On 26 March 2020, H.E. Ambassador Liu Xiaoming gave an exclusive interview to CGTN’s Nawied Jabarkyhl on the spread and global response to Covid-19, which was broadcast on CGTN's Global Business. The transcript is as follows:
Nawied Jabarkyhl: Ambassador Liu, thank you very much for joining us. Strange times we’re sitting a few metres apart from each other because of the coronavirus. Let’s start by talking about the UK’s response. It’s ramped up its efforts in recent weeks. We’re seeing a lockdown here as well as unprecedented economic measures from the government. What do you think of the British government’s response so far?
Ambassador: We follow the situation here very closely. Just three days ago, President Xi Jinping had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Johnson. This is their second telephone conversation in one month. It is very rare.
During their conversation, President Xi expressed our sympathy and support for British people in their fight against the virus. We notice that the pandemic is developing very fast in Europe. And the situation in UK is also bad. We would like to not only show our sympathy and support. We also stand ready to provide assistance, including medical supplies. When the situation in Hubei and Wuhan was very critical, the British side provided two shipments of medical supplies to us. We are very grateful for that. Now it’s our turn to provide most needed medical supplies to the UK.
And also we care very much about the Chinese nationals living in the UK. President Xi said, we attach great importance to the health and safety of Chinese nationals, especially Chinese students in the UK. We have around 220,000 Chinese students studying here, the largest number in Europe and the second in the world. The parents and relatives in China are also very much concerned about the students. I have received a lot of calls from them. I have had two online discussions with the Chinese students in the past three days.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: The UK is preparing for a huge rise in cases in the coming weeks. Given China’s experience -- the two countries' leaders have spoken earlier this week -- has there been an official request for help from China from the British authorities? And will you help if there is one?
Ambassador: Yes, we have multi-fold collaboration between China and UK in this battle against this virus. As I said, our leaders have kept a very intensive, close consultation and communication at the very top level. Also our experts and doctors share experiences. In their telephone conversation, Prime Minister Johnson also spoke highly of China’s effectiveness and speed in controlling this virus, and also said that China’s experience is very valuable, and the UK wants to draw lessons and experience from China.
So we’re ready to share our experience with the UK and also our two countries are working very closely around the clock on drugs and vaccine. British universities like Oxford, Imperial College, Cambridge, are working very closely with their counterparts in China. Chinese companies and British companies are also working very closely. I have met with the global affairs president of GSK. He told me they are working with Clover, a pharmaceutical company in China, on vaccine.
And also internationally, we work very closely. Both China and the UK are countries with global influence. We are permanent members of UN Security Council and important members of G20. The G20 summit is coming today. President Xi is going to attend this online summit. We coordinated with the UK and I think it’s a good opportunity for China and the UK to strengthen our cooperation not only bilaterally but also multilaterally. I think this is really showing the strategic partnership between China and the UK.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: Medical supply is one area that UK is currently short of. Have there been any requests to China to help with things like ventilators or medicine?
Ambassador Liu: Yes, medicine, face masks, ventilators, protection gears and goggles. You know we are ready to supply these medical equipments to UK.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: Do you have a sense of how much or how big the request was?
Ambassador Liu: I do not have the specific number and figure. We are planning to send one or two medical teams to UK. I think they will bring the supplies. They are also ready to have seminars with British counterparts to share their experience and share the information of genetic sequence of the virus, the successful cases of treatment. Chinese experts and doctors are ready to work with their counterparts in the UK.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: That will be sometime in the coming weeks?
Ambassador Liu: I hope it will be very soon.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: Great! Let’s talk about China. Please give us an update of the latest situation in China. In a few days we’ve seen, while there are no new domestic cases, but still some coming into the country. Is it the battle that China has overcome? Or is it too soon to say that?
Ambassador Liu: I think it’s too soon to say that. We have made very important, significant, progress in this battle. But we still have to keep vigilant. We can’t say the battle is over or has been won, because there are still some sporadic, especially imported cases from overseas. So these really pose a challenge. So we are still fighting two battles, one is against the virus, two is to resume normal life of Chinese people, including resuming production and people’s confidence. So I think it’s too early to say we have won the battle. As President Xi has said on many occasions, we are building a community with shared future for mankind. This epidemic really shows us once again that we belong to this community of shared future. The pandemic is worldwide. Now it’s in nearly 200 countries and regions. China cannot become a safe haven. So, on the one hand, we’ll have to still keep vigilant against the imported cases. On the other hand, we have to work with international community, including here in UK.
We are not only helping UK to fight the virus, but also hope UK can strengthen cooperation with us to control the virus from spreading. We do hope UK will strengthen border control. In normal times there are about 168 flights between the two countries in a week. Now in a week there are still 23 flights going back and forth between our two countries. While in UK the virus is spreading, we have the reason to be concerned about imported cases. I read a report that in the past few days, some of the imported cases were from UK to China. So we need to collaborate. We can’t say that the battle is over so we can go back and sleep, though there is some relaxation of control in some of the cities, transportation and communication are resumed, even in Hubei, not in Wuhan yet.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: Have you been surprised by how quickly China has managed to get things under control?
Ambassador Liu: Not at all. As President Xi said on many occasions, the Chinese government gives top priority to the health and safety of the Chinese people. So when this started, the government adopted the most strict, most comprehensive and most swift response to control this virus. This really shows the high sense of responsibility of the Chinese government. I think the reason why we can have the capability to control this disease in such short time is that we have the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China with President Xi Jingping at its core, and we have the advantage of the socialist system by which we can mobilise the whole country to fight against the virus.
And what is more important, we have the Chinese people united. It’s in the DNA of the Chinese people to help others who are in difficulties. As a Chinese saying goes, “When people in one place have difficulties, help comes from eight other places”. In Chinese culture, “eight” means all directions. So the help and assistance come from every direction. During this outbreak, about 40,000 medical workers went to Wuhan and Hubei to help. That’s the secret of the Chinese success in controlling this virus. And many of the medical staff made sacrifices. We call them heroes of our time. And people in Hubei and Wuhan also made big sacrifices. Many of them are carrying out volunteer work to help the elderly and the most vulnerable people. So when we talk about the whole country, it’s not only about the military and the medical staff, but also about the ordinary people. So that’s the most important thing.
I think when we talk about China’s experience, if we want to share it with the British people, is that as I am quite sympathetic with Prime Minister Johnson when he made the television speech, he said the whole country should be mobilised. People should listen to the government, follow its advice and take their own social responsibilities. That’s very important. The Chinese people show a high sense of social responsibility. I wouldn’t say that the British people lack such sense, but they like living freer and more relaxed. They do not like to listen to the government or be controlled by anyone, to say the least by the government. But now you are at a critical moment of your country, so you have to think about no only your freedom, but also the well being of others. So that might be one piece of experience we can share with other countries.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: Last time when I was here you spoke about the reports of racism, xenophobia and attacks against the Chinese community in the UK. How was that proceeding? Are you still receiving reports of xenophobia? How are you combating this? Do you think the UK authorities have taken this issue seriously enough?
Ambassador Liu: Yes. I think generally speaking, the British people are showing sympathy and support for the Chinese people in this battle against the virus. Even the British media are more balanced in reporting relevant developments in China. But there are some individual cases. We have received reports from time to time. Just a few days ago, we received reports from the University of Southampton that some Chinese students were attacked. When we received such reports, we took them very seriously. We brought them up with the British authorities including the police and asked them to take actions to stop this. We are working with the universities, and ask them to give protection to Chinese students and take seriously these complaints about racism. We also ask the Chinese students to seek help from Chinese students volunteer societies. We hope that they can take care of themselves and keep in close touch with the Chinese Embassy.
The British side takes it very seriously. They told us there is no place for such behaviour in the UK, which cannot be tolerated. They are looking into and investigating such incidents. According to reports we have received from the British authorities, some of the suspects have been arrested. I do hope these things would be stopped and certainly should be condemned.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: Just a pickup on that, some Chinese students and expats in the UK are looking to go home now, partly because of the virus fears -- it must be an unsettling time to be away for home -- and also because of the alleged xenophobia and racism. What’s your advice to those people to be clear? Should they stay here or go home?
Ambassador Liu: That’s exactly the subject I discussed with the Chinese students during the past few days. We quite understand that some of them are very concerned. They are concerned about the epidemic here -- at the very beginning, there was lack of resolute response on the part of the government. They are concerned about lack of medical treatment and resources and that they might not be treated in a timely manner. They are concerned about xenophobia and so on. But as I told them, now the British government gears up to fight against this virus, and we do hope that the situation will improve.
My advice to them is: First, you should follow the WHO advice to avoid international travel, so as to avoid cross infection; Second, if you go back to China, you are faced with quarantine regulations -- 14 days and a lot of restrictions on movement; What’s more, you have to think long term about your study. If you are about to graduate, we could understand that you are ready to leave. But if you are just at the beginning or halfway of your study, you really have to think about how to finish your study here. You have to discuss these arrangements with the school authorities. You have to be careful about your visa status. This is very complicated.
The situation varies, and my general advice to them is: First, to stay where you are and follow the government guidance, to protect yourself; Second, if you have some symptoms, get in touch with local doctors, and also let us know. The Embassy will try our best to communicate with the school and the local authorities to take good care of them. And I also talked about what to do about xenophobia?
I think that most students have so far, through my discussion with them, been willing to stay. Some of the parents also ask their children to stay. Once they decide to stay, we will try our best to help them. The Embassy has been mobilised to send out advice to Chinese nationals, especially students. Since the outbreak, we have more than twenty pieces of advice about how to take care of themselves, how to follow the British government’s regulations, how to protect themselves and once they are in difficulties or emergent situation, how to get in touch with us.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: And I want to talk about diplomacy. US President Donald Trump and senior officials in his administration have referred to COVID-19 as “Chinese virus”. What would you say to that?
Ambassador Liu: We totally oppose to stigmatizing China and linking the virus to specific places. This is against the WHO position. We oppose to politicizing the epidemic, when the world now needs solidarity, supporting each other and pooling efforts in fighting the virus rather than undermining the solidarity.
This kind of rhetoric has ulterior political motives. It is trying to ignore the sacrifices China has made not only to protect the Chinese people’s health and safety but also contribute to global public health and security. It also serves American interests no good. We know that the situation in America is not optimistic. It is worsening with each passing day. The American government should focus on how to control the virus and provide medical treatment to its own people rather than blaming others, trying to find scapegoat and undermining cooperation with other countries. It will hurt their own interests.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: You said it is important not to politicize the issue. But Zhao Lijian, the foreign ministry spokesman in China twittered a video suggesting that the coronavirus may have been brought in by the US military. Is it frustrating when you see your colleague doing things like that? Is there any evidence of that? Is that really what Beijing believes?
Ambassador Liu: I think the origin of the virus is really an issue of science. I would leave it to scientists and doctors to study and research on where it comes from. It is very complicated. But I don’t think it serves the purpose to jump into conclusion before the scientists make their voice heard. We read some reports that some cases were found last November in Italy, one month earlier than in Wuhan last December. And also, some people who do not have any international travel experience nor any exposure to foreigners are tested positive. I think there are a lot of unknowns even to the scientists. Instead of labeling someone as the origin, the scientists and international community should work together in a reasonable and scientific way to trace the origin. That is what the international community should focus on, rather than blame each other.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: The reality is that there is growing animosity between Beijing and Washington over the coronavirus. Are you worried that this issue is going to damage US-China relations at a time when things were looking a lot more positive with that phase one trade deal?
Ambassador Liu: We certainly have no interest, no intention, to have this controversy with the United States. First of all, we want to focus on our own battle at home to keep it under control. Number two, we want to share our experience with other countries. We want to contribute to the global security. We have no interest in having this competition with the United States. But on the other hand, in China we often say, we will not attack others but if we are attacked, we certainly will make a counter-attack, because we don’t like lies, rumors or stigmatization. We need to speak out.
But still, we have no interest in competing with the US. As a matter of fact, we would like to cooperate with the US to fight the virus jointly.
When we have these international seminars, online discussions, sharing of experiences, we also invite Americans experts. Chinese scientists are also working with the American scientists on vaccine and drug. I read some reports that professors from Harvard University and other universities are working with their partners in China. So I really believe that this pandemic shows that countries can work together, because we belong to this community with shared future for mankind.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: One area where countries work together is around vaccine development. Can you just tell us the latest with regards to how China's progressing with vaccine development and how you're working with international partners and the WHO in that regard?
Ambassador Liu: We work very closely with the WHO on vaccine and drugs. They appreciate the contribution made by China. I just read the report lately. I can't recall exact the name of the association. They have produced a report about six projects making progress. One of them is a project by Imperial College and Chinese universities. So we are making progress. And also I think I read the statement by Director General Tedros on the progress. He spoke highly of the progress China has made. We started the trials of vaccine 60 days after we found the genetic sequence of the virus. It's very speedy progress. We already have some volunteers in China who want to have it tried on them. So we are making progress. I believe it's not only good news for China. It is also good news for the international community.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: So human trials could be close in Chinese.
Ambassador Liu: Yes, exactly.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: Do you have a sense of how close we are to human trials? Months? Are we talking weeks?
Ambassador Liu: Now I think some volunteers have already offered to have the experiments on their bodies.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: Great. And just lastly to finish off. If we look back at this episode of history in about 25 years’ times or 30 years’ time, what do you think people will be thinking when they sum up this current coronavirus?
Ambassador Liu: If people think back in 20 years’ time, I think they would conclude that we are in this very closely connected village, what we call the global village. And the world is so small that instead of fighting each other, we should work together to build a better future. Only when we work together, the future will be brighter, will be better. If we accuse each other, we undermine each other, we pull in different direction, it will be a disaster for the world.
I think we'll come back to the concept proposed by President Xi that we are committed to building a community with a shared future for mankind. I do hope, as a matter of fact, more and more countries endorse this idea and I do hope that they all have these consensus and work hard and work together to build a better future for mankind.
Nawied Jabarkyhl: An optimistic note to finish on. Ambassador Liu, thank you very much for your time.
Ambassador Liu: My pleasure.