Xinhua News Agency: A protocol on upgrading the free trade agreement (FTA) between China and New Zealand officially came into effect today. It is widely shared that this step will help the two economies recover in the post-COVID era and promote high-quality development of bilateral economic and trade cooperation. Can you offer more specifics?
Zhao Lijian: We are glad about and satisfied with the official entry into force of the protocol on upgrading the free trade agreement (FTA) between China and New Zealand and extend our congratulations. I want to stress the following:
First, the protocol is a high-standard free trade agreement that is concluded on the basis of the China-New Zealand FTA and conforms to modern international economic and trade rules. It covers a wide range of market access and regulation issues and further improves the quality and efficiency of China-New Zealand trade and economic cooperation on top of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This will provide strong support for the two countries to deepen two-way trade and investment and consolidate cooperation in industrial and supply chains.
Second, uncertainties are clearly on the rise at the moment, given the flare-ups of COVID-19, the sluggish world economy and more volatile international situation. The entry into force of the upgrade protocol is conducive to deepening economic and trade cooperation between China and New Zealand, producing dividends of policies for high-level opening up and benefiting more companies and consumers of the two countries. Besides, it demonstrates the two countries’ firm resolve in supporting multilateralism and free trade with real actions, and helps to maintain stability of the international industrial and supply chains. It will thus become a model for other countries and play a positive role in cooperating against COVID-19, supporting multilateralism and free trade, and promoting stability and recovery of the world economy.
Third, the China-New Zealand FTA is the first free trade agreement China has ever signed with any developed country. The China-New Zealand FTA was signed and entered into force in 2008, and the negotiations on its upgrading started in 2016 and were completed in 2019. And now, the upgrade protocol begins to take effect. This whole process fully demonstrates that the relations and cooperation between China and New Zealand have set an example of win-win cooperation between countries with different systems, at different development stages and of different economic sizes. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and New Zealand. Under the strategic guidance of the important consensus reached by leaders of the two countries, China is ready to work with New Zealand to carry forward the spirit of “striving to be the first”, jointly implement the upgraded FTA with high quality, strengthen dialogue, enhance mutual trust, deepen cooperation and properly handle differences, so as to add new dimensions to the China-New Zealand comprehensive strategic partnership, and make positive contributions to regional and global peace, stability, development and prosperity.
CCTV: US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on April 6 that the US has the ability and resolve to use sanctions against China as it has against Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine if Beijing “invades” Taiwan. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on the same day that Beijing should take away the right lessons from the coordinated Western response over Ukraine that any moves by China to take Taiwan by force would not be acceptable. Do you have any comment?
Zhao Lijian: There is but one China in the world and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory. The Taiwan question is an issue left over from the civil war in China. The means of its resolution is China’s internal affair, where no foreign country has any right to interfere. The Chinese people’s resolve and will to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering. We will strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with utmost sincerity and efforts. That being said, we reserve the option of taking all necessary measures in response to the interference of foreign forces and the secessionist activities of a handful of “Taiwan independence” separatists.
Currently there is a new wave of tension across the Taiwan Strait. The root cause is that the authorities in Taiwan keep pushing for the independence agenda by soliciting US support and that some in the US attempt to use Taiwan to contain China. The two sides have been colluding with each other. A few people even deliberately draw an analogy between Taiwan and Ukraine despite their completely different nature in an attempt to confuse public opinion and profit from the chaos. This is playing with fire. Those who play with fire are bound to get burned themselves.
China Daily: According to reports, with the mediation of regional countries including Sudan and relevant international and regional mechanisms, main political parties in South Sudan have recently reached agreement on transitional security arrangements and signed a deal. Does China have any comment?
Zhao Lijian: Main political parties in South Sudan have recently reached agreement on transitional security arrangements and signed a deal. This is yet another important step forward in South Sudan’s peace process. China welcomes it. We appreciate the positive role played by Sudan and other neighboring countries as well as relevant international and regional mechanisms in bringing about this outcome. It is hoped that parties in South Sudan will earnestly implement the agreement, make solid progress in the political transition process and realize enduring peace and stability.
Bloomberg: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently plans to visit Taiwan on Sunday after her trip to Japan. This will be the first visit to Taiwan by a holder of the Speaker’s office in 25 years. Does the foreign ministry have a comment on this?
Zhao Lijian: China resolutely opposes all forms of official contact between the US and Taiwan. Congress is a branch of the US government and should stringently abide by the one-China policy that the US upholds. If Speaker Pelosi visits Taiwan, this would gravely violate the one-China principle and the stipulations of the three China-US Joint Communiqués, seriously undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, severely impact the political foundation of China-US relations and send a seriously wrong signal to “Taiwan independence” separatist forces. China firmly opposes this and has lodged solemn representations with the US side.
The US should abide by the one-China principle and the three China-US Joint Communiqués, immediately cancel Speaker Pelosi’s plan to visit Taiwan, stop official contact with Taiwan, and fulfill its commitment of not supporting “Taiwan independence” with real actions. If the US insists on having its own way, China will take firm and strong measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. All possible consequences that arise from this will completely be borne by the US side.
CRI: According to reports, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany in Brussels on April 6 to discuss that Iran would never acquire a nuclear weapon. They agreed that “a diplomatic solution entailing a mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA is the best outcome, but noted that we are prepared for other scenarios if necessary”. What is China’s comment?
Zhao Lijian: The negotiations on reviving compliance with the JCPOA have entered the final stage. All parties have reached consensus on most of the text of the compliance resumption agreement with a few items yet to be resolved.
China believes that there is no better alternative to the JCPOA. At this final phase, it is ever more important that all parties boost confidence, step up diplomatic efforts, facilitate a smooth conclusion of the negotiations and avoid letting previous efforts come to naught. As the culprit of the Iranian nuclear crisis, the US should make political decisions as soon as possible and actively respond to the legitimate concerns of the Iranian side.
China will continue to participate in negotiations constructively, help bring the JCPOA back to the normal track at an early date, uphold the international non-proliferation system and promote peace and stability in the Middle East.
Al Jazeera: Afghanistan’s mining ministry says that an agreement has been signed with the Metallurgical Corp of China to resume operations in Afghanistan’s largest copper mine the Mes Aynak. My question is this: following this agreement, the recent Afghanistan summit in China and meetings with Taliban officials, does this mean that China officially recognizes the new government in Afghanistan?
Zhao Lijian: I noted that you mentioned the progress on the Afghan issue. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi chaired the Third Foreign Ministers’ Meeting among the Neighboring Countries of Afghanistan and a series of related meetings in Tunxi, Anhui Province at the end of last month. The coordination and cooperation mechanism among the neighbors of Afghanistan, since its launch last September, has endeavored to bring into play the strengths of neighboring countries, thus playing a constructive role in promoting the steady transition in Afghanistan. All parties spoke highly of the relevant meetings. China will continue to work with Afghanistan’s neighboring countries to pitch in, build consensus, and coordinate and cooperate with each other to support the Afghan people in ushering in a brighter future.
As to your question on the recognition of the Afghan interim government, China’s position on relevant issues is consistent and clear-cut.
Helsingin Sanomat: Finland is considering if it should apply to join NATO very soon. Russia’s attack on Ukraine changed dramatically Finland’s attitude toward NATO membership. China has earlier stated that China is against NATO’s enlargement. If Finland applies to join NATO soon, how will China react?
Zhao Lijian: First, I don’t answer hypothetical questions. China’s position on NATO’s eastward expansion is very clear. NATO was born out of the Cold War and should have long become a past tense. We advise relevant countries to exercise prudence in developing relations with NATO.
Hubei Media Group: The Preparatory Committee meeting for the 9th Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) was being held in Geneva these days. Russia said the US biomilitary activities in Ukraine have violated the BWC. The US accused Russia of spreading disinformation and called international criticism of US standing alone in opposing a BWC verification mechanism “revisionist history”. Do you have any comment?
Zhao Lijian: The US has conducted more biomilitary activities than any other countries and is the only country that opposes the establishment of a BWC verification mechanism in the world. The international community has long held grave concerns over this and the relevant issues remain the focus of the BWC meetings. At the second PrepCom this week, Russia made the accusation that the US’ biomilitary activities have violated the convention and raised explicit and specific concerns. Regrettably, the US has not directly responded to that yet. Instead, it just kept accusing Russia of spreading disinformation. Such practice in itself is not consistent with the stipulations of the convention. According to the BWC, the Russian side has the right to question the US’ compliance with the convention, and the US has the obligation to make clarifications, and the final judgment should be passed by the international community through assessment.
Also, I need to draw your attention to a basic fact. According to the working document the US submitted to the BWC Meeting of States Parties in November 2021, under the Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP), the US has 336 so-called cooperation facilities overseas, including 26 in Ukraine. However, the so-called Fact Sheet released by the US Department of Defense on March 11, 2022 claimed that there are 46 such facilities in Ukraine. Why did the number increase by 20 in just four months? Besides, there are mistakes in the above-mentioned working document, in which a country was listed mistakenly for twice. So the total number of “336” must be inaccurate, too. This gives good reason for the international community to raise doubt, but what reason is there for the US to refuse to make any clarifications and call that disinformation?
I also noticed that the US cited “revisionist history” to describe the international community’s criticism over the US sole opposition to establishing a BWC verification mechanism. What an accusation! The US side even claimed that the resumption of Protocol negotiations should be “put behind” and “a new chapter” should be started. Such statement is shocking. It was the US’ abrupt announcement of unilateral withdrawal from the negotiations in July 2001 that let the outcomes of the seven-year negotiations go to waste and set off an uproar in the international community. At this PrepCom, the vast majority of countries, including US allies, called for the resumption of multilateral negotiations to establish a verification mechanism as soon as possible. The US was the only state that voiced opposition.
A multilateral verification mechanism is characterized by fair and just entitlement of equal rights and obligations to all countries. But the US wants to arbitrarily accuse others of violating the convention and demands verification with “the presumption of guilt”, while refusing to accept any supervision and verification of its own compliance. This lies at the heart of the US’ sole opposition to a verification mechanism.
The BWC belongs to the international community. Bearing on international peace and security, compliance of the BWC cannot be casually defined by the US based on its double standards. As one of the BWC depository states, the US ought to be an example, not an exception, when it comes to compliance. We once again urge the US to give comprehensive and detailed clarification of its biomilitary activities and stop single-handedly opposing the establishment of a multilateral verification mechanism to restore the confidence of the international community in the US’ compliance.
Reuters: You just said that if US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits Taiwan, China will respond with strong measures. What kind of strong measures will China respond with?
Zhao Lijian: I just made my point very clear. If this visit is made, China will take firm and strong measures in response. The ensuing consequences will be completely borne by the US.
Al Jazeera: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he’s meeting or having talks with President Xi Jinping on Friday. Do we have any schedule or any details about this meeting?
Zhao Lijian: As to the arrangement of the meeting between Chinese and Philippine leaders, we will release information on a timely basis if there’s any.
Beijing Youth Daily: Data recently released by the US Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) shows that drug overdose deaths in the US are surging. What is your comment?
Zhao Lijian: I have noted relevant reports. The drug problem in the US appears to be escalating. In the 12-month period ending in September 2021, about 104,000 Americans died due to a drug overdose. Back in 2015, the number was about 52,000. The US House of Representatives recently passed a legislation that would legalize marijuana nationwide. Some media commented that this marks another key step to legalize marijuana in the US. As drug proliferation is already a deep-seated problem in US society, this legislation may aggravate drug abuse in the country.
Drug is a common enemy of humanity. We have been helping the US side to deal with it in a friendly and candid manner. China scheduled fentanyl-related substances as a class on May 1, 2019, which fully demonstrates our sincerity and support. Regrettably, with the most prominent fentanyl issue in the world, the US has not yet done the same. Even worse, the US sanctioned such important institutions responsible for testing and controlling fentanyl-related substances as the Institution of Forensic Science of the Ministry of Public Security and the National Narcotics Laboratory in China by adding them to the “entity list”.
The US should see fault in itself, permanently schedule fentanyl-related substances as a class and take practical and effective measures to reduce the demand for drugs. The last thing it should do is to constantly shift the blame and make accusations against other countries with the control of non-scheduled chemicals. It should immediately correct its mistakes, instead of asking for China’s cooperation on the one hand and sanctioning Chinese counter-narcotics bodies on the other.
Bloomberg: Suspected state-sponsored Chinese hackers have targeted the power sector in India in recent months as part of an apparent cyber espionage campaign, according to a threat intelligence firm Recorded Future. Does the foreign ministry have a comment on it?
Zhao Lijian: I noted relevant reports. We have reiterated many times that China firmly opposes and combats all forms of cyber attacks in accordance with law. We will never encourage, support or condone cyber attacks. Given the virtual nature of cyberspace and the fact that there are all kinds of online actors who are difficult to trace, it’s important to have complete and sufficient evidence when investigating and identifying cyber-related incidents. One should be all the more prudent when associating cyberattacks with the government of a certain country. As is known to all, the US is the world’s largest source of cyber attacks and “hacking empire”. A piece of advice to the relevant company that you just mentioned: if they really care about global cyber security, they should pay more attention to the cyber attacks by the US government-sponsored hackers on China and other countries, and do more to promote dialogue and cooperation among countries, rather than sow discord and sling mud at China under the pretext of cyberattack issues.
AFP: China has denied it has any plans to set up a military base in the Solomon Islands. But Australian media have found an official letter where such a deal was discussed in 2020 between a Chinese state-owned company and a former official in the island. Do you have any comment on this?
Zhao Lijian: Recently, we have shared with you the information on China-Solomon Islands security cooperation and expounded on our position on many occasions. As for the groundless attacks and smearing of China by certain Australian media, they are deliberately creating tension in the region. Their reports have also fully exposed their Cold War mentality and ideological bias. China is firmly opposed to this.
The Paper: A few days ago, the Afghan interim government announced a nationwide ban on poppy cultivation and the manufacturing, use and sales of all categories of narcotics. Does China have any comment?
Zhao Lijian: China appreciates the measures taken by the Afghan interim government. Narcotics is a common scourge of mankind. The Chinese government firmly cracks down on narcotics crimes and actively participates in international counter-narcotics cooperation. We stand ready to further deepen counter-narcotics cooperation with Afghanistan and other regional countries to safeguard the healthy and tranquil life of all our peoples.
It is worth pointing out that the US, the culprit of the Afghan issue, played an ignominious role in the narcotics problem in Afghanistan by acquiescing or even participating in drugs production and trade there. According to some media reports, the US forces stationed in Afghanistan implemented a project to create a drug laboratory on a global scale. As a result, the production of opiates in the country increased more than 40 times. Alfred McCoy, an American historian, said in an article that to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the US generously funded local guerrillas through the CIA, turning a blind eye to the fact that they were operating a chain of heroin laboratories. Charles Cogan, former director of the CIA’s Afghan operation, said that the US didn’t really devote resources to an investigation of the drug trade in Afghanistan.
The two decades of US presence in Afghanistan is two decades of death and displacement of innocent Afghan civilians and two decades of unchecked local drug proliferation. With its irresponsible and hasty withdrawal, the US has left behind a series of grim challenges to the innocent Afghan people, including the drug issue. The US should reflect on its behavior, offer sincere apologies and ample compensations, and strive to undo the harm it has inflicted on the Afghan people with concrete actions.
Reuters: Considering the epidemic situation in China, is China considering approving the use of foreign vaccines in China?
Zhao Lijian: I would refer you to the competent authorities for questions related to the application, approval and market authorization of foreign vaccines in China.
Beijing Daily: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and European Council President Charles Michel held a trilateral meeting in Brussels the other day. The Azerbaijani and Armenian sides agreed to convene by the end of April a Joint Border Commission whose mandate will be to delimit the border between them. The Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders also instructed Ministers of Foreign Affairs to work on the preparation of a peace treaty. Does China have any comment?
Zhao Lijian: Azerbaijan and Armenia are both China’s friendly cooperative partners. We are glad to see the two sides resolving differences and disagreements through dialogue and consultation. It is our sincere hope that both sides will implement the ceasefire consensus to jointly safeguard peace and stability in the region and tranquility for the people.