Transcript of Chinese Ambassador CHENG Jingye's interview with Sky chief anchor Kieran Gilbert on Fighting Novel Coronavirus
2020/02/19

On February 17, 2020, Ambassador Cheng Jingye had an interview with Sky chief anchor Kieran Gilbert on Fighting against COVID-19 outbreak, 5G and more, which was lively broadcasted. Here is the transcript which has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

Kieran Gilbert:

Ambassador Cheng, thank you very much for your time. First of all, on the drop in new cases of the Coronavirus, there's been consecutive, I think four days now a drop in the new numbers of Coronavirus. Is that encouraging? How close is China to a breakthrough in dealing with this epidemic?

Ambassador Cheng:

Thank you, Kieran. It's a good opportunity to talk to you.

Since the outbreak of the Novel Coronavirus, under the strong and firm leadership of President Xi, the Chinese government has made unprecedented efforts to fight against the epidemic which includes the establishment of a nationwide mechanism, the full mobilisation of the national resources and the adoption of the most complete and vigorous measures to prevent and control. And the Chinese people united as one to confront the challenge presented by the virus. Thousands of medical workers work at the front, around the clock, to treat the patients and save their lives. We have done our utmost to contain the further spread of the virus. Thanks to those obvious tireless efforts, we are making good progress.

Generally speaking, as I see it, the epidemic is in control. For example, in the past 12 consecutive days, the number of actual confirmed cases have dropped and the accumulate drop rate is over 50%.

Kieran Gilbert:

So you think the…

Ambassador Cheng:

Outside Hubei.

Kieran Gilbert:

Do you think it is in control now?

Ambassador Cheng:

It is out of Hubei and also at the same time, we see a rapid increase in cure rate. Now with more than 10,000 people have been recovered and discharged from the hospital.

Kieran Gilbert:

But you believe the epidemic is in control. Is that what you're saying.

Ambassador Cheng:

Those figures demonstrate that the epidemic is controllable. The disease is curable. So we have every confidence and capacity to win this battle against the epidemic.

Kieran Gilbert:

You've expressed regret and dissatisfaction at Australia's travel ban because they exceed the WHO recommendations. But at the same time, China is taking extra steps, as you've mentioned internally, beyond World Health Organization recommendations as well. In fact, the entire province have been quarantined more than 100 million people ( the actual population in Hubei is about 58 million ) quarantined. So if China's taking steps beyond the WHO, can you understand why Australia too wants to protect its population?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, first of all, we are deeply disappointed over the restrictive measures that have been taken because as I see it, they are out of proportion. Well, the case in China, the decision in China is totally different from here. The focus of course is in Wuhan and Hubei. That's the epicenter. So we need to take extra measures to stop the spread of the disease and here the situation is totally different and as you said, the decision is inconsistent with the professional recommendations of WHO. They disapprove of any measures that would unnecessarily interfere with international travel or trade. So that's the first point, I want (to) emphasize. The second thing, it's all natural and reasonable for countries to take enhanced measures or screening measures. But at the same time you have to be cool headed and not to be panic. Throughout the world except China, the confirmed cases of the virus is less than 1% of the total number.

Kieran Gilbert:

But given the restrictions in China, you've got such strong restrictions in China. Isn't it? Isn't it true that the prospect that many students or tourists wouldn't be able to travel to Australia anyway because of the restrictions internally.

Ambassador Cheng:

That's totally different things. Of course, we have strengthened the inspections and screening at airport, but we have no restrictions for people. I mean for students to travel abroad outside of Wuhan or outside of Hubei. So that's the difference. I just want to say, Australia is only one of few countries that have taken such sweeping and stringent restrictive measures on travel. You have to be rational and respond to the actual situation. We should make sure we have it with the actual situation on the ground.

Kieran Gilbert:

You've met with Australian government officials and ministers I know over recent days. About the travel ban, do you accept though, I mean obviously it's having a very big economic impact here as well, isn't it? So would you,

Ambassador Cheng:

That's the third point that I just want to touch,

Kieran Gilbert:

So would you accept that the government would want to get rid of the travel ban as soon as they can?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, we have expressed our strong wish and hope that you will. I mean, the Australian government in their next review will take into account all situations and take a balanced approach and to positively consider removing those harsh restrictions, at least relaxing restrictions.

Kieran Gilbert:

Reports out of China suggested that the 34 year old doctor who raised concerns in Wuhan in late December was detained and forced to disavow his comments as a result. Do you think China, in terms of the response in Wuhan to begin with and cracking down on the individual who raised the situation in the first place in his concerns, do you think China was too slow to react to this emergence of this virus?

Ambassador Cheng:

First, I just want to clarify the doctor you mentioned was not detained. To the best of my knowledge, I think Dr. Li is a good doctor with dedication and compassion. He has done what he should do. His contributions are acknowledged. He's just one of those thousands of medical workers who work at forefront to fight against the virus and I think the best way in memory of him is to focus and concentrate and continue the fight against the virus with more vigorous and forceful measures.

Kieran Gilbert:

But was China too slow to respond?

Ambassador Cheng:

As for the response to the outbreak, I think we have done very quickly. This virus is something new with an unusual nature. Sometimes it takes times to get knowledge of it and to know about the true nature. You need time and you need the process of identifying and assessment and once we identify the virus, we promptly acted and informed the WHO and at the same time we have started an all out campaign across the country to stop the spread and to contain the virus.

Kieran Gilbert:

Officials in Wuhan were blamed by Beijing. But it was revealed over the weekend out of China that, President Xi knew about the virus two weeks before he publicly spoke about it. Should some of the blame be directed to more senior levels within the communist party?

Ambassador Cheng:

President Xi himself has shown his strong leadership in this fight against the virus. He has been personally involved, giving his instructions and orders, outlining strategies and personally overseeing the situation and directing and guiding all the efforts that has been made throughout. It is because of the strong leadership of the President and of the Chinese government, we have so far made progress. Of course more efforts are needed, but we're confident we will come out of the fight successfully.

Kieran Gilbert:

The fact that he was aware and the Politburo was aware two weeks before it was made public. Does that create a sense of concern?

Ambassador Cheng:

As I said, from the very start, when we identified the virus, when we found this new virus, swift and timely action has been taken. There have been three meetings by the highest leading body, that is the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee and the President made inspection tour in Beijing and also has given instructions, guidance to nationwide campaign against the spread.

Kieran Gilbert:

Ambassador, I would like to ask you a couple of other issues briefly. On the UK government to restricting Huawei's involvement in its 5G network to a maximum of 35% of the network and only on non-core elements. That's been criticized by some of our members of government and security experts. Do you accept that Australia won't compromise on its ban when it comes to Huawei?

Ambassador Cheng:

Firstly, I think the decision made by the Australian government is basically politically motivated. It is a discrimination against the Chinese company. At the same time, it doesn't serve the best interests of Australian companies and consumers. And it has become a sore point or a thorny issue in bilateral relations as it damages mutual trust between the two sides. As you know, a certain country has employed all possible means to suppress this Chinese company and also has pressured its allies to follow suit. They have started a smear campaign against Huawei with unfounded allegations. Despite external pressure, the UK has come up with a decision which will not exclude Huawei from participating at least in some parts of its 5G technology development which I think is a sensible decision. Well here, as far as I know, the Huawei company in Australia have tried in every means to talk with Australian authorities to explore what security risks or concerns you have. And also they have pledged publicly to conclude a no backdoor agreement. I hope the decision shall be revisited in the interests of both sides.

Kieran Gilbert:

We've had recent cyber attacks over a number of years in Australia and it's believed to come from Chinese perpetrators - isn't the government then using appropriate caution in not engaging in what they call is a high risk vendor?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well I think those allegations as you said have never been substantiated with evidence. At the same time, you know, it's always a difficult case to trace the sources even if it happened in a certain country. It doesn't mean that it's done by this country. In fact, it might be done by a third country or third persons. And China is also victim of cyber attacks. We have suffered lots of attacks from different parts of the world. So the cyber security is an international challenge, we need to work together instead of making unfounded allegations.

Kieran Gilbert:

Finally, the last issue I'd like to ask you about is the Australian citizen Yang Hengjun, do you have an update on his case and given the cooperation we see between our governments in terms of dealing with the coronavirus. Is there enough goodwill now to see that Australian citizen released by Chinese authorities?

Ambassador Cheng:

Well, as far as I know, he is formally arrested for being suspected of engaging in espionage. The case is still under investigation and the Chinese relevant security authorities will deal with the case in accordance with Chinese law. And I understand his lawful rights are protected. And also the assistance is also provided to the Australia Embassy in China for regular consular visits.

Kieran Gilbert:

The Prime Minister said it was unacceptable his treatment because he was being interrogated and shackled. I mean, not true?

Ambassador Cheng:

I mean, as I said, his legitimate rights and interests has been protected and will be protected. And at the same time, I hope our judicial sovereignty shall be respected, and shall not be in any way interfered with.

Kieran Gilbert:

Ambassador Cheng we wish you all the very best in your nation and dealing with the coronavirus and the epidemic and hopefully it can be resolved and dealt with as soon as possible.

Ambassador Cheng:

I want to use this opportunity to express our appreciation for sympathy and solidarity demonstrated by the Australian government and people from different walks of life and also your help hand that has landed including your provision of some of the medical protective items in the past weeks. We have seen the solidarity, the support from other people, business group, from Australian people and also including the support and sympathy from the Chinese Australian community, which we appreciate very much. I think this virus is a common challenge, so we need to work together in solidarity so that we could prevail over this epidemic.

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