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Minister Ma Hui Gives Interview on "ITV News at Ten"

On 25 February 2020, Minister Ma Hui gave an interview to ITV health journalist Emily Morgan, on "ITV News at Ten" about COVID-19 epidemic. The full text is as follows:

Morgan: Minister Ma, it's an honour to have you with us here.

Minister Ma: My pleasure.

Morgan: Coronavirus has obviously got the world talking. It's not a pandemic yet, but it's an epidemic. Has China got it under control?

Minister Ma: Yes, I would say so. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the Chinese government has taken very strict, all-out and comprehensive measures to contain and control the virus and so far I think we have seen positive signs. If you look at this chart presented by the China-WHO joint mission recently in China, The epidemic has already peaked. Because nowadays the new confirmed cases all over China is less than 500, but at the highest it was a lot more than that. So we have seen some good signs, but we say we are not complacent. We won't call it a victory until we have a complete win. We will not slacken our efforts and will continue to fight against the virus and make sure that we give top priority to the safety and life of our people. We are doing this for the Chinese people, but also for the world, because our serious efforts have bought time for the world to prepare for any pandemic. So we are working not only for us, but for global public health.

Morgan: China has been widely praised for its handling of this and the strict controls that you've put in place. But do you regret the first few weeks of this outbreak emerging?

Minister Ma: The WHO Director-General gave a very objective appraisal of what China has been doing to prevent the spread of the epidemic to other parts of China outside Hubei province, and also to the other parts of the world. These efforts need to be respected. We did not ask for the praise. It's only a matter of fact. With hindsight, there are always things that you think we could have done better. But this is a new virus, people were not fully prepared. People didn't know how contagious it is or how many people might get infected. There are always lessons to be learned from an epidemic like this.

Morgan: What could you have done better?

Minister Ma: Of course now we are focusing on fighting the virus until we triumph over the virus. But in the meantime we are also looking at areas where we could improve. President Xi has already pointed out that the epidemic exposed some of the shortcomings in our own work, including how to fully prepare for a public health emergency.

Morgan: Do you think you could have acted sooner in those first few days and weeks?

Minister Ma: I think this is all easily said than done. With hindsight, people always say that you could have acted much faster, in much greater speed. But as the senior adviser to the WHO Director-General mentioned that this is a new virus, people were not prepared. As someone remarked there are some known knowns, known unkowns, and unkown unknowns. It is easy to say that we should have acted faster or better. There should be lessons to be learned. But generally speaking, China's efforts actually need respect. We have done that, as I said, also for global public health. We are in a community of shared future, so we are all together here. We should work together to overcome this difficulty.

Morgan: A few weeks ago, the Ambassador held a press conference at the Embassy when he warned the UK and other countries not to panic and not to make any knee-jerk decisions. Do you still feel that the UK is panicking?

Minister Ma: First of all, I think it's always very difficult to strike a right balance between precaution and avoiding panic. We are grateful for the support the UK government, the leaders, and also ordinary people give to the Chinese people. The Queen has expressed her support. The UK Prime Minister in a telephone conversation with the Chinese President also actually appreciated what China has done to prevent the further spread of the disease. The WHO advised countries not to overreact, no to panic over the epidemic.WHO actually advised against imposing trade and travel restrictions. Just this morning the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock mentioned that Italy has stopped flights between China and Italy, but it didn't help. Actually there is an outbreak of cases in Italy. We are sorry for that, but we want to work together to prevent and contain the epidemic.

Morgan: Do you think the travel restrictions are unnecessary that UK have imposed?

Minister Ma: The UK government has not imposed any travel restrictions on Chinese travelers to the UK. They have not imposed any ban on flights. I understand some flights were canceled because of commercial considerations. Obviously you can understand at this special time not many people travel. So some airlines have to cancel their flights for the time being. Of course, our Ambassador made it very clear that the UK government shouldn't view the whole China as one situation because most of the cases are concentrated in Hubei Province and the other parts of China are of relatively low risk. Actually, over the past few days, we have seen no added confirmed cases of the virus in more than 20 provinces in China.So if the UK government insists that every British national should evacuate or leave China, it might not be very appropriate. Your government promised to assess the situation in the light of the latest developments. So I hope they will come to a right decision on travel restrictions.

Morgan: Despite that, the coronavirus has caused global deaths, there are hundreds of thousands of cases. Is China embarrassed by this?

Minister Ma: I am sorry for the loss of life. Every life lost is a very sad story, and obviously I am very sorry that some of my own country fellows lost their lives and also lives were lost outside China. Look, this epidemic is a global thing. We need to work together to overcome this. The Chinese government put the safety and lives of the Chinese people on top priority and we have been working very hard to save the life of those who are infected. But you should also understand that we are doing this not only for the Chinese people, but also for the people of the world. Locking down a whole city, 11 million people in Wuhan, is a very brave and very phenomenal measure in order to prevent the spread of the virus, not only from Wuhan to other parts of China, but also to people outside China. So leaders of WHO made it very clear that if it had not been for the efforts of the Chinese government, maybe tens of thousands more cases would have already been there, and maybe more lives would have been lost. So we think that the outside world should see the contribution of the Chinese government and the sacrifice of the Chinese people towards the containment and prevention of the virus.

Morgan: We can move to trade relations between the UK and China. Given that the UK is about to leave the European Union, I just want to ask you whether the UK can count on China for a full and comprehensive trade deal.

Minister Ma: China is always positive about doing more in terms of economic and trade cooperation with the UK. Actually, last year, according to statistics from the Chinese side, bilateral trade increased by more than 7%, so bilateral trade is more than 86 billion US dollars. That is a good indication of economic and trade cooperation between our two countries. For the past 3 years, the UK was preoccupied with Brexit. Now, you have finished the first phase of Brexit and China is very open to the idea of a free trade agreement. Actually, the two countries have been doing the so-called appraisal or review of economic and trade relations between our two countries to lay the foundation for future negotiation of a free trade agreement. So we are very open to that. We hope to see more trade between China and the UK.

Morgan: That's what I was gonna ask you - how open you are. Only 3.5% of UK exports go to China. Are you open to increase that?

Minister Ma: Yes. We are ambitious for that. I know that the UK government's first priority is to negotiate a good free trade deal with the EU, because EU accounts for about 50% of your trade and then the United States. But in the meantime, the UK government is ambitious. You are pursuing a "global Britain" strategy. So China is also an important part of that equation.

Morgan: So you are open to a bilateral deal?

Minister Ma: Yes. We are open to a bilateral deal. We have opened up our market to outside investors and exporters. The Chinese President said we will be even more open. For the past few years, actually, we have introduced many new measures to liberalize foreign investment and trade, including hosting the China International Import Expo in Shanghai. I am glad that many British businesses participated in the Expo, and they actually concluded some good agreements to do more trade with China. UK beef will be on the table of Chinese families since we have lifted the ban on UK beef exports to China. I met some MPs, who told me that their constituencies are exporting cheese and other farm products to China. These are all good news. We are very open to more trade with the UK which is good for both China and the UK.

Morgan: If that is so, I wonder whether the UK even features in your thinking around the Belt and Road strategy?

Minister Ma: Yes. Both sides mentioned that the UK and China are natural partners in the BRI. The UK government has appointed a special envoy, Sir Douglas Flint and an expert board, to discuss how China and the UK can work together. And the UK government has been supportive. The businesses in the UK are especially positive about the opportunities of cooperation between China and the UK, because you are very strong in terms of financial and professional services. So you have a role to play there.

Morgan: Is the UK on the Road? Is it one of the 70 countries you will work with?

Minister Ma: Well, we don't have a particular number of countries. But actually last year, China signed about 200 agreements with more than 130 countries and dozens of international organizations. So many countries are on board. This is an all inclusive initiative. Any country is welcome to join in. Obviously, UK is a very important part of that exercise. As I mentioned, China and the UK also signed many agreements, on the guidelines of the financing of the BRI projects, on working on green finance, on jointly developing the third-country markets. So there is a lot that China and UK can do together. Actually during the recent telephone conversation with President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reaffirmed the UK's commitment to participating in the BRI projects, so that our joint work could deliver more benefits to our two peoples and also the world. The aims of BRI are really in line with the aims of the sustainable development goals. It's a good thing for the UK, China and the world. There is a huge scope for us to work together.

Morgan: I wonder if I might ask one final question on trade of wildlife. The NPC Standing Committee banned the trade of wildlife in China. Obviously, that's welcome news for the conservationists. But I wondered whether that was prompted by the coronavirus, or whether it is a recognition from China that it needs to end the exploitation of wildlife.

Minister Ma: Yes, that's very good, very positive news. Actually I'm excited and I like it, because obviously we are still in the process of finding out the host or the intermediate host of the virus. Preliminary findings point to bats or pangolins. So there is a need to further protect wildlife for public health reasons. And there is a call from both the leaders and the people to have a correct handling of wildlife and, wildlife trade, and to give up the bad habits of eating wildlife. Hence against that background, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, passed a decision, though not a law yet, to ban wildlife trade. There are some details that need to be discussed. Because in China there is already a wildlife protection law, but the law doesn't cover every wildlife, but only the wildlife that should be protected for one reason or the other.

Morgan: But what you are saying isn't just about coronavirus. It's actually a recognition throughout China that the exploitation of wildlife does need to end?

Minister Ma: Yes. Chinese ideas of public health and protecting environment are also becoming increasingly popular. Towards the end of this year, China will be hosting CBD COP15 in Yunnan Province and the UK will be hosting climate change COP26. So both China and the UK are hosting major international conferences on environmental issues, climate change and biodiversity. It offers a very good opportunity for us to work together. You may already know that China actually banned ivory trade in 2018. That was very much welcomed by the British public and leaders. When the Chinese Embassy held an event in the British Parliament, Mr. Boris Johnson, who was foreign secretary at that time, came to the event. So it (banning widllife trade) will be another welcome move for us to protect the nature and the environment, to strike a balance between human and wildlife. There is a wide scope for us to work together. Thank you.

Morgan: Thank you, Minister.

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