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Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin's Regular Press Conference on February 24, 2021

Kyodo News: I have two questions. First, Japan's supreme court ruled today that it was unconstitutional for the city government of Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, to provide a site in a city-managed park free of charge to a group for a Confucian temple, because it violated the principle of separation of politics and religion under the Constitution. Can you comment on this? Second, according to reports, at a press briefing, the US Pentagon press secretary asked China to avoid actions using coast guard vessels near Diaoyu Dao. I wonder if you could comment on that?

Wang Wenbin: On your first question, I'm not aware of what you said.

On your second question, Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands are China's inherent territory. The Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, born out of the Cold War, shall not be used to undermine the interests of any third party, let alone regional peace and stability.

Reuters: A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators are set to reintroduce a legislation they say will counter Chinese censorship within the United States and hold Beijing accountable for efforts to stifle criticism inside the US. They complained the Chinese government has sought to force U.S. companies including hotel chains, airlines and even Hollywood film producers to support pro-Beijing stances. What's the ministry's comment on this legislation?

Wang Wenbin: What you said about China's "censorship in the US" has no factual basis.

As we said repeatedly, the China-US trade relationship is in essence mutually beneficial. We hope those people in the US can heed the call from American business communities and people with vision all over the world, view China and China-US trade ties in an objective manner, work with China to strengthen dialogue, advance cooperation and properly manage difference on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and contribute to the sound development of China-US relations in trade and other areas.

Beijing Youth Daily: At the high-level segment of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, British Foreign Secretary Raab slashed China on issues related to Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. He said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet or another independent expert should be given "urgent and unfettered access" to Xinjiang and said that there should be a resolution at the Council to this effect. Can you comment on this?

Wang Wenbin: The UK has abused the platform of the UN Human Rights Council to spread disinformation, smear China and meddle in China's internal affairs. China firmly rejects such unacceptable accusations.

We welcome people from all over the world traveling to Xinjiang to see the region's prosperity and the residents' happy life. Invited by the Chinese side, more than 1,200 foreign diplomats, international organization officials, journalists and religious personnel from over 100 countries visited Xinjiang in the past years, and they agreed that what they saw and experienced in the region was entirely different from Western media reports.

At the high-level segment of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, State Councilor Wang Yi reiterated that the door to Xinjiang is always open. We welcome the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Xinjiang. China already extended invitation to the High Commissioner for visiting Xinjiang and other places in China, and both sides have been in communication on that. I'd like to stress the purpose of the visit is to enhance bilateral exchange and cooperation rather than carry out "investigations" with the presumption of guilt. We firmly oppose any political maneuvers to press China on this matter. The UK's proposed so-called "resolution" is apparently out of the ill intention to muddy the water, slander China and sabotage China's cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which we firmly oppose. Its petty tricks cannot fool the international community.

The UK is keen on lecturing and pressuring other countries, meddling in their internal affairs and practicing politicization and double standards on human rights issues. However, it turns a blind eye to the severe rights issues at home. One-third of British families with children aged under five live below the poverty line. Millions of children suffer from hunger. The British military committed murder of innocent civilians and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the perpetrators are still sheltered by the government and unpunished. In the UK there are a lot of such phenomena as racial discrimination, xenophobia, hate speeches, and severe rights abuses against refugees and immigrants. We urge the UK to take concrete measures to improve domestic human rights condition and contribute something tangible to the sound development of the international human rights cause.

Reuters: Just a quick follow-up on what you said in case I misunderstood. Did you say that the Chinese side is in discussion with the High Commissioner about a trip to Xinjiang and do you have any more details on that? Or is that a hypothetical invitation?

Wang Wenbin: China already extended invitation to the High Commissioner for visiting Xinjiang and other places in China, and both sides have been in communication on that.

CNR: Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, hailed China's ecological progress in a recent interview, noting China's stewardship in climate action and efforts to restore biodiversity including on the legal front. She also called on countries to take broad actions in order to build an inclusive and sustainable future. What's China's comment on this?

Wang Wenbin: We noticed the UN official's statement. China has rolled out 10-plus laws and regulations on biodiversity for better ecological conservation and stronger legal and policy basis of biodiversity. In China, 90 percent of terrestrial ecosystem types and 85 percent of key wild fauna species are effectively protected.

While strengthening ecological protection at home, China participates in international exchange and cooperation in an in-depth manner. We earnestly fulfill our obligations under environmental treaties, including on climate change and biodiversity, and have hit, ahead of schedule, the targets set for 2020 for tackling climate change and establishing nature reserves. China proposed the establishment of the BRI International Coalition for Green Development, and has had environmental exchange and cooperation with over 100 countries. Last year, President Xi Jinping announced China's goal to strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, and put forth four new measures to enhance nationally determined contribution targets, demonstrating China's resolve as a responsible major country to actively respond to climate change and foster a community with a shared future for mankind, which has been lauded by the international community.

Ecological conservation bears on the future of mankind, and a green planet is what humanity pursues. As the host of the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming this year, China will discuss with other parties global biodiversity protection, act on multilateralism, and contribute to the environment of our common home and the sustainable development of all mankind.

South China Morning Post: The President of Sri Lanka is currently reviewing the Hambantota Port agreement between China and Sri Lanka. The Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka also said in a recent interview that, according to the agreement, the Hambantota Port lease can be renewed for another 99 years after the 99-year lease expires. He described this as a mistake of the previous government. May I ask how China responds to this? Also, have the two sides been renegotiating terms of the port agreement?

Wang Wenbin: The Hambantota Port is a landmark project jointly undertaken by China and Sri Lanka under the Belt and Road Initiative. The concession agreement on the Hambantota Port is a mutually beneficial one reached through friendly consultations on an equal-footed and voluntary basis. This cooperative project, built on the strengths of the two sides, will make the Hambantota Port into a center for logistics, shipping and industrial activities in the Indian Ocean. The Port will become an important engine for Sri Lanka's future economic growth. With the joint efforts of China and Sri Lanka, the Hambantota Port project has been expanding its scale and operations, showing a good momentum for development despite the adverse effects of the pandemic. We believe that going forward, the project will play an even bigger role in growing local economy and improving people's livelihood in Sri Lanka.

AFP: The rights group Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday that Chinese authorities have "increased prosecutions with long prison sentences for Muslim minorities in Xinjiang." What is the foreign ministry's comment on this report?

Wang Wenbin: When it comes to China-related issues, the organization you mentioned is always biased and spreading false and denigrating statements on China. What they said cannot be trusted. I would like to share some facts about Xinjiang's development with you.

Xinjiang has maintained security, social stability and economic development, and people there live and work in peace and contentment. In the past four years or so, there has not been a single violent terrorist incident in Xinjiang. This is a positive achievement of Xinjiang's anti-terrorism and de-radicalization measures. We know that from 1990 to the end of 2016, the terrorist, separatist and extremist forces at home and abroad carried out thousands of violent and terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and other places, causing great suffering to the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang. Xinjiang's counter-terrorism and de-radicalization efforts, while ensuring security and stability for people in Xinjiang, have contributed to the development of Xinjiang's human rights cause.

The government of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region has held four press conferences at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I noticed people from Xinjiang's religious communities said at the press conferences that they had neither seen nor heard any Muslim locals in Xinjiang detained for their religious beliefs or legitimate activities. They believe that the religious freedom of Muslims in Xinjiang is fully protected in accordance with law. I believe that this is the real human rights situation in Xinjiang.

We hope that clear-eyed people from all walks of life will stay clear of the unfounded lies and rumors on Xinjiang-related issues. Let's say no to those malign accusations against Xinjiang.

Reuters: The Guardian on Monday released a report that cited internal documents from the World Health Organization dating back to August 2020. The documents reportedly said that Chinese officials did little in terms of epidemiological investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan for the first 8 months of the pandemic. The report also said that Chinese officials did not provide necessary data and documents to earlier WHO missions. Is the ministry aware of this report by the WHO and does it disagree with the allegation that China has not conducted an appropriate investigation in the first stage of the pandemic?

Wang Wenbin: Since the start of COVID-19, China has kept close communication and cooperation with the World Health Organization on global origin-tracing in an open and transparent spirit. From July 11 to August 2 last year, at China's invitation, WHO experts conducted preparatory consultations on COVID-19 origin-tracing cooperation in China, during which they together formulated the China part of a global scientific cooperation plan. Later, Chinese and foreign experts had multiple video conferences where Chinese experts shared China's findings in origin-tracing in a candid and science-based manner. The WHO and international experts highly recognized China's achievements in epidemic control and origin-tracing on multiple occasions.

Global Times: The Wall Street Journal published an article signed by Mike Pompeo and Miles Yu, which again hypes up the conspiracy theory of "leakage of virus from Wuhan Institute of Virology," and claims the world must hold China accountable. However, we find many rumors cited in that article, and some of them have already been proven false. What's your comment?

Wang Wenbin: Pompeo's claim of "Wuhan Institute of Virology's making or leakage of virus" has been publicly denied by almost all top-notch scientists and disease control experts worldwide. The WHO-led expert panel on origin-tracing said on multiple occasions that the virus was "highly unlikely" leaked from a lab.

Pompeo, with his credibility hitting rock bottom, already became a byword for lying. After leaving office, Pompeo and his like are still seeking to get selfish gains and hijack China-U.S. relations by taking an anti-China stance. Their attempts are doomed to fail.

Bloomberg: The US and Canada held bilateral meetings on Tuesday where President Biden said that the US would work together with Canada until the safe return of two detained Canadians. He said that Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are not bartering chips. Does the foreign ministry have any comment?

Wang Wenbin: China has repeatedly stated its position on the cases of these Canadian nationals. Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are suspected of engaging in criminal activities endangering China's national security and charges have been filed. China's judicial sovereignty allows no interference.

Reuters: The German interior ministry said on Tuesday that China has tried to intimidate Hong Kong residents living in Germany since pro-democracy protest began in the city. Has the Chinese side sought to pressure Hong Kong residents in Germany and what's the Chinese side's policy towards Hong Kong critics that are residing in other countries?

Wang Wenbin: This is totally unfounded. It is an intentional effort to create a so-called hype-up. Hong Kong affairs are purely China's internal affairs. We hope the German side can hold an objective and just position on Hong Kong-related issues, be discreet with its words and deeds, stop making irresponsible remarks and do not meddle in Hong Kong affairs and China's other domestic affairs.

Shenzhen TV: Iran said on February 23 it had started to restrict some site inspections by the IAEA. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Britain said in a joint statement that they "deeply regret" the move by Iran. Permanent Representative of Russia to the IAEA said that Moscow hopes Iran's suspension of the Additional Protocol of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will not last for a long period of time. Do you have any comment on this? We noted that there have been frequent interactions on the issue of U.S. return to the JCPOA in recent days. What has China done with respect to that?

Wang Wenbin: China attaches high importance to the Iranian nuclear issue, actively advances the political and diplomatic settlement process, and upholds the international non-proliferation regime as well as peace and stability in the Middle East. China has made great efforts and played a key role in order to bring the JCPOA back on track.

At a video conference of foreign ministers on the Iranian nuclear issue last December, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that all parties should steadfastly preserve the JCPOA, fairly and objectively resolve differences on compliance issues, properly settle regional security issues and promote the unconditional U.S. return to the deal at an early date. He also proposed to hold an international meeting with the participation of JCPOA participants and the United States to start the process of U.S. return to the Iranian nuclear deal. The EU made specific proposals for the meeting recently. China supports that and stays in close communication with other parties including the United States and Iran. The Chinese side hopes the proposed meeting will focus on a possible roadmap for the synchronized and reciprocal return to full compliance with the JCPOA by the United States and Iran and produce early harvests.

On February 10 and 22, 2021, Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu had phone conversations with U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley at the latter's invitation, and the two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on the Iranian nuclear issue. Vice Foreign Minister Ma stated China's position and concerns on the Iranian nuclear issue, stressing that the United States should return to the JCPOA and lift sanctions on Iran as soon as possible, which holds the key to breaking the current deadlock. It also needs to take concrete actions to address Iran's concerns and enhance mutual trust with Iran in order to pave the way for holding an informal meeting between JCPOA participants and the United States to discuss a possible roadmap for the synchronized and reciprocal return to full compliance with the JCPOA by the United States and Iran. Both sides said they will remain committed to political settlement and stand ready to step up dialogue with other parties to ensure the JCPOA will return to the right track at an early date. The two sides also agreed to stay in communication and coordination.

On February 22, Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu also had a phone conversation with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. Vice Foreign Minister Ma said the JCPOA participants should hold the meeting with the United States as soon as possible to consolidate the current good momentum. The two sides stressed that the United States should return to the JCPOA and lift sanctions on Iran as soon as possible, which holds the key to breaking the current deadlock. Relevant parties should seize the opportunity, promote the return of the Iranian nuclear deal to the right track and the political and diplomatic settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue to uphold peace and stability in the Middle East.

Besides, the principal official of the MFA's Department of Arms Control stays in close communication with all parties of the Iranian nuclear deal.

China will continue to preserve the JCPOA, work for the resumption of full and effective compliance at an early date so as to better safeguard peace and stability in the Middle East.

The Iranian nuclear situation is at a critical juncture with both opportunities and challenges. China always holds that U.S. return to the JCPOA and lifting of sanctions on Iran holds the key to breaking the deadlock. China appreciates the reaching of a temporary bilateral technical understanding on the safeguards issue between Iran and the IAEA and noticed that both sides have spoken highly of this result. China hopes that the relevant understanding could be faithfully implemented and urges other parties to play a constructive role in this process.

PTI: This is further to what you said about the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka. Can we presume that China is opposed to the review of the agreement to grant the 99-year lease to the Chinese company?

Wang Wenbin: As I just said, the relevant report runs counter to facts. The concession agreement relating to Hambantota Port is a mutually beneficial one signed by China and Sri Lanka in an equal-footed and voluntary spirit through friendly consultations. This cooperation project will help Sri Lanka to build a new engine driving future economic growth. We believe this project will play an active role in facilitating Sri Lanka's economic growth and improving people's lives.

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