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Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian's Regular Press Conference on May 18, 2020

CCTV: Health ministers from China, Japan and the ROK held a special video conference on coronavirus on May 15. Could you give us more details?

Zhao Lijian: Last Friday night, China, Japan and the ROK held a special health ministers' virtual meeting on coronavirus after which a joint statement was adopted. This is another important event of experience-sharing among the three countries after the special foreign ministers' video conference in March, the Special ASEAN Plus Three Summit on COVID-19 and the ASEAN Plus Three Health Ministers Meeting on COVID-19 in April.

China updated the other two countries on its latest epidemic control measures and experience and made three proposals on the future cooperation. First, to support WHO's leading role in epidemic response; second, to boost international cooperation on collective epidemic prevention and control; third, to jointly help countries with fragile health systems to improve preparedness. China calls on all countries to continue working together in the combat against the epidemics, jointly uphold regional and global health security and support the building of a community of health for all. The Japanese and ROK representatives gave briefings on the latest epidemic situation and response back at home, expressed readiness to continue supporting WHO's leading role in global epidemic response, and stated all parties should strengthen global solidarity and coordination in the fight against the virus.

As friendly neighbors, China, Japan and the ROK have a shared future in the face of the pandemic. Since the COVID-19 broke out, the three countries have been lending mutual support and assistance to each other. China stands ready to continue to work with Japan and the ROK to stay in close communication, share experience, coordinate epidemic control measures to jointly win the final victory against the pandemic and contribute to regional and global public health security.

The Australian: More than 100 of the WHO's almost 190 members now support an independent inquiry into the coronavirus. Those countries on every continent in the world include Russia, Japan, India, the EU, Brazil, Australia and almost every nation in Africa. Will China support the independent inquiry when it is introduced at tomorrow's WHA?

Zhao Lijian: What you said is not accurate. The European Union recently submitted a draft resolution on COVID-19 to the 73rd World Health Assembly on which all parties have reached consensus. On the tracing of the origin of the virus, all parties agreed to choose wording following the recommendations of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee and ask the WHO Director-General to closely cooperate with OIE, FAO and the member states to identify the animal source of the virus, its route for transmission to humans and possible intermediate hosts, aiming to reduce the risk of similar incidents in the future. This demonstrates a scientific and professional spirit. As to the evaluation of WHO response to COVID-19, the draft resolution requests the Director-General to, after consultations with member states, initiate at the appropriate moment a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation to review experience gained and lessons learnt from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19 and propose suggestions for the work in the future. This is a customary practice for the WHO after dealing with a pandemic. For the international community, the above-mentioned is the largest possible common ground on the relevant issue.

During the consultations on the resolution, the overwhelming majority of countries believed the pandemic has yet to pass and the cooperation on COVID-19 remains the most pressing task. It is immature to immediately initiate the review and trace the origin of the virus for the time being.

We hope all parties will uphold a science-based and cooperative spirit at this WHA and focus on having constructive discussions on enhancing international public health cooperation and improving international public health system.

Follow-up: You said all parties reached consensus on the text of the draft resolution. You said at this press conference earlier that Australia's support for the independent inquiry is politically motivated. Has China changed its position?

Zhao Lijian: Our position is consistent.

I would like to add a few points. The EU submitted a draft resolution on COVID-19 to this year's WHA, and the parties reached consensus on the content of the draft resolution after thorough discussion. China, together with other countries, has actively participated in the consultations on the draft and joined the consensus on the current text.

Against the backdrop of the global spread of the pandemic, the adoption of this resolution aims to support WHO in playing a leading role and focus efforts on current international cooperation in the fight against the virus. The text of the current draft resolution calls on member states to take necessary measures to prevent discrimination and stigmatization, combat misinformation and disinformation, strengthen cooperation in the development of diagnostic tools, treatment methods, drugs and vaccines, and discovering the animal sources of the virus, and review the WHO's response to the outbreak at the appropriate moment. All these are in line with China's position. After the resolution is adopted, you may read the text carefully. The adoption of any resolution is the result of the joint efforts of member states and the text should not be interpreted in an out-of-context and one-sided way.

The content of the text is totally different from the "independent review" you talked about.

Beijing Youth Daily: On May 14, the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relation (CICIR), the Carter Center of the United States and the South Africa Institute of International Affairs jointly held a virtual workshop to discuss trilateral COVID-19 cooperation between China, the United States and Africa. How does the Chinese Foreign Ministry comment on this?

Zhao Lijian: It is helpful for think tanks in China, the US and Africa to have such discussions. The virus is a common enemy to all mankind, regardless of borders or races. Solidarity and cooperation is the most powerful weapon for the international community to defeat the pandemic. The current situation in Africa is grim. Closer cooperation between China, the US and Africa can play an important role in African countries' fight against COVID-19. China holds a positive stance on that.

Associated Press of Pakistan: We noted President Xi wrote a reply letter to Pakistani students at the University of Science and Technology Beijing. Do you have more information to offer?

Zhao Lijian: Thank you for the question. On May 17, President Xi Jinping wrote a letter to all Pakistani students at the University of Science and Technology Beijing. There's a press release on the letter, and I'm pleased to talk about some more details.

In his letter, President Xi said he is happy to know that the Pakistani students have learned a wealth of knowledge and made a lot of Chinese friends. Since the start of the epidemic outbreak, the Chinese government and colleges have always cared about the safety and health of foreign students in China and have provided them with all-round help. Life matters most. The Chinese government and the Chinese people treat and care for Chinese and foreign nationals equally.

President Xi wrote that during the fight against COVID-19, many international students cheered for the Chinese people in various ways. True friendship reveals itself in time of trouble. China will continue providing assistance to all foreign students in our country. China welcomes outstanding young people from all over the world to study in China. He hopes that they will learn more about China, tell more people about what they see here, and actively interact with young Chinese people so as to promote people-to-people exchanges and contribute to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

South China Morning Post: According to some Israeli media reports, China will send some people to investigate into Ambassador Du Wei's death. Can you confirm that?

Zhao Lijian: Chinese Ambassador to Israel Du Wei passed away on May 17 in Tel Aviv. According to preliminary judgment, he died unexpectedly due to health reasons. The details await further confirmation. We express our deepest condolences over his passing and sincere sympathy to his family. The Foreign Ministry will make sure that follow-up matters are properly handled.

China Daily: According to reports, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed a political agreement with former Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah on May 17. The latter will lead the High Council of National Reconciliation with his team joining the cabinet, putting an end to the instability since the presidential election result came out. Do you have any comment?

Zhao Lijian: Bearing in mind the interests of the country and national interests, the Afghan leaders signed a political agreement after reaching consensus through consultation. This is a blessing for Afghanistan as a nation. As a neighbor and friend, China congratulates Afghanistan on it. We hope all parties in Afghanistan will take this as an opportunity to work together for an early launch of intra-Afghan talks and to advance the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process so as to achieve stability, peace, solidarity and development of the nation. China will continue playing a constructive role in this process.

The Paper: According to reports, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently said that Australia and China "draw very clear lines about things that are very important to" each other. He said, "We respect their lines, as we expect our lines to be respected, whether it's on our foreign investment rules, or our rules around technology, our rules regarding human rights and things of that nature. I don't think any Australian would want us to compromise on those important things. And those things are not to be traded. Ever." Do you have any comment?

Zhao Lijian: China always adheres to mutual respect and equal-footed treatment while developing friendly cooperation with other countries. China has never sought selfish gains at the expense of others. Rather, we champion seeking common ground while shelving differences and advocate win-win cooperation. We hope Australia will follow through upon its words of respecting our lines, truly act in its interests, create sound atmosphere for the practical cooperation between the two countries with concrete actions that are conducive to bilateral relations and mutual trust.

Reuters: Yesterday Australian trade minister Simon Birmingham said in a TV interview that he's requested discussions on the trade issues with his Chinese counterpart but those calls have not been accommodated. Can you confirm that? Is China interested in engaging formally with Australia over the recent trade issues?

Zhao Lijian: If the Australian trade minister hopes to talk to the Chinese side, he should contact us via diplomatic channels.

Regarding the recent trade issues, the Ministry of Commerce made a response last week, and I took related questions in the MFA press conference, too. I'd like to re-emphasize that this is a normal case of trade remedy investigation, and we are advancing the investigation according to law and WTO rules. Please consult the competent authorities for more specifics.

The Australian: I went out to Shandong over the last four days and spoke to business people there, who told me Chinese customers like Australian products. Chinese business people told me themselves they are worried about the Chinese government disrupting shipments of Australian products for political reasons. A businessman told me he was importing Chilean wine, not Australian wine, because he was worried about trouble with Chinese customs. What's your comment on that?

Zhao Lijian: As we said repeatedly, it is China's consistent and clear stance that a sound and stable China-Australia relationship serves the common interests of both. However, it takes joint efforts from both sides to maintain such a relationship. We hope the Australian side will work with China to earnestly uphold the principle of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and contribute to mutual trust, bilateral cooperation and the China-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership.

Reuters: US Secretary of State Pompeo said yesterday that he believed China has threatened to interfere with the work of US journalists in Hong Kong and he warned Beijing that any decision impinging on Hong Kong's autonomy could affect the US assessment of Hong Kong's status. What's the ministry's comment on this?

Zhao Lijian: For some time, the US side, out of its entrenched Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice, has been ratcheting up its oppression on the Chinese media, escalating from asking relevant Chinese media organizations in the US to register as "foreign agents" to enlisting Chinese media as "foreign missions", an expulsion of 60 Chinese journalists in anything but name. Now, its latest move is to limit visas for Chinese journalists to a maximum 90-day stay. These wrong moves severely disrupt the reporting activities of the Chinese media in the US and impede bilateral people-to-people and cultural exchange. We deplore and firmly oppose that.

We said many times that the US caused the current situation and is responsible for it. The US should immediately correct its mistakes and stop its political oppression on the Chinese media. If the US is bent on going down the wrong path and doubles down on its mistakes, China will take countermeasures with a firm resolve.

We said many times that Hong Kong affairs are indisputably China's internal matters. No foreign government, organization or individual has the right to interfere.

CNN: US Secretary of State Pompeo said in an interview yesterday that while the US government believes the virus came from Wuhan, now he is not exactly sure where it came from. That said, he still believes China is not open and transparent enough, and the US will still take countermeasures against the Chinese government's response. Could you comment on that?

Zhao Lijian: This US politician has been a lying blabbermouth. It's a waste of time to comment on his fabrications.

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