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Ambassador Liu Xiaoming Gives Live Interview on Sky News' News Hour

On 14 May, Ambassador Liu Xiaoming gave a live interview via zoom online on Sky News' News Hour with Mark Austin regarding China's fight against the Covid-19 outbreak. The full transcript is as follows:

Austin: For months now, there have been growing calls around the world for China to come clean about just how the spread of the coronavirus began. China says and most scientists accept that it began in the city of Wuhan. But some, including the US president, say it may not have been spread naturally, but escaped from a laboratory. China has so far refused to invite scientists from the World Health Organization to join in its internal investigation into the source of the virus. There remain many questions, and today we have a rare opportunity to put some of them to China's ambassador to the UK. Liu Xiaoming joins us now from his Embassy in central London. Good evening to you, Mr Ambassador. Thank you for agreeing to answer questions.

Ambassador Liu: Good evening. Thank you for having me.

Austin: First of all, do you accept that China has a problem with trust? The world, simply at the moment, doesn't seem to trust China.

Ambassador Liu: I don't think so. I think we have a good record. China is the first country to report the virus, the first to identify the pathogen, and the first to share the genetic sequence with the WHO and many other countries at record time. When you said the world, I can't agree with you. I think only a few countries that challenge and make some accusations with no ground at all.

Austin: Let's look at why some of the world may not trust China. Let's go to the beginning and according to your own state news agency, Doctor Zhang Jixian reported her suspicions of the virus to the authorities on 27 December. She suspected human to human transmission because she treated a couple in Wuhan and then their son. But it was not until 22 January, nearly four weeks later that China through the WHO confirmed human to human transmission. Why was there such a delay?

Ambassador Liu: That’s not true. Doctor Zhang Jixian reported to the local health authority on 27 December. Then four days later, Chinese health authorities notified WHO office in Beijing. That was four days later. Then on 3 January, that was seven days later, the National Health Commission, the highest central government authorities for health, notified the WHO officially. Since this is a new virus -- it is unknown not only to the world but also to China -- we have to be responsible. We have adopted a cautious approach, tried our very best. So 11 days later, we identified the pathogen and shared the genetic sequence without delay at all. So I think it's unfair.

Austin: But the WHO timeline says clearly that it was on 22 January that they confirmed human to human transmission. And this doctor told Xinhua, your news agency, and I quote, it is unlikely that all three members of a family caught the same disease at the same time unless it is an infectious disease. On 27 December, she knew and the authorities in Wuhan knew, but it wasn't until the 22 December that the WHO confirmed it was human to human transmission.

Ambassador Liu: As I said, it will take some process. Even so, we have lost no time in informing the WHO, once we knew there was a risk of transmission from human to human. Doctor Zhong Nanshan is the most authoritative in this field. He said at the briefing on 20 January, earlier than your timeline, that there is a high risk of transmission from people to people. By that time, there were about less than 200 cases in China. It takes time. For any country, there’s a certain procedure in terms of determining the infectious disease. That is the responsible way to handle this case.

Austin: I understand that. Why was Doctor Li Wenliang arrested and silenced when he wrote on social media about his fears about the spread of the disease?

Ambassador Liu: First, Li was never arrested as some media reported. He was summoned to police station and got a reprimand. As I said, when you have some infectious disease, in any country including the UK, you have to be careful and responsible. You do not want to create panic. But as I said, three days before Li, Doctor Zhang reported to the health authorities. Then the local health authorities reported to the central government. Then the central government notified the WHO. That was four days later and one day after Li wrote on social media. So there was no cover-up. And the government took care and attached importance to this complaint and sent an investigation team down to Wuhan to find out what was really going on. Li was made as a martyr and a hero.

Austin: Let’s look at another reason why the world may not trust China. Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, says you failed to share information about the virus. Donald Trump says he has seen a report saying there is enormous evidence that Covid-19 began in the Wuhan laboratory, and he said they made a mistake and they tried to cover it up. So my question is, was it a mistake? And did you try to cover it up?

Ambassador Liu: As I said, there’s no cover-up at all. We shared information with the WHO and the world without delay. We notified the United States at the very beginning on 3 January. When we notified the WHO, we also notified the CDC of the United States. Since then, there’s communication and daily briefing between the Chinese CDC and American CDC. When you said the world, I don’t think what the United States says, either their national leaders or top diplomat, represents the world. That’s not true. As for Donald Trump, he had a comment on China. On 27 March, after his telephone conversation with President Xi, he said, “We learned quite a lot and China had a very tough experience. We have a good communication and they sent a lot of data. We are getting all that information.” Now, Donald Trump was really different from then and where you quoted him.

Mark Austin: Then let me look at another reason why the world may not trust China. You’re refusing to open up for a full investigation, an international investigation by scientists. If you have nothing to hide, and as you say, there’s no cover-up, why not allow an international investigation of the lab and the wet market or other places?

Ambassador Liu: I think this investigation should not be politically motivated. I think first of all, the top priority for the international community is to focus on fighting the virus. I happen to agree with your Secretary when he said a hundred percent of the focus would be on working together to fight against the virus. Secondly, we are open, we are transparent, and we have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. We welcome international independent review, but it has to be organized by the WHO. It should be international.

Mark Austin: Would you agree to the WHO organizing international scientists from across the world to come into China to investigate?

Ambassador Liu: Yes, of course, at a proper time. Not now. The purpose of this review is to compare notes, to summarize, to learn experience: how we can do better for future pandemic. That’s the purpose, not to accuse China.

Austin: With respect, 4.5 million people have been infected by this virus and nearly 300,000 people have died as a result of this virus which you can see probably came from Wuhan in your country. It is a global tragedy that has been caused here. Doesn’t it need a global investigation now as soon as possible with the world’s renowned scientists?

Ambassador Liu: I think scientists and experts are working. Even now, the scientists from China, from the US, from the UK are working to find the origin. When you say the outbreak happened in China, China is the first to report the cases. You can’t say the virus originated from China. It is still up to the scientists, not up to you, not up to me.

Austin: I am using the word “origin” as the first case was in China. It is not the first time. It happened with SARS. It happened with Covid. It cannot be allowed to happen again.

Ambassador Liu: Definitely. It cannot be allowed to happen again. But this is still unknown to many scientists, right? So you can’t blame China. China is a victim. China is not the culprit of this virus. It’s not a man-made virus but natural in origin. So we have to adopt the scientific approach. You can’t have this campaign of stigmizing, disinformation and smear against China, as some American politicians are doing.

Austin: Then allow scientists in and they would find out the truth. Most modern fair-minded, open and responsible countries would let international scientists in very quickly.

Ambassador Liu: We are working with scientists from the international community. There is no doubt about that. But you have to separate it from the political motivated so-called “independent investigation”. When you say the world, they are just a few countries, the United States. Australia. Can you give me ten countries who call for the so-called independent investigation? I think many countries call for global response, solidarity and constructive cooperation, not criticism. The theme of today is to focus on fighting this virus and saving lives instead of playing the game of blaming and scapegoating.

Austin: Why is China or Chinese backed groups trying to steal coronavirus research according to the intelligent agencies? They say you are hacking British and American scientists working on Covid programs. Why would you want to do that?

Ambassador Liu: Where did you get these charges? Do you have a proof?

Austin: The FBI said “the hackings have been observed attempting to obtain illicitly public health data”.

Ambassador Liu: This is not the first time that the United States made such a false accusation against China. This is only their attempt to undermine the international collaboration on working together to find the vaccine. Vaccine will be the final solution to the problem. Chinese scientists are working around the clock, first on their own, then engaging collaboration even with scientists from the US. China and the UK are also working very closely. Both our top leaders, President Xi and Prime Minister Johnson, give their support to the scientists to find the vaccine.

Austin: Ambassador, talking about the vaccine, if China discovers the vaccine before other countries, do you agree to distribute it equitably and fairly along the line of advice by the Vaccine Alliance?

Ambassador Liu: Yes, we certainly would like to share. We regard it as the joint efforts of the international scientists. We would share this to enhance the global response to the virus. That’s why we are engaging with other countries in collaboration on science.

Austin: That policy is that it goes first to those at the heart of the outbreak wherever it is in the world, and then it goes to health workers around the world. China will agree to that, will it?

Ambassador Liu: I think it’s still too early to say something in specific terms on this question, because we haven’t made the vaccine yet. So you are asking the question of vaccine use in much advance. But as I said, in principle we would like to share what we have achieved with other countries, either with the most needed countries or with the very front line workers, just as what we have done to provide medical supplies to about 150 countries. I think most of these medical supplies have been used on the front line medical workers, including here in the UK. We are donating the most needed supplies, and helping the UK government procure ventilators. I think they have all been put to good use.

Austin: OK. You talked about openness, and let’s just talk about that. Why have you expelled 13 American journalists out of China, many of whom were trying to investigate the origin of the virus? That’s point one. And why have two citizen journalists who put out videos at the very beginning of this epidemic, Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin, disappeared? Where are they?

Ambassador Liu: You should ask why the United States expelled 60 Chinese journalists? And you should ask why we have given more preferential treatment to American journalists? We are forced to take counter-measures. That’s nothing to do with COVID-19. As I said, China has been open and transparent.

Austin: Mr Ambassador, as far as I know, America doesn’t imprison journalists, but you imprisoned 48 in the last year -- more than any other country. How was that? How was that “openness”?

Ambassador Liu: No journalist has been put behind bars because of what he or she had been doing as a journalist. Some people have been put behind bars because they have violated the law. Nobody is above law, and everybody is treated equally in front of law. Nobody can use journalism as a cover to do anything that violates the law. The answer is simple.

Austin: OK. You are a country with more than a billion people, and yet you have fewer than 5,000 official deaths. To many that number seems unbelievable. Is it true?

Ambassador Liu: That’s because we have adopted the most strict, comprehensive and vigorous measures in containing the virus. We want to share this with other countries. Wuhan is a city five times larger than London in area, with a population of 11 million which is bigger than that of London and Northern Ireland. The city was locked down for 76 days. The local people made huge sacrifice. But the virus can transmit from people to people, so the lockdown has been a very effective measure. And we also have the effective measures that we call the “four earlies” -- early dignosis, early reporting, early quarantine, and early treatment. All these have turned out to be very effective. So you cannot blame China for “cover-up” just because we have a low number of death cases.

Austin: I’m not blaming you, Mr Ambassador, for anything. I’m just going to make a point finally. I’ve got to ask you, in the UK, we have over 30,000 deaths with an obviously much smaller population. Where do you think Britain went wrong?

Ambassador Liu: I do not want to be critical of the UK policy. What I want to say is that we would like to share our experience, and compare notes with our British colleagues. I just want to give you first-hand information: Tomorrow Secretary Matt Hancock, together with British scientists and experts, will have an on-line meeting with the Chinese health minister. It’ll be more than two hours’ discussion to compare notes and exchange experience. I think that is what we need now. We need to enhance collaboration. We have to know the virus is our common enemy. We need to pull together, and we should come to the aid of each other to win the final battle against the virus. As President Xi Jinping said, solidarity and cooperation are the most powerful weapons for the international community to combat Covid-19.

Austin: OK, Mr Ambassador, I appreciate your time. And I look forward to the international investigation whenever it happens. Thank you very much indeed for joining us this evening and answering our questions. Thank you.

Ambassador Liu: My pleasure.

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