By Dinesh Weerakkody
Acting Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka Hu Wei says he is confident of a bright future for China-Sri Lanka relations and says certain Western politicians are attempting to make China the scapegoat for their negligence. Following are excerpts:
Q: To begin Ambassador, why is China being accused of not sharing information speedily regarding the COVID-19 outbreak with the WHO, resulting in the virus spreading globally?
A: This is an incomprehensible accusation and I also want to know the reason. Maybe you should ask the people who are spreading this disinformation. After all, every accusation needs evidence.
In fact, China reported the first few suspicious COVID-19 cases as early as 31 December last year, and the WHO declared a state of emergency against the epidemic immediately on the second day. It has been nearly five months since then, but we are surprised to see those ‘Blame China’ politicians continuing to say this, when they should have taken effective prevention and control measures to protect their own people. Instead, they are now attempting to make China the scapegoat for their negligence.
Besides, cases of COVID-19 had been found in the United States and some European countries as early as October and November 2019, they were ignored because of no medical reports or tests at that time.
Q: Given that we are nearly five months into this crisis, how is the current situation in China?
A: The pandemic in China is under control at the present. This is due to the strong leadership of President Xi Jinping. China has achieved significant results in the containment of the virus on many fronts. The number of existing confirmed cases currently are lower than 150, most of which are imported cases. But we’re still facing a very difficult task, guarding against imported cases and preventing the resurgence of the virus at home. To this end, China still enforces the necessary prevention and control measures.
Q: Some countries are suing China for the economic loss caused by the pandemic. What would be the fallout for China?
A: I am a law graduate myself, engaging in international law-related research and practice for years. I’ve also worked quite a long time with major international judicial institutions in The Hague, which is known as the capital of international law. I deeply regret such politicisation and stigmatisation that ignores basic facts, which is not only ignorant, but also a violation of international law.
Those who did little to bring the pandemic under control in their own country are ‘delving into’ international litigation. Perhaps it would be wise for them to discuss with their lawyers first on how to deal with potential domestic lawsuits for their inaction.
Q: What will the China-US relationship be like post COVID-19?
A: The epidemic has had a huge toll on the entire world. Therefore for stability and economic growth, the world requires more solidarity and collaboration. There is high expectation for a better Sino-US relations, as well as shared responsibility for the top two economies. It is this goodwill that China has always upheld.
But it should be noted that the development of bilateral relations requires both parties to act in the same direction and share responsibilities, not just the goodwill and efforts of one country only. Both countries should play a principal role in promoting peace and prosperity.
Q: Given that the world is desperate for a vaccine, what are the chances of a vaccine being developed out of China this year?
A: China is fully committed to the concept of ‘building a community with a shared future for mankind’; we believe COVID-19 is a common enemy for all humans. Therefore, vaccines, no matter developed by which country, will become an essential weapon to contain the virus for all of us.
China openly shared the genetic sequence of the virus on 12 January. China has not only accelerated its work on developing vaccines and having clinical trials, but also at the same time firmly supported the Global Collaboration Effort to Accelerate the Development, Production and Equitable Access to New COVID-19 Diagnostics, Therapeutics and Vaccines, which is spearheaded by the WHO.
In fact, President Xi Jinping stressed in his speech at the opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly on COVID-19 vaccine development and deployment in China that when a vaccine becomes available, the vaccine will be made globally available. This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability for developing countries.
However, in the US, certain politicians claim that they have started their research work on vaccines from 11 January, which obviously contradicts their previous statements accusing China of ‘holding back information’ and comes even before the genetic sequence was shared by China. But we still extend our good wishes to the US. We hope they could develop the vaccine at an early date and share it with the world.
Q: Will China as an economic super power be willing to help developing countries in Asia face the pandemic?
A: During the past few decades, China has achieved great progress and very significant progress in some areas around the globe. But technically, China is still a developing country. A big power maybe, but not a superpower definitely. More importantly, superpower’s intent of aggression has never been existent in China’s thousands of years of history, and nor in our culture.
China has a population of 1.4 billion and a total land area of over 9.6 million square kilometres. Not everyone is wealthy like Jack Ma, and not every city is modern as Shanghai and Beijing. On the other hand, China being a superpower or not is irrelevant, because we are committed to helping all developing countries in Asia face the pandemic.
President Xi Jinping also announced at the opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly that China would provide $ 2 billion over two years to help the COVID-19 response and also with economic and social development support for affected countries, especially developing countries.
The past few decades have already proved that even during our hard times when China strove to develop its own economic base, we helped our neighbours – just like what we did to help when Sri Lanka faced the rice blockade by Western powers, was severely affected by the tsunami in 2004, fought against terrorism, and also for post-war reconstruction.
Q: To combat COVID-19 in Sri Lanka?
A: China has donated medical supplies and provided the relevant medical and scientific knowhow to our Sri Lankan friends after the COVID-19 outbreak. Among the donors were some less-developed cities, low-income citizens, and even companies that were struggling due to the lockdown, but they all voluntarily extend their solidarity and support to the Sri Lankan people in their own way.
Q: Is there any development assistance support in the pipeline for Sri Lanka post-COVID-19?
A: For many years, China has been providing assistance to support Sri Lanka’s development drive, not only in aid and concessional loans, but also with free training and direct investment. Land marks like the BMICH, the Supreme Court Complex, and Nelum Pokuna Theatre as well as some ongoing construction mega-projects like the National Nephrology Specialist Hospital and the new OPD for the National Hospital. These are all gifts and fully financed by China.
Currently, China is working on over 2,000 houses for Sri Lanka’s low-income families, which is to be commissioned later this year. Besides this, at this difficult time when Sri Lanka is faced with two arduous tasks of combating the epidemic and reviving the economy, a huge number of medical supplies including most needed testing kits, personal protective equipment, masks donated by China are constantly coming to the island. The Chinese banks and other enterprises are also providing strong support for Sri Lanka’s economic recovery via financial, investment and other channels.
Q: Finally, how do you see the China-SL relations going forward?
A: As emphasised by President Xi Jinping via a phone call with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently, “The strategic cooperative partnership between China and Sri Lanka is based on sincere mutual assistance and ever-lasting friendship. The time-tested friendship and mutual trust between the two countries will grow stronger through the joint effort to contain COVID-19” pandemic.
After witnessing many heart-warming stories of Chinese and Sri Lankan people working side by side to combat COVID-19, I am even more confident of a brighter future for China-Sri Lanka relations. And I believe that the Sri Lankan people have also recognised China as a true friend and a country to rely on in times of difficulty.