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Ambassador Zhang Ming Holds a Press Briefing on COVID-19 and China-EU Relations

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 comprehensive 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. The briefing was attended by more than 100 representatives of major Chinese and international media organizations, including over 30 international media outlets such as Reuters, AFP, ANSA, Handelsblatt, Der Spiegel, and POLITICO, organizations such as the European Commission, European Parliament, and the European External Action Service (EEAS), European think tanks and academic institutions such as the Eurasia Center and KU Leuven, European companies such as GSK, and diplomatic missions in Europe, as well as Chinese media outlets such as People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency, and China Media Group. The whole briefing was broadcast live by Reuters.

Ambassador Zhang addressed four questions that are often asked by European journalists. Is the outbreak already under control? Is China open and transparent? Is China’s response appropriate and proportionate? What does the outbreak mean for the economy? He said that under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, the Chinese government puts people’s life and health as well as global public health security front and center, and gets prepared for the worst. The government has taken firm actions to contain the outbreak and managed to reduce the spread of virus from Wuhan to other parts of China and other countries. The number of newly confirmed cases outside Hubei has been on decline for 14 consecutive days. Cases outside China account for about 1% of the world’s total. The cure rate has grown considerably. All these are positive signals.

Ambassador Zhang responded to the question asked by some: why didn’t China disclose the outbreak at the very beginning? He said that this is a brand-new virus, about which we had little knowledge. It is unfair to conclude that the Chinese government is not transparent due to lack of knowledge of the virus at the early stage. On the contrary, we are fully aware that openness and transparency are the most powerful weapons against the epidemic. The number of cases is reported on a daily basis and shared with WHO and other countries in a timely manner. All these have been recognized by the international community.

Ambassador Zhang noted that the Chinese government is bringing together the best researchers to accelerate and coordinate research on the transmission routes and the most urgent and complicated issues such as the development of antivirals and vaccines. Our response will be more science-based and conducted in a more orderly way. We want to make our measures more targeted and see them implemented down to the last detail. This has given the Chinese people a greater sense of security and confidence in winning the battle.

Ambassador Zhang stressed that the outbreak’s impact on the Chinese economy is limited, short-term, and manageable. It will not change the positive prospects of the Chinese economy in the long term, the huge market demand offered by the 1.4 billion Chinese people, nor China’s commitment to reform and opening-up. There is no need for global investors to worry too much. The Chinese government has sufficient policies to boost the economy and will help Chinese and foreign-invested companies resume activities. Major businesses in key parts of China have mostly returned to work. Civil aviation, railway and water shipment services are in normal operation. Foreign companies, like Tesla, Honeywell and Airbus, are gradually coming back to work. We believe that this will minimize the impact on the global industrial and supply chains.

Ambassador Zhang noted that the only thing to fear is fear itself, not the virus. WHO does not recommend travel or trade restrictions on China. It is our hope that the relevant countries could look at the epidemic and China’s response in an objective and cool-headed way, act in accordance with the International Health Regulations (IHR) and WHO’s recommendations, and avoid unnecessary disruptions on international travels and free trade.

Ambassador Zhang talked about the latest development in China-EU relations. He pointed out that the sudden outbreak of the epidemic will not weaken the two sides’ resolve to bring China-EU relations to a higher level. Instead, it has helped to deepen their pragmatic cooperation on health and other fronts. This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of China-EU diplomatic ties. The two sides are preparing for the planned high-level exchanges as scheduled.

Ambassador Zhang also answered questions about Huawei and 5G, China-U.S. phase one trade agreement, climate change and Iran nuclear issue, and gave one-on-one interviews to a number of media outlets after the briefing.

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