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Briefing on Coronavirus with Chinese Ambassador to the EU

Briefing on Coronavirus with Chinese Ambassador to the EU

18 February 2020

The EU-Asia Centre hosted a briefing on the coronavirus and EU-China relations with H.E. Zhang Ming (Chinese Ambassador to the EU) on 18 February. The ambassador outlined his presentation by asking four questions.

First is the virus under control? Despite the high number of infected cases in China (over 70,000) the vast majority (83%) were in Hubei province. Only 1% of cases were outside China. Due to the strict containment efforts the number of new cases is on a decline. On February 1 the number of cured infections surpassed the number of fatalities. Diagnosis on basis of symptoms instead of only lab tests is leading to faster access to treatments – a priority for the government. However, the assessment must still be cautious and not lead to slackening of efforts at this critical point.

Second, has the government acted in an open and transparent manner? The authorities had reacted quickly as the nature of the virus had become clear. Citizens were informed the next day and the international community soon after. China has shared data on the virus without hesitation and considers openness and transparency vital to the efforts. Obviously some mistakes were made but lessons also learned. Local authorities are mandated to report cases and public is encouraged to report on any cover-ups for accountability. Good cooperation between Chinese and foreign scientists has been remarkable.

How efficient was the response? The lock-down of Wuhan and certain surrounding areas had been difficult, but a science based decision and followed WHO recommendations to protect the lives of the citizens. Citizens have understood the necessity and had maintained social stability. Providing daily services and essential supplies are priorities. Chinese authorities are reflecting and consulting the public extensively on the process to learn from any mistakes and replicate good practices in the future.

What is the economic impact? So far the economic impact has been manageable. The government is taking measures to limit the economic impact of the crisis by releasing a stimulus of 1,7 trillion RMB in market liquidity through the Bank of China, cutting taxes and fees. Priority is to gradually help people return to work as the situation allows. Majority of the production is back on, with international companies such Airbus and Tesla also returning to normal operation. Global economic impact will depend on the global response. Unfortunately, some countries have reacted with excessive restrictions on travel to China contrary to WHO recommendations.

EU Assistance: China is grateful for the scientific, material and political support that the EU has provided throughout the crisis. Tangibly, 12 tons of medical supplies had already arrived to China. Xenophobic attacks on Chinese and Asians had been quickly condemned by European leaders. Good communication with Europeans on the crisis has helped coordinated further cooperation. President Xi Jinping has spoken with an array of EU leaders. Planned summits, meetings and negotiations will go on as scheduled. China looks forward to working with the EU as partner (not a rival) to conclude the planned investment treaty and cooperate on climate change and other common challenges, including maintaining the Iran nuclear deal.

Discussion

The ambassador responded to several questions including:

Huawei – US attacks were not evidenced-based. It was up to the EU to decide its industrial policy. It was worth recalling that Huawei, Erickson and Nokia continue to cooperate and use each other’s patents.

US-China trade deal – there could be some short-term impact

EU-China summit – preparations were proceeding apace as were talks on the bilateral investment agreement

Handling of crisis – showed strengths and some weaknesses but China was learning the lessons

Climate – China ready to cooperate with EU en route to Glasgow

Drug supplies from China to the EU would not be impacted.

Fraser Cameron concluded the event by reminding everyone to keep things in perspective. The impact of the coronavirus is still relatively low in comparison to historic epidemics such as the Spanish flu after World War I that killed millions, or even the normal flu that killed more than 200,000 people in 2009.

This year would indeed be critical for EU-China relations and it was to be hoped that the follow up from last year’s summit would be fulfilled.