Ambassador of People’s Republic of China to Albania Zhou Ding, thoughts on to combat both the pandemic and restore growth Multilateralism must Prevail.

Q: I would like to start with the global fight against the COVID-19. The challenges that China and the world face are multiple and significant. What is your assessment of the situation now in China and the world?

Ambassador: It is my pleasure to talk with you. First, I would like to pay my tribute to all those who have been working tirelessly on the frontline of fighting the pandemic here in Albania, and also extend my sincerest condolences to those who have lost their loved ones to the illness.

This is an unprecedented global crisis. With more than 200 countries and regions affected, COVID-19 is gravely threatening the health and life of people around the world. The global economy has also come under severe strain, with contraction of supply and demand, and plummeting trade and investment. The outbreak has presented a major test for each and every country.

China is the first country that discovered, reported and fought against Covid-19. To combat the outbreak, we implemented the strictest prevention and control measures, enforcing early detection and contact tracing, building new hospitals and mobilizing national resources to help Wuhan and Hubei Province. After much hardship and tremendous sacrifice, community spread came under control about a month ago in Hubei and China. Yet many challenges still lie ahead, with imported cases being found on daily bases, communities are still facing threat.

Now, as many countries continue to grapple with Covid-19, it is urgent that countries step up cooperation in jointly fighting against this invisible common enemy. China will always remember that in our most difficult days, friends across the world offered their helping hands. As I read the news that Albania sent doctors and nurses to Italy, I feel the warmth from a small, but great nation. Solidarity is the most valuable thing in our world right now.

Q: The City of Wuhan in Central China’s Hubei Province rectified its COVID-19 death toll to 3,869 last Friday, an increase of 1,290 from the previous figure, after the local government altered its counting method. What would you say about it?

Ambassador: Based on the Chinese laws concerning the release and revision of information on infectious diseases, to make sure that the information released is accurate, the Wuhan Municipal Command for COVID-19 response set up a big data and epidemiological task force, and conducted a case-by-case statistical investigation and verification on the number of confirmed cases and fatalities. Through thorough screening, Wuhan reported 325 additional confirmed cases and corrected its total COVID-19 case number to 50,333, and its death toll to 3,869 with an increase of 1,290.

In the early stages of the outbreak, as the number of patients grew and the medical system was overwhelmed, mistakes were easily made in reporting cases at the grassroots level. The revised data includes some previously uncounted cases, such as people who died outside of hospitals and people whose cause of death was later determined to be covid-19.

Data revision in the cases of infectious diseases is a common international practice, and we have recently seen other countries make data revisions on COVID-19 cases as well. Behind the data are people’s lives and health, as well as the government’s credibility. I think that the revision of the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and fatalities by Wuhan municipality shows science-based decision-making and respect for life. The strict review and correction of the death toll also means there is no room for deliberate concealment.

That being said, if we look back from where we stand now, the handling of the outbreak does have room for improvement. Some people argue that had the Chinese government enforced the lockdown of Wuhan weeks earlier, the impact of the outbreak could have been vastly reduced. However, we must face the fact that China was dealing with an unknown virus. Back then, decisions could only be made based on limited information.

It was not clear how the virus spread, what the infection rate and fatality rate was. To initiate an optimal strategy with a fast-changing situation needs to be science based, and takes wisdom, courage and determination. China enforced the lockdown of Wuhan, a city with 11 million people on 23rd January, two days before Chinese New Year, when there were only around 400 confirmed cases in that region, because we believe it would save more lives. And it did.

During the early days of the lockdown, China was criticized for “overreacting” and “violating human rights.” And now, China is again criticized by some for not implementing the lockdown earlier. In the last several months, we’ve seen governments around the world taking distinctive measures to cope with the virus that have also ignited heated debates and controversies within countries and among countries.

I think that scientists will need more time to research and understand the nature of this pandemic. Governments, politicians, media, and individuals have a lot to reflect on our respective decisions, the handling of the crisis, and personal behavior. But for now, we need to focus on saving lives and restoring our economy.

Q:Many wouldn’t be pleased by the lack of international cooperation we are witnessing when dealing with the pandemic. What’s your assessment on that and what do you suggest?

Ambassador: Some say that the current Coronavirus outbreak is the biggest challenge for the world since World War Two. It is all the more clear that no country can stay out of the crisis. Cooperation is our only way out. As long as there is one country left fighting the virus, we won’t be able to say the fight is over.

Facing the huge task of economic recovery, the international community will also have to act with unity and work together with collective response. When the 2008 financial crisis broke out, the G20 was created so that a coordinated approach was designed, helping the world to avoid a greater recession and recover from the crisis more quickly. We definitely need such cooperation and coordination now.

International organizations and different dialogue mechanisms including UN, G20, WHO, WTO, IMF, need more support than ever in order to help us through the crisis. We must enhance, rather than weaken multilateralism in order to overcome difficulties and inject confidence and strength into the world economy. Efforts should be made to uphold an open world economy, facilitate trade, and ensure the steady and smooth operation of global industrial chains.

We are seeing many encouraging actions. The international community is showing care and solidarity in face of this common challenge. Countries are helping each other while they themselves are fighting the virus, and international organizations and NGOs are also working diligently to save lives.

Q:There are those who say that this disease and its fallout have done enormous damages already and will put to risk China’s status as a world super-economy? What would you respond to this allegation?

Ambassador: According to statistics from China, with first-quarter GDP shrinking 6.8 percent, the damage of China’s economy amounts to 1.44 trillion yuan ($203.4 billion) in lost output. With production halted, businesses shuttered and consumers trapped in their homes, we’ve focused on stopping the virus and saving lives. The 6.8 percent decline reflected the actual impact of the outbreak on economic operations.

Like many other countries, China is rolling out policy measures on both the fiscal and monetary fronts to support both businesses and individuals. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been offered to businesses through measures such as tax cuts. The IMF earlier this week forecasted a 1.2-percent rise for China’s GDP in 2020 and 9.2 percent in 2021. Some economists are more optimistic.

They believe that while the short-term pain for China is enormous, the country remains resilient and the long-term growth path of the Chinese economy has not changed. China is the world’s largest, most diversified and best equipped manufacturing center, which makes it an important link in global supply and industrial chains. Digital economy including 5G, AI have gained momentum and will play more influential roles in our economic recovery. China will continue to strike a balance between disease prevention and economic development, and at the same time contribute to stabilizing the world economy.

Q:China’s relations with main global interlocutors have seen sometimes dramatic change is the last years. Could you briefly comment on the current state of affairs in your relations with first the United States and then the EU?

Ambassador: The China-US relation is probably one of the most important and yet the most complex one in the world. The two countries are so interconnected that, although in the last several decades bilateral relations have seen ups and downs, cooperation and coordination have always existed. We have some valuable and effective dialogue mechanisms in place.

People to people exchange has never been so active. Although different US administrations have had different priorities in dealing with China and world affairs, we’ve maintained a relatively stable relationship, which the two peoples and the whole world benefit from. Standing at a new crossroads of history, to combat the pandemic and restore economic growth, the world needs the concerted efforts of all countries, including China and the US. I think both governments and peoples will be wise enough to address our differences and our common concerns.

The EU has, for 16 years, remained China’s top trading partner, while China is the EU’s second largest trading partner. The vast Chinese market has presented huge opportunities for European countries. Nowadays, China and the EU see nearly 8 million mutual visits every year and over 600 flights every week.

More than 11,000 trips have been made along the China-Europe express rail link. China-EU trade volume amounted to US$680 billion. Chinese capital, technology and services also contribute to the growth and employment in Europe. Our relations are steadily growing.

We share more common ground than differences. Especially in the face of an uncertain international situation, China and the EU have a shared interest in safeguarding multilateralism, stabilizing world markets and ensuring economic growth.

Q:Coming closer to home, I would like now to focus on bilateral relations between China and Albania. The history of these relations goes back in time. Today how are the political ties between the two countries? Has the Albanian government asked the Chinese side for help in any form in fighting COVID-19?

Ambassador: Our bilateral relations are strengthening. 2019 witnessed the 70th anniversary of China-Albania diplomatic ties. The two countries held jointly many events to commemorate the special year. Last April, Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Rama held a bilateral meeting during the 17+1 summit in Dubrovnik.

Mr. Zhang Qingli, the Vice Chairman of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference visited Albania. We’ve also welcomed Minister of National Health Commission of China and deputy mayor of Beijing. Looking ahead, with good will from both sides, I am optimistic that the China-Albania partnership will reach new heights.

After COVID-19 broke out in China, the Albania government was among the first to express sympathies and support. People from all walks of life extended their greetings and best wishes to us. Currently as Albania faces the same challenge, China, likewise, stands firmly with Albania and is ready to provide assistance.

We have continued to share the latest versions of clinical protocols for diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19, as well as the prevention and control protocol. Chinese epidemiologist and frontline doctors have shared experiences through video conferences with their Albanian counterparts. Besides, at the request of the Albanian government, we have provided testing kits, and expecting more of Chinese government donations of protective supplies to arrive soon.

Talking about mitigation measures here, I think that the Albania government and the people have done very good job. And I am happy to see that the measures are producing positive effects. I see lots of heroic behaviors and touching moments. In the dark time of hardship, I am touched by scenes of solidarity, signs of resilience and resolve. I sincerely applaud Albania’s efforts, and have faith in its victory in this fight.

Q: What are the latest updates from the Belt and Road Initiative as well as more specifically 17+1 Cooperation which are relevant to Albania? China is present in some key sectors in Albania such as international transportation and oil production. How are these investments going and what can be done to attract more Chinese capital to Albania?

Ambassador: Under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative and 17+1 cooperation, Albania has been actively participating as an important member. Last June, Albania and China signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Import and Export of Food Products and Food Safety.

We are also working on helping the export of Albanian dairy products, honey and seafood to China. Last October, the 4th China-CEEC capital mayors forum was held successfully in Tirana. The mayors shared their experience in city governance, environmental protection and so on. Looking forward, I believe there will be more and more progress within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative and 17+1 Cooperation.

The transportation and oil industries are important sectors for economic growth. I am happy to see that two Chinese companies are making contribution to Albania’s economic growth. The Chinese investment here is an expression of their confidence in this energetic country. The two companies have helped bringing in advanced technology, knowledge and management experiences.

Since they came, the two companies have hired more than 1000 Albanian employees and paid taxes of more than 150 million dollars. They donated more than 2 million euros to help Albania recover from last November’s earthquake. They are not looking for a short-term relation, but for long-term cooperation. The airport has reinvested more than 6 million dollars to upgrade its service capacity. Of course, due to low oil price and the pandemic, like many businesses, they are experiencing the most difficult times.

I think after the pandemic, it is even more urgent for the Albanian government to build a more attractive business environment and boost investors’ confidence. As the Chinese ambassador, I sometimes feel that I spend more time promoting Albania to China, than promoting China to Albania. Albania is a country rich in cultural diversity, beautiful scenery and natural resources. It has great potential to become an ideal investment destination.

Q: China and Albania are collaborating in the field of education, culture and tourism. Can you describe some of the key components of the cooperations in these fields for our readers? The number of Chinese tourists has increased through the years however it is lower than in other countries in the region. What can be done in this regard?

Ambassador: Both Chinese and Albanian people value the education of our next generation. Higher education exchange program is a major part in our education cooperation.

We now have more than 200 Albanian students studying in China, with 60 of them enjoying full Chinese government scholarship. Currently we are working on the agreement between Albania and China on Mutual Recognition of Higher Education Certificates, Diplomas and Degrees, which hopefully can be signed soon.

Cultural exchanges have always been very active between us. Each year we invite various Chinese arts groups to perform in Albania. After the pandemic, I hope that we can invite some top-class artists to perform or give exhibitions here. We will continue to work with Ministry of Culture of Albania to help the rebuilding of the National Theatre of Opera and Ballet.

As for tourism, the two countries have reached many concrete results in this regard, including a visa free policy for Chinese tourists to Albania. Last December, China-CEEC high-level meeting on tourism cooperation was held in Riga, during which China and Albania’s Ministers of tourism had a fruitful bilateral meeting.

Last year, the total number of Chinese tourists to Albania reached more than 22231, increasing by 26.85 percent compared to 2018. To attract more Chinese tourists and make them stay longer here, Albania needs more work on publicity among Chinese people, more investment in tourism infrastructure. Many elderly Chinese have nostalgia of Albania based on our traditional bond, thus creating opportunities for retro attractions, such as cinemas featuring old Albanian movies to develop.

Q: To conclude I would like to know your overall assessment of today’s bilateral relations between Albania and China and most importantly your take on their future.

Ambassador: The world is changing at an extremely rapid pace. In the first three months of 2020, we’ve experienced things that some people may not have ever imagined. In these times of change, that which remains unchanged shines the most. The time-honored friendship of China and Albania is one of them.

Both countries are thinking of and helping the other. China will actively participate in Albania’s post-earthquake rebuilding and post-pandemic recovery. After this trial, our bilateral relations will surely become stronger.

Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.