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Ambassador Liu Xiaoming Answers Questions at Chatham House

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Ambassador Liu Xiaoming Answers Questions at Chatham House

On 2 March, Ambassador Liu Xiaoming delivered a keynote speech entitled Pull in the Same Direction and Build a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind at the Chatham House, after which he answered questions from the audience. The event was hosted by Lord O'Neil, Chairman of the Chatham House, and the creator of the acronym "BRICs". There were around 200 participants at the event, including British officials from the Cabinet Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defense, Department of International Trade, Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, Department of International Development, as well as diplomats from Kazakhstan, Latvia, Pakistan, the United States, Canada, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, India, Brazil, Belgium, South Korea, Switzerland, Ukraine, Chile and Israel. There are also audience from the business, academic and media circles, as well as members of the Chatham House. The Chatham House live streamed the event to its global members. Here are the main excerpts from the questions and answers session.

Lord O'Neil: Thank you very much, Ambassador. Let me start with a few questions and then I'll come to the audience. The central theme that you've kept bringing up and finished with is a community with a shared future. Let me start with Covid-19. Do you feel that so far this outbreak is taking the world to where we're pulling away from each other, or in a strange way that despite the dreadful nature of it, this might be something that brings us all back together?

Ambassador Liu: I think in my remarks you can see that I believe this virus brings the world together. The virus knows no borders and knows no races: Whether you are Chinese, British or American, this virus constitutes a common threat and a common challenge. So we need to work together to fight against this. We always believe that China is not fighting this virus alone. China engages with other countries. Not only have we made every effort to contain it in China, but also engaged very actively with the international community. We appreciate the support from other countries, including the UK, the United States, and other European countries. The UK Government sent two shipments of medical supplies which are urgently needed. We also helped the UK government to evacuate its nationals. We have also taken very good care of foreigners living in Wuhan, Hubei. We are working actively with the WHO. They sent an expert team to China and produced a very convincing report, not only about the measures taken by China but also how the world can work together to contain this disease. China adopts a very open, transparent approach. We share information, including genetic sequence, researches on the origins of the disease and successful cases. Right now there are about 40,000 people cured and discharged from hospitals. Now the cure rate is 56% out of about 80,000 confirmed cases. So I think this virus outbreak really convinces us, once again, that the human society is one community. We have a shared future and we should work together for a better future of the mankind.

Lord O'Neil: Well, I will be asking slightly risky questions.

Ambassador Liu: Never mind risky questions.

Lord O'Neil: When you read and hear people outside China, some are saying that we can't trust any of the numbers or any of the data. Is that really annoying for you?

Ambassador Liu: I think the majority of people, including the foreign governments, the WHO, they believe and they trust the figures. We have convincing figures showing that we are making progress. We encourage communications and more transparency. We invite foreign experts to China. If you don't trust us, do trust WHO experts. If you don't trust WHO experts, whom do you trust? You trust yourself? You trust Western media? You trust rumors or scaremongers' statement? We need to build trust, then we can have confidence and optimism, which is very important for winning this battle.

Lord O'Neil: I love how you brought up the example of Andrew Marr and the word 'crisis'. I have never realized that one of the few things I learned in nearly 40 years of finance is never let a crisis go to waste. And my question to you in that regard is that what is the big opportunity for China from this crisis?

Ambassador Liu: Many. I think it's a big opportunity to show that China is a responsible global player. I quote WHO Director General's words that China is not only protecting its own people, but also protecting the people of the world. We made a huge sacrifice. We have bought time for the rest of the world. Secretary Matt Hancock praised China in his interview. So did the Prime Minister. They all praised China for the speed of the response, for the resolution and determination by the Chinese government. It also shows the strength of China's system. I'm not trying to export China's model, because I believe each civilization has its strengths or uniqueness and we should learn from each other. Yet this really shows that China's system can deliver. We built two hospitals in 10 days. I just read a report showing that currently we have more beds than patients. People were concerned that there is not enough capacity to hospitalize the patients. Now it is 'beds waiting for patients', not 'patients waiting for beds'. Not quite a lot of people are aware of this. Some people say it may take years for some countries to build two hospitals.

Lord O'Neil: (Laugh) I wonder where.

Ambassador Liu: I wouldn't name countries. When I was at a symposium the other day, I said, I've been here for 10 years and have been hearing people debating whether to build the third runway of Heathrow Airport. Yet in the past five years, China built the largest terminal in the world----the new Beijing Daxing International Airport, with 4 runways.

Lord O'Neil: The China-US relationship. Do you feel that as China develops, the challenge between China and the US is inevitable? Or you just think how on earth did this happen. Which way are you on that one?

Ambassador Liu: As I said in my remarks, we just want to make a best version of ourselves. We are still the largest developing country in the world. There are enormous challenges facing the Chinese leadership, such as how to make China a better country, how to make Chinese people feel happier, live longer and enjoy a better life. About 15 years ago, I was seconded to Gansu Province as Assistant Governor. It's in western China and was very dry. It was one of the poorest provinces. You can say it was very underdeveloped, especially in the mountainous areas. At that time, there was only 18 kilometres of highway. People didn't even have drinkable water so they had to build cellars to capture rain water and then purify it for drinking. Children did not have access to quality education. That is just one province and there are many similar provinces in the western part of China. That's why the Central Government invests a great deal there and 15 years have made a lot of changes. It's making tremendous progress but still way behind the coastal areas. Nowadays when people talk about China, many of them only think of metropolitans such as Shanghai and Beijing. But these are not the representatives of the whole China. They represent the more developed parts of China, but we also have a large area of developing China. I think the enormous challenge for the Chinese government is how to build China into a moderately prosperous society.

We have been reforming and opening up for the past 40 years. That has changed the landscape of China. One of the secrets for our success is we open to the world and engage with the rest of world, including improving relation with the United States. I've been posted twice in Washington DC. In those days I always said there's no peace, stability and prosperity of the world without steady relationship between China and United States. We have no intention at all to either challenge the United States or even replace it. Even if China surpassed the United States in terms of total GDP someday, China's GDP per capita is way behind. Last year, China's GDP per capita is just over 10,000 US dollars. That is just one sixth of the US, and one fourth of the UK.

Lord O'Neil: Let me ask you one more, before we open the floor for questions, on the golden relationship between China and UK. How golden is it these days? Would it have been very 'ungolden' if the decision on Huawei would have gone differently?

Ambassador Liu: China enjoys a very good and robust relationship with the UK. It is across the board and we call it a comprehensive strategic relationship. As I said, we are both permanent members of the UN Security Council, carrying big responsibility for global affairs, including the one we both cared: antibiotic resistance. On the UK's decision on Huawei, although we are not fully satisfied -- the 35% cap does not show your principle of free economy and free competition -- but I think it's a good decision. Huawei is just a part of the overall relationship. It is not all. China and the UK can work together and can take the lead. I talked about COP 15 and COP 26 offering us opportunities not only for strengthening bilateral collaboration. China and the UK can also provide leadership to the world in terms of addressing the challenges of climate change, environmental protection, and wildlife conservation. On business, now China is the third largest trading partner for the UK. I think when the UK leaves the EU, the relationship between China and the UK will become even more important, especially when you're building "global Britain". I believe there are more opportunities between China and the UK. I think the "Golden Era" is still shining. We should work together to produce more golden fruits in this "Golden Era".


Gina from the Chatham House: My name is Gina, I'm from the Chatham House. I'm also a Chinese from Gansu Province which you just mentioned. I have a question about what you're talking about, 'wei ji', the crisis, and changing the crisis into an opportunity. What do you see would be the opportunity for the development of public health care in China, after this Covid-19 virus? And what do you see as the opportunity for public engagement or participation of the society in public affairs after this crisis? Thank you.

Ambassador Liu: Of course we have the strength of the system, as I mentioned. China has the whole nation mobilized to fight a "people's war". As a matter of fact, we've heard so many stories, not only about the medical and healthcare workers fighting in the forefront, but also about so many volunteers and ordinary people. The people have been mobilized and organized by the community. Wuhan is a city about five times that of London. The population is about 11 million. Hubei has about 59 million people, which is the population of England plus Wales. While people focus on the medical team fighting the virus, they also need to have their daily life guaranteed. And the whole country has been working to satisfy their basic needs such as food. Gansu Province donated and shipped apples. You know, Gansu produces very good, delicious apples. I think there's a greater participation of the public, including ordinary people like students and pupils.

But also we have to realize that there are shortcomings that we need to work on, that is, how to strengthen the public health emergency management system, how to make it more responsive and also how to work with international organizations like the WHO. We'd like to share this experience with the international community, not only the success in the cured cases, but also how to set up a more effective system. This crisis is also a wake up call for the world and the international community that we need to invest more in public health and do a better job. So that is also a lesson for not only the Chinese government, but also for the world as whole.

Asian Affairs Magazine: Thank you very much. I am from Asian Affairs Magazine. Ambassador, my question relates to issues such as Hinkley Point and HS2 high speed rail link. Should Britain give China a greater role in developing infrastructure in the United Kingdom?

Ambassador Liu: With regard to infrastructure, we have a lot of collaborations between China and the UK. China has advantages in capital and experience, and the UK has expertise in financial services. I think our two countries can work together on many of these projects. You mentioned Hinkley Point C. The good news is it's on track, making solid progress. It's a joint venture between China, France and the UK. The Chinese companies are very much committed to delivering the best quality project.

With regard to the high speed rail, China now is a leader in high speed rail. We own two thirds of the world's high speed railway. Let me take this opportunity to clear up things. There is fake news reported by FT, saying that a Chinese high-speed railway company wrote a letter to promise that it can deliver the HS2 in five years with the lowest investment. It's not true. There's no such a letter and no substantial discussions yet. We are open. We'd like to participate. It's up to the British government.

Sydney Morning Herald: Ambassador, I am from the Sydney Morning Herald. You said that China had been open and transparent in its response to Covid-19. Why then did China reprimand that whistle-blowing doctor who tried to alert you to this new virus? And how is that a demonstration to the rest of the world of the Chinese regime you praised earlier in your speech?

Ambassador Liu: China has made efforts to ensure transparency. We try our very best to be open and responsible, which is praised by the WHO. There's no such a thing as China cracking down on people who gave away information. When facing this new virus, people know little about it and it took time for people to realize the seriousness of the virus. Dr. Li Wenliang is among thousands of doctors. Even at a very difficult time, he lived up to his duty. It is very sad he passed away. The central authority has sent an investigation team down to Wuhan to find out what really happened to Dr. Li. I just read a report that the first doctor to discover this virus is actually Dr. Zhang Jixian. Dr. Zhang discovered it and reported immediately to the health authority and he was praised in China.

Institute of Tibetan Affairs: You talked a lot about the spirit of community, creation of shared interest, harmonious existence between civilizations. I wonder how do you treat the Tibetans in Tibet, Uyghurs in Xinjiang? Don't you think in the foreign policy, the treatment of your own citizens as it were should come first?

Ambassador Liu: I should correct you that Tibet and Xinjiang are part of China. They are part of China since ancient times. The different ethnic groups in Tibet and Xinjiang are living peacefully, harmoniously and are developing together. China is a country with 56 ethnic groups, and they are united and stand together. In the fight against Covid-19, Tibetan people provided very valuable aid to Hubei. In China, we have sister provinces in which other provinces helped Tibet and Xinjiang in the past, and the Tibetan people wanted to show their gratitude and they provided food and vegetable supplies this time. Xinjiang did the same. China is a united country with different ethnic groups living harmoniously and peacefully, working together to build the country.

Chatham House Member: I'm a member of the Chatham House. I used to study in China in the 1980s. Now I have a very direct and quick question. What is the Chinese government planning to do with illegal trade of wild animals? I do remember markets in China in the 1980s that obviously did have problems. So, what is the way forward?

Ambassador Liu: China attaches great importance on protecting wildlife. I don't know if you have noticed that recently the National People's Congress, that is the equivalent of the British Parliament, passed a regulation. It bans the illegal trade of wild lives, and also helps eliminate the unhealthy habit of eating wild lives. Some people ask about the lessons from Covid-19. This is one of the lessons. Since it's a special time and NPC is not in session now, but I believe it won't be long before this becomes law.

Chatham House member: I'm a Chatham House member. I had worked in Africa, Central Asia and Belt and Road countries. My question is the British government is going to provide significant support to France and the UN in the Sahel, by sending a significant number of troops to the UN mission in Mali. Chinese troops have been in that mission for some time. Some of them have died in the mission. Where do you see the role for bilateral and multilateral cooperation coming out of that mission, particularly but not exclusively against Jihadism? Thank you.

Ambassador Liu: China is the second largest contributor to the UN peacekeeping budget, and the largest contributor in terms of peace-keeping personnel among the permanent members of the UN Security Council. We are very committed to the UN peace-keeping mission. As you said, I think 20 Chinese peacekeepers laid down their lives for this noble mission. And we are also open in terms of working together with other countries. We do have some collaboration with countries like the UK. As a matter of fact, a few years ago, China and the UK had a joint military exercise on how to evacuate civilians in the conflict zones. We will continue to make contribution to UN peace-keeping missions.

SOAS Student: Good afternoon, thank you very much, Ambassador, for your talk. I am a student from SOAS. My question is about Taiwan. You said that you want to work with other countries to fight the virus, but why is the Chinese government opposing the participation of Taiwan in the WHO?

Ambassador Liu: You need to make the distinction between collaboration and sovereign statehood. The WHO is an organization that only sovereign states can have representatives. It's an international organization of governments, an inter-governmental organization. Taiwan does not have a statehood and it's a part of China. That is internationally recognized. When the British Government established diplomatic relations with China in 1972, the UK Government recognized Taiwan as a province of China.

Taiwan has not returned to China yet, due to the legacy of the Civil War. It is very much in the DNA of the Chinese nation to realize the reunification of the country. We are working for peaceful reunification. Deng Xiaoping proposed a formula of One Country Two Systems for the solution of the reunification of Taiwan and the mainland. Of course, you know, this formula was successfully applied to Hong Kong and Macau first. We still believe this One Country, Two Systems formula could be applied to Taiwan.

The important thing is that some people try to take advantage of the virus outbreak for political purpose. They want to elevate Taiwan's status. So that is something we totally disagree with and reject. In fact we care more about the well being of the people in Taiwan. On the very first day, we shared information with the Taiwan people on the virus, and we invited Taiwan experts and doctors to come to the mainland for discussion. We facilitate all the communication, so there's no barriers or obstacles in terms of collaboration of the medical people cross the Strait.

Jiangwen from Chatham House: Currently, I'm leading a project on UK-China climate risk assessment. So, back to the question about the Golden Era, I'm very interested to hear your point of view on what kind of Golden Era would be in terms of the climate change cooperation between China and the UK? Thank you.

Ambassador Liu: As I said, COP 15 and COP 26 provide a golden opportunity for China and the United Kingdom to work together on this important agenda of climate change, though the two conferences have different mandates. The first one which is going to be held by China is more focused on bio-diversity, wild animal conservation and environment. COP26 is more focused on climate change. But there's a linkage between the two. I think when Prime Minister Johnson launched the preparation for COP26, he mentioned that the UK supported China in hosting COP15 and he also believed there was a strong linkage between the two conferences. We believe that China and the UK could work together and support each other to make the two conferences big successes. I think these two conferences will be two of the golden fruits in the "Golden Era".