Since December 2019, China has been at the center of attention for a new and different reason, the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 and the ensuing pandemic. While China took control of the spread inside it’s territory, the infection has now spread to almost every country in the world and both infection and deaths rates have surpassed that of China’s in some other countries. Helsinki Times sat down with Ambassador Chen Li in this exclusive interview to discuss issues related to the pandemic and China’s side of the story in this still unfolding global crisis.
HT: What is the situation with the fight against Covid-19 in China?
In the past several months, China has put saving lives front and center, taken the most stringent, comprehensive and thorough measures and made extraordinary efforts and sacrifice to finally stem the spread of the virus. On April 26 , Wuhan city had no remaining cases in hospital. On May 2, Hubei province lowered its public health emergency response level. So far, there are less than 1,000 confirmed cases in China, and the spread at home is under control. Now we are working hard on prevention and control on a regular basis and are promoting work and school resumption to let the society return to normal as soon as possible.
During this period, apart from the experience on medical treatment, I think the most important experience we have is cooperation, solidarity and saving lives. In the most difficult time in Wuhan, over 40 thousand health workers nationwide were rallied and huge amount of supplies for medical and daily use were sent to Wuhan. Also, we will never forget the valuable support from the international community when China was hit the hardest. We know that even now we are far from winning the war against Covid-19, and of course we are not able to do that on our own. Only when the virus is brought under control in all countries, can we return to healthy and peaceful lives.
HT: Some doubted China did not response to Covid-19 timely at the very beginning and even covered it up. What happened during that time?
The virus is very cunning, which severely challenged the prevention and treatment work in China. But if we look back to the facts, we will find that the Chinese government’s response was timely and decisive and was in an open, transparent and responsible manner. Here I would like to briefly go through the time line: On December 27, 2019, Dr. Zhang Jixian, director of the Department of Respiratory and Critical Care at Hubei Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine, reported suspected cases. On January 3, 2020, China started to update the WHO and relevant countries, including the United States, about COVID-19 on a regular basis. On January 8, the pathogen was preliminarily identified. On January 12, China timely shared with the world the whole genome sequencing of the coronavirus, which has been critical for diagnosis, treatment and vaccine development in relevant countries. On January 23, China put Wuhan, a city of over 10 million people, under quarantine. At that time there were only nine confirmed cases outside China. In late January, a WHO delegation conducted a field visit to Wuhan. In mid February, the China-WHO joint expert mission which included two US experts conducted a nine-day field visit in China, and gave full recognition to China's response efforts. Facing such unknown and sly virus, China’s response is prompt enough. The information released by the Chinese government, especially the decision of the “lockdown” of Wuhan, conveyed a clear and strong message to the world that this is a severe issue. China’s measures and briefings sent strong enough warnings to and offered enough time for the international community. But unfortunately, some countries downplayed it and even claimed it was just a flu. After a month or so, the epidemic spread worldwide. I still remember the article in New York Times in mid March titled China Bought the West Time. The West Squandered It.
HT: During the pandemic, China has made adjustments to the numbers of confirmed and fatal cases, triggering the question on the reliability of China’s statistics. Has china been transparent and honest on it?
It’s a common international practice in many countries to revise statistics, including in Finland. Revising statistics should not be regarded as not being transparent. On the contrary, it showcases a manner of openness, transparency and being responsible. China is on the way to restore economic activities. Quite a number of media went to Wuhan for interviews after the lifting of quarantine. It’s impossible to cover up.
HT: US president Donald Trump has questioned the origin of the Covid-19. Several virologists and epidemiologists have confirmed that the virus which causes the Covid-19 disease does not have any signs of being man-made and all genetic mutations are consistent with animal to human transmission. So why does China object to an independent inquiry about the origins of the virus, which could put these blames to rest?
Let’s have politicians do politics and scientists do science. The source of the virus is a serious and complex matter of science that must be studied by scientists. We support professional exchanges between scientists, but now it is some politicians who cannot wait to label the virus with origin, and to politicize and weaponize this scientific matter. It’s a typical blame-shifting. Such argument based on the presumption of guilt is unacceptable to China. We should focus on the matter itself, respect science and refrain from resorting to conspiracy theories and stigmatization.
HT: Previously, there were several imported cases of unqualified personal protection materials and detection kits from China, which do harm to China’s reputation, What kinds of measures have been taken by Chinese government to prohibited such incidents?
As the virus hits more countries around the world, the demand for medical supplies is soaring. China is doing all it can to help those in need. Disputes do arise during the process of purchase. Some relate to quality. Many appear because of different standards applied in and outside China and differences in usage habits. In some cases, medical and non-medical products are confused.
The Chinese government attaches great importance to the quality of medical supplies, as it’s directly related to people’s health. We would never turn a blind eye to unqualified products. Recently, we have taken measures to further regulate the process of production, certification and customs clearance, to crack down on counterfeit and shoddy products, to strengthen the export quality control, to standardize the export order and to support the international community. In case of any problem during the purchase through commercial channels, both parties shall settle it properly according to the contract and follow commercial principles.
HT: Has the Finnish Government officially requested the Chinese Government to help providing detection kits, masks and other medical materials? Any response from the Chinese side?
China-Finland relationship develops quite well. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the two sides maintain close communication and exchange. The heads of state and foreign ministers have expressed support to each other’s fighting by having telephone call and sending letters and in other ways. The Finnish side expresses willingness of commercial procurement of medical materials from China through several channels. Enterprises and organizations of both sides are cooperating with each other in this regard. On April 14, President Xi Jinping said in a phone conversation with President Sauli Niinistö that China will share more experience with Finland on epidemic response and help it address the shortage of protective materials. President Niinistö thanked China for its support and assistance in the form of medical supplies. I would like to reiterate that China is willing to assist Finland as much as we can. Our Embassy has also done lots of work before and will continue trying our best to facilitate the communication and cooperation between the two sides.
HT: Any other countries that China have provided support for? What’s the motive of China’s help to EU countries?
So far, China has provided supplies to over 140 countries and international organizations, and shared experience with more than 150 countries. Besides the efforts made by the central government, local governments, enterprises and NGOs also donate or provide support and assistance to many countries and regions.
Speaking of the motive of China’s help to EU countries, firstly, I would like to express our gratitude again to EU and European countries for their help at the toughest moment in China’s fight against the disease. We fully believe in the sincerity of Europe and never doubt about their motive. Likewise, when Europe is in urgent need, we want to help. The only purpose is to show our support. This is simple and clear. Because we know from our own experience that in the midst of the pandemic, people around the world share the same future. Helping others is helping ourselves. We should uphold unity and coordination to forge a powerful synergy.
HT: What’s your comment on the confrontations between China and some Western countries, especially the U.S, during the pandemic? What’s the source of Western hostility facing China?
During this pandemic, the voice of supporting international cooperation remains the mainstream. China maintains close cooperation and offers mutual support and experience-sharing with European countries and the international community, which highlights the strength of solidarity. As I see, cooperation is still the main rhythm between China and the West. However, at the same time, we see some western politicians never stop blaming and stigmatizing China with colored glasses. They don’t want to see China’s growth. At the early stage of China's Covid-19 response when Wuhan went under lockdown, they say China has no human rights; When China works around the clock to produce medical supplies to other countries, they say China is playing “Mask Diplomacy”; When China strictly implements regulatory policies to ensure the quality of exports, they criticize China for obstructing the export. Now with the rapid spread of the virus in many parts of the world, they further intensify smear and stigmatization against China, and even ridiculously resort to holding China accountable for the spread of Covid-19 and demanding reparations from China. Their behaviour reminds me of another article by New York Times in mid April which discusses what if the West loses the fight. The thoughts of ideological confrontation stand vivid in this article.
Covid-19 was not caused by China. It is a natural disaster. China is not an accomplice to it but an ally to other countries. China has contributed to the global efforts and has been a partner of the world along the way. Those people should understand that virus is their enemy, not China. The most pressing task at the moment is to control the outbreak and to promote international cooperation, rather than shirking their own responsibility, muddying the water or even shifting to confrontational arguments over different social systems.
HT: What do you think of the post-pandemic world? Will China become stronger in the crisis?
Over 200,000 lives have been lost in the pandemic. Personnel exchanges and the world economy have been severely damaged. Not a single country is the beneficiary of the crisis.
The world is entering an era of unprecedented interdependence. Our interests are closely entwined and so are our futures. No economy can be completely decoupled from the global value chain. No country can be an island of self-isolation. This pandemic shows that the international community needs to be more united, and global governance needs to be further improved. Unilateralism, hegemony, zero-sum competition should not be the choice of the international community. Hopefully we all could learn good lessons from this crisis.
China has always been an important part, a major participant and builder of the global industrial and supply chains. We have all along stood firm by multilateralism and sustainable development, supported mutual respect, equality and mutually beneficial cooperation. In this regard, we share many consensus with Finland and other European countries. We will continue focusing on our own task, accelerate the restoration of economic and social order, and promote economic activities. In addition, we stand ready to deepen our cooperation with Europe and other countries across the world to keep up secure and smooth functioning of global industrial and supply chains, to help vulnerable countries, and to maintain stability of the world economy. China will continue to provide more public products and services for the international community, and contribute to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.