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Excerpts from EPC's Sixty-minute Briefing with Chinese Ambassador Zhang Ming
2021/03/18

On March 16, 2021, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, attended "Sixty-minute Briefing" organized by the European Policy Center (EPC). Ambassador Zhang Ming answered questions on Xinjiang, Hong Kong, China's 14th Five-Year Plan, climate change, CAI, vaccine, “western alliance” on China, 17+1 cooperation, etc. The briefing was hosted by Shada Islam, senior adviser of European policy. Excerpts of Ambassador Zhang Ming's answers are as follows:

On Xinjiang

I have noted media reports and I am deeply concerned about possible sanctions on China. We are against interference in others' internal affairs, against sanctions, and against groundless accusations.

Xinjiang is the largest ethnic autonomous region in China. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, regional autonomy has been practiced in Xinjiang where 13 ethnic groups live together. According to the Constitution, all ethnic groups are equal. No discrimination or suppression is allowed.

Issues facing Xinjiang are about fighting terrorism, extremism and separatism, not human rights violations. A few years ago, Xinjiang was severely ravaged by terrorism and violence, causing huge casualties and property losses. To stop the trend, while fighting terrorism, China has taken preventive steps to promote deradicalization, like establishing training centers. Such efforts have produced good results.

In fact, we have drawn upon international experience and practice from global partners and the UN in our counter-terrorism and deradicalization efforts in Xinjiang. The UN Action Plan to Prevent Violent Extremism points out that, poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and distortion of religious belief, among others, are causes for violence and extremism. It is imperative to provide education and economic opportunities to those affected, and help them stay away from violent and extremist thinking and groups. Countries like the US, the UK and France have established deradicalization centers or correction centers. China's measures are not entirely different from theirs.

The Chinese government, by offering training and employment opportunities, help people in Xinjiang get out of poverty. The past 4 years have not seen a single terrorist attack in Xinjiang. People feel much safer. They could sleep tight at night. Restaurants and cinemas are open till midnight. Last year, per capita income in Xinjiang rose by over 3.2% despite the Covid-19 impact. All this is the best protection of human rights.

It seems that not everyone wants to see a peaceful Xinjiang. China haters don't. They have made too many lies, like concentration camps, genocide and forced labor. These political manipulations aim to strip the workers, peasants, men and women, the young and the old in Xinjiang of their right to pursue a better life, thereby harming China's security and development interests. We would never allow such efforts to go their way. The EU is against disinformation, yet these are lies more outrageous than disinformation. The French author Maxime Vivas published a book "The End of Uyghur Fake News", which shed light on this question. I hope the EU and its member states will stay away from judgments along ideological lines, reject disinformation and lies, and adopt an objective and sensible stance.

I wish to emphasize that sanctions are confrontational. Sanctions based on lies could be interpreted as deliberately undermining China's security and development interests. It is the responsibility of the Chinese government to protect the safety and well-being of the Chinese people. We want dialogue, not confrontation. We ask the EU side to think twice. If some insist on confrontation, we will not back down, as we have no options other than fulfilling our responsibilities to the people.

Follow-up on foreigners’ visit to Xinjiang

In fact, Xinjiang is open. It was open, it is open and it will remain open. Xinjiang receives a great number of tourists every year. Since 2018, more than 1,000 foreign journalists, diplomats, and others have visited Xinjiang. I have been keeping close contact with my counterparts in Beijing to arrange for Ambassadors from the EU and its member states to visit Xinjiang. Almost everything has been ready, but I'm so sorry that the EU Mission in Beijing raised an unacceptable request. But anyway, Xinjiang is open to European Ambassadors, foreign diplomats, journalists, tourists, etc. Sometimes I was asked: why don't you invite the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Xinjiang. I'm confused. We have repeated many times the invitation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. The latest invitation was announced by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on 7th March during the Two Sessions’ press conference. Anyway, China is open and Xinjiang is open.

(Q: What is the unacceptable request or a point that has been raised by the EU ambassadors?)

We have agreed on all requests except one. They insist on a meeting request with one criminal imprisoned and convicted according to Chinese law. This is unacceptable.

On Hong Kong

The legal basis for the governance of Hong Kong is the Constitution of China and the Basic Law, not the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The Declaration is primarily about the UK returning to China the illegally-occupied Chinese territory. China elaborates on its basic policies regarding Hong Kong in the Annex of the Declaration, which have been included in the Basic Law. Not a single paragraph in the Declaration could serve as a legal basis for foreign interference in China's internal affairs.

I noted that the EU accuses China of eroding "One Country, Two Systems". We must make it clear that "One Country" and "Two Systems" are an integral whole and cannot be divided. Some radicals committed vandalism, robbery and arson and attempted to paralyze the Legislative Council and pursue Hong Kong independence, gravely endangering national security. These were acts to subvert the "One Country, Two Systems". The National Security Law and the decision to improve the electoral system aim to uphold the "One Country, Two Systems".

When Mr. Deng Xiaoping put forward "One Country, Two Systems", he also put forward "patriots administering Hong Kong". Mr. Deng said that, patriots are those who uphold the motherland's resumption of exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong and who do not undermine Hong Kong's prosperity and stability. The criteria are still valid.

In any country, those holding public offices are required to be patriots. Loving the country they serve is a basic code of political ethics. It doesn't mean opposition parties could not be elected. There are also patriots in opposition parties, who could stand in election according to law.

A week ago, the European Parliament lifted the immunity of three MEPs, clearing the way for them to be extradited back home. It shows that the EU recognizes the provisions of the Constitution of its member state that the autonomous region must uphold national interests. I am wondering why the EU goes for a different yardstick on Hong Kong.

Some talk about democratic backsliding in Hong Kong. Hong Kong did not have democratic institutions until its return to the motherland. There was no democracy to speak of under the British colonial rule. Some are trying to mix riots with democracy and freedoms, which is ridiculous. A former Hong Kong LegCo President said that democracy means that people with different opinions could talk to each other. If you don't like my opinions, you can turn your back on me. But you can't beat me or set me on fire. We stand for peaceful demonstration. But the riots in 2019 obviously ran counter to these democratic values and pushed Hong Kong to lawlessness and disorder. Some people compare the EU's comments on Hong Kong and those on the US Capitol Hill attacks. They said, “One could hardly find a better example of double standards.”

The objective of universal suffrage, as stipulated in Article 45 and 68 of the Basic Law, does not change. The central government of China has been consistent in supporting the gradual development of Hong Kong's democratic systems suited to Hong Kong's circumstances.

Hong Kong's electoral system is part of China's local electoral system. It is entirely China's internal affair. We hope the EU follows the basic principles of international law, refrains from meddling in China's internal affairs, fully respects "One Country, Two Systems", and supports Hong Kong's prosperity and stability. This is also in the EU's interests.

On China’s Two Sessions

The Two Sessions were concluded last week, and attracted global attention. The Two Sessions are highlights in China's political calendar, as they not only take stock of the work of the past year, but also show the way for future work.

The Two Sessions are short for the annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The sessions usually take place around the same time. So they are called the Two Sessions in brief.

The NPC, China's highest organ of state power and top legislature, consists of nearly 3,000 deputies from all walks of life. They have the decision power on important matters related to national development and livelihoods. The people exercise state power through the NPC and people's congresses at lower levels, whose deputies are elected by the people. This is an example of how democracy works in China.

The CPPCC is an important organ for multi-party cooperation and political consultation led by the governing party Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The 2158 members of the CPPCC National Committee are composed of members of the Communist party and eight other parties, people with no party affiliation, and representatives of NGOs, ethnic minority groups and various sectors. The CPPCC conducts political consultation on state policies and exercises democratic supervision by making proposals and criticisms.

In 2020, members of the CPPCC National Committee made over 5900 proposals, covering political, economic, cultural, social, ecological and other areas. Some proposals are about the 14th Five-Year Plan, poverty eradication and other major policy issues. Others are about population aging, food safety and other issues to the concern of the public.

CPPCC members have the duty to reach out to various sectors and listen to their voices. As a CPPCC member working overseas, I focus on making proposals on China's development and external relations, based on what I observe here in Europe. This year, I did not go back to Beijing to attend the Two Sessions in person. But I made several proposals, one of which is on how to strengthen China's geographical indications system. The China-EU GI agreement and the EU's well-established GI system have been quite helpful to me. I hope that this proposal could contribute to the implementation of the GI agreement and the growth of China-EU economic ties.

On China’ 14th Five-Year Plan and "Dual Circulations"

The 14th Five-Year Plan puts forward a new development paradigm, which is called dual circulations. Domestic circulation will be the mainstay and domestic and international circulations will reinforce each other. This is a response to the changing dynamics in China’s economic development and the global environment.

Look around the world, we can find that for major powers that have become middle- and high-income countries, domestic demand as a share of GDP is rising, usually over 80%. This is the case for the US, Japan, Germany and the UK. In China today, consumption contributes to about 60% of economic growth, still lagging far behind developed countries. We need to tap into the potential of domestic circulation, and make growth more driven by home-grown investment and consumption. This could bring out the strengths of the huge Chinese market, make China’s economy more resilient and contribute to global recovery.

With dual circulations, China will not decouple from the rest of the world or turn inwards. China has been deeply integrated into the global economy. We could not be better off by shutting doors. This is what we learn from the past decades of reform and opening up. Last year, China and other 14 countries signed RCEP, leading to the world’s largest FTA. China and the EU finished the negotiations on the CAI. With better institutional and legal safeguards, market access to China will be further facilitated. Market rules will be more transparent. The business environment will be more attractive. This means more possibilities for Europe and other partners.

For instance, in the coming five years, we will raise the percentage of permanent urban residents to 65 percent of the population, which means over 10 million rural residents moving to cities every year. The 50 million newly-added urban residents would mean a big demand for services, which provides opportunities to EU investors strong in services.

On Climate Change

Last September, President Xi Jinping announced that China will aim to peak its CO2 emissions by 2030 and strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Government departments, local governments and the general public are now taking actions.

The coming five years is crucial for China’s carbon peaking. Of the eight binding targets set in the 14th Five-Year Plan, five are related to green development. For instance, forest coverage will be expanded to 24.1 percent of China’s total land area. Energy consumption per unit of GDP and CO2 emissions per unit of GDP will be reduced by 13.5 percent and 18 percent respectively. This year, we will roll out a detailed action plan for carbon peaking before 2030. The national carbon trading system will be launched by the end of June this year. In addition to power generation, sectors like steel, cement, chemicals, electrolytic aluminum, and paper-making will be covered by the system. We will honor our commitments with concrete actions against all odds.

China will give priority to building a clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient energy system, limit the total consumption of fossil fuels, use renewable energy as alternatives, and foster a new system for power supply dominated by new energy. The share of non-fossil fuel in energy consumption will be increased to around 20% by 2025 and to 25% by 2030. This will be an energy revolution supported by improved policy incentives and restrictions against coal power. The green bond catalogue published last year no longer supports coal-related projects. By 2030, China will bring its total installed capacity of wind and solar power to over 1.2 billion kilowatts, exceeding that of coal power in China today, and larger than the total installed power capacity in the US today.

On the Belt and Road Initiative aims to promote green development. Hydro, wind and solar power is already a main part of energy cooperation along the routes. A study by American Enterprise Institute shows that from 2014 to 2020, investment in renewable energy as a share of total investment in Belt and Road projects rose by nearly 40%, exceeding investment in fossil fuels. While asking developing countries to do more, feasible solutions should be offered to those in need. We are happy to engage in three-party cooperation to make efficient, clean and diversified energy supply available to other developing countries.

On CAI

Last Friday, the Commission published the market access offers of the CAI. I noticed the positive comments by EVP Dombrovskis and some business leaders. In the past months, I have talked to some MEPs, who spoke positively of the agreement per se. This shows that CAI is indeed of high standard, benefits both sides, and contributes to greater investment.

I take the concerns of some MEPs seriously, and talk to them frankly. Some MEPs care about the ratification of ILO conventions on forced labor. I said that China has sound institutions for labor rights protection. The Labor Law prohibits any format of forced labor. China will fulfill its commitments in the CAI, including making sustained and continuous efforts toward ratification of the relevant ILO conventions. I also expressed the wish that the EU honors its commitments as well.

Some Europeans are saying that CAI should be linked with issues like Hong Kong and human rights, to put pressure on China. Well, CAI is not a package solution to all differences between China and the EU, still less a tool to exert pressure. Economic issues should not be politicized or overblown. Efforts to address economic issues should not be disrupted.

From my recent conversations with Chinese and EU businesses, there is a widely shared desire to see an early delivery of the CAI, so that their rights and interests could be better protected. I hope and do believe that the European Parliament would make a sensible decision in the EU’s own interests.

Follow-up on market access in the media sector

The CAI was concluded in principle after 7-year negotiation and 35 rounds of talks. This agreement is high-standard and balanced. Both sides are highly satisfied with the contents of this agreement. Regarding the media and entertainment sectors, let me give you an example. Over the years I have watched many European films and movies which are of very high quality. But there is still a lot to be done to further promote these films in the Chinese market to let more Chinese audiences see these movies. It's not because the Chinese market is not open enough. I cite this example to show that we need to make the best of the CAI to promote cooperation and seek shared development instead of complaining to each other.

On Vaccine and EU’s Accusations against China

Last May, President Xi Jinping announced that the Chinese vaccine, when available,will be made a global public good. This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries.

We are seeing global shortage in vaccine supplies. Developed countries have made advance purchases of a bulk of doses, while many developing countries could not access a single dose.

Given that, China has made vaccine donations to 69 developing countries in urgent need, and exported vaccines to 43 countries. We have also decided to provide 10 million doses to COVAX. We are delivering on the commitment to making vaccines a public good.

China has indeed provided limited vaccines to others. Those vaccines first go to high-risk groups in developing countries, like health workers. This could help meet the urgent need of these countries by keeping their healthcare system functioning under stress. This is why we are reaching out. Things like this should be done. The earlier, the better. No one is truly safe until all are safe.

But China is not a magician, who can meet global vaccine demand all on its own. To make vaccines fairly accessible, we need global solidarity and cooperation. Developed countries are expected to give more and quicker help.

As for China using vaccines for propaganda purposes, I don’t know the rationale for this narrative. China is just doing what it is supposed to do. Some may have seen leaders go to the airport to welcome Chinese vaccines or take Chinese vaccines publicly. This is no more than showing a sense of responsibility or a natural expression of emotions. It is not necessary to read too much into it. Our position and action is all too clear. Vaccine is a useful tool to stop the virus, not a geopolitical instrument.

On 17+1 Cooperation

The 17+1 Summit was originally scheduled for last year, but that was postponed due to the pandemic. The Summit took place via video link four weeks ago. During the Summit, participants reaffirmed their confidence in the prospects of this framework and agreed on many points of further cooperation. This framework needs to be further substantiated in the years ahead and that calls for stepped-up dialogue and cooperation among all members of this mechanism. In this process, we hope to get the understanding and support of the EU side as well. China has reiterated many times that the 17+1 cooperation projects are up to the relevant standards. Our joint response to the COVID-19 is another example to show the relevance of the 17+1 mechanism.

During the pandemic, the aviation and shipping sectors were severely hit. Yet the China-Europe express trains made over 14,000 trips along the routes, a record high. So the rail services connecting China and European countries, including the central and eastern European countries, played an important role to support logistics.

Such cooperation is based on mutual benefit. It is of mutual benefit in normal times. During crisis times, such nature of mutual benefit is even more prominent. I think the 17+1 mechanism has a bright future.

On “Western Alliance” on China

There are indeed some people who take China as a challenge or rival. I wish to emphasize that Chinese people need peace, love peace and try their best to safeguard peace. China’s development is a growth of force for world peace, and brings opportunities rather than challenges to world prosperity. Thanks to decades of reform and opening-up, China has made tremendous progress, and has eliminated extreme poverty, something that had never been achieved over thousands of years. Yet we are well aware that China still lags behind developed countries in many aspects. There is still a lot to be done to deliver a better life to the 1.4 billion Chinese people. China does not have the time, energy or interest to be anyone’s rival, nor does China want to be seen as a rival by anyone.

COVID-19 is a reminder that mankind has a shared future and no one can thrive alone. In face of global challenges, the only right approach is solidarity and cooperation. The real rivals are the virus, climate change, terrorism, natural disasters, and so on. Bloc politics, ideology-driven rivalry or building small circles against certain countries would lead nowhere. People of my age experienced the Cold War and know what that meant for the world. We also know what a long way our world has come toward prosperity since the end of the Cold War. As President Xi put it, we need to keep pace with the changing times. One would be better off in the 21st century without the outdated mindset from the age of the Cold War and zero-sum game.

China-EU relationship has a value in its own right and should not be attached to any other major-country relations. The growth of China-EU relations does not target any third party. Hopefully, the EU, while developing relations with other countries, does not take China as a target.

EU-US relations should not affect, still less evolve at the expense of China-EU relations. The EU advocates strategic autonomy. Leaders of major European countries said that the EU should not build an anti-China front with the US, and called for more engagement with China. These are sensible voices. Hopefully, the EU will act in this spirit and continue to approach its relations with major countries in a broad context.

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