, admitted their mistakes. If not, why not?
Zhao Lijian: As I clearly put it, the WSJ has contacted the Chinese side through different channels, admitting it’s wrong to publish the insulting article and saying it has drawn lessons from the episode. However, it has not responded to China’s demand so far. What China asks for is very simple. They should make an official apology and hold those involved accountable.
Q: Just to be clear, you said that there were 10 foreigners infected with COVID-19 in Hubei, 7 of whom were cured and discharged from hospital and 2 died. Is that correct?
Zhao Lijian: Yes.