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Statement by Consul General Dong Zhihua at the Briefing on COVID-19
2020-02-24 10:06

(20 February 2020, Chinese Consulate-General)

Hon Minister Paul Papalia,

Dear all,

I thank you all for coming this morning within a very short notice to this briefing on novel coronavirus pneumonia or COVID-19, at the Chinese Consulate General. We have just seen a video compiled and put on the public social media platform of People's Daily, the most prestigious newspaper in China. Many of the people in the video are right now sitting among us. In the recent days, the Chinese Consulate and myself has received a lot of short videos like this, as well as emails, letters and phone calls to express support and solidarity.

Today I host this function to answer to those who care for the Chinese people and update you on the latest situation on COVID-19 back in China, with a focus on questions that you maybe most concerned of. I host this function also to publicly and openly thank all those who have supported China, the Chinese people and the Chinese community in WA, before the media. And to thank you all in person.

I. First, on the situation in China. Adversity reveals a nation's cohesion and fighting spirit like nothing else. We have every confidence that with the strong leadership of the Chinese government, the solidarity of the Chinese people, the joint efforts of all Chinese descendants, and the understanding and support of the international community, we will prevail over the epidemic at an early date. No epidemic is invincible, and this one is no exception.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China has taken the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures, many of which far exceed the requirements of the International Health Regulations and WHO recommendations. From the central government to local governments, from urban to rural areas, the whole nation is battling the epidemic with resolve and self-sacrifice.

On the very day of the lunar new year, President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting to direct the outbreak response, declaring an all-out war on the epidemic. The government promptly established a national framework of comprehensive, inter-agency response. Premier Li Keqiang went to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, to inspect epidemic control efforts.

In an unprecedented move, Wuhan was locked down to curb the spread of the virus. Thirty-one provincial-level regions activated top-level emergency responses. China's National Immigration Administration has advised Chinese citizens to postpone overseas travels, and also issued a prevention guideline in six languages to help foreigners in China strengthen personal protection during the epidemic.

This is a people's war and we have given full play to the strength of our system. I highlight a few examples of China speed and China scale.

Scientists and researchers worked day and night, isolated the first virus strain and developed the test reagent in less than 7 days.

Two specialized hospitals equipped with 2,500 beds have been built by several thousand engineers and construction workers in less than 15 days, and are treating infected patients with severe symptoms.

Sports stadiums and convention centers in Wuhan have been renovated into mobile cabin hospitals to offer thousands of beds to treat infected patients with mild symptoms.

Over 20,000 healthcare workers in 100 plus medical teams across China have converged in Hubei and the number is still increasing as of today.

Community workers leave no stone unturned in checking on every block to make sure that no family in need is left unattended to.

Tens of thousands of volunteers are working non-stop to help deliver supplies and assistance to the affected regions.

As of February 19, the number of confirmed cases outside Hubei has recorded a 15-day consecutive drop, with the number of those cured and discharged from hospital over 1000 for 7 consecutive days nationally. The situation in Hubei and Wuhan is being put under more effective containment. The case fatality rate has been kept at around 2.29 percent nationwide, and 0.55 percent outside Hubei. In addition, we have found medicine that has proven effective in the treatment and we are using it across the country.

These facts and figures demonstrate that the disease is largely curable. Just as President Xi Jinping said, we have full confidence, capacity and determination to defeat the epidemic. Dawn is breaking and we are seeing light coming through.

Secondly, I wish to emphasize that China's swift and decisive measures as well as our commitment to transparency and cooperation have considerably slowed the spread of epidemic in other countries and consolidated global confidence in winning the fight. China has been taking on the responsibility as a major country to contain the spread of the epidemic, and has contributed greatly to international public health cause.

WHO Director General Mr. Tedros confirmed once again in his speech at the Munich Security Conference on last weekend that the steps and measures China has taken to contain the outbreak at its source appear to have bought the world time, even though those steps have come at greater cost to China itself. But it's slowing the spread to the rest of the world. Although Public Health Emergency of International Concern is declared, with 99% of cases in China, this is still very much an emergency for China only. In the rest of the world there are only 505 cases and in China we have more than 66,000 cases. MR. Tedros made it very clear that thanks to China's tremendous efforts and sacrifices, outside China we have not yet seen widespread community transmission.

China's strenuous and efficient response have won recognition and respect from the international community. leaders of more than 160 countries including Australia and international organizations have sent letters or messages to express their firm support. Political leaders around the world have spoken in public to cheer for Wuhan and for China.

I would like to thank our close neighbors including Japan and Malaysia, for their support and assistance, especially Japan in responding with remarkable speed. The whole Chinese nation is moved by their brotherhood and there are many touching scenes which I cannot go into details due to the short of time.

Meanwhile, WHO has repeatedly stressed that it does not recommend putting travel and trade restrictions on China. As stressed by Mr. Tedros, WHO calls on all governments, companies and news organizations to work with it to sound the appropriate level of alarm, without fanning the flames of hysteria. Though it has been claimed that 58 countries have implemented some level of restrictions on travel, only Australia and a small number of countries have taken extreme measures. Neither the U.K. nor Canada, has imposed travel ban on Chinese students.

By now there are still 100,000 more so Chinese students who cannot enter Australia due to the federal government's travel restrictions. The Chinese Ambassador has publicly urged the Australian side to assess objectively and rationally the situation and risk, respect WHO's professional recommendations, and lift the restrictions as early as possible.

Thirdly, While we strive to prevent the spread of the epidemic, we are now also focusing on minimizing the economic fallout and shore up the domestic supply of daily necessities and urgently needed goods to deal with the epidemic.

So far the epidemic has mainly hit three main sectors in our economy: First, the service sector especially tourism, catering, entertainment and logistics (in particular for small- and mediumsized enterprises); Secondly, the manufacturing sector, typically in mobile phone, automobile and electronic industries, due to delay in return to operation, which may to some extent disrupt the global industrial chains; as a manufacturing center in China,Wuhan city is under heavy economic blow; and thirdly, the trade sector, owing to potential cuts or even shutdown of airlines, sea routes and borders by some countries as a result of the prevailing panic or geopolitical considerations.

Nevertheless, the resilience of China's economy cannot be underestimated. Even in the short term, the epidemic does not cause merely negative effect on economy, but it has benefited such industries as electronic commerce and online game and entertainment. People are joking that more babies will be born at the end of the year as there are so many people who are confined home and have enough time and energy as compared to normal days. At the same time, the Chinese government has strong financial capacity in crisis management. In the long run, the epidemic cannot undermine our huge potential, as the world's second largest economy, in consumption, urbanization, and such new economic fields as 5G and artificial intelligence.

On 12 Feb, President Xi Jinping chaired a meeting held by the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee on the prevention and control of the epidemic, and the meeting called on Party committees and governments at all levels to minimize the impact of the epidemic to maintain steady economic performance as well as social harmony and stability. We are now boosting efforts to step up production and resume work.

The State Council, or China's cabinet, released a circular urging efforts to protect workers from getting infected and meanwhile resume production as soon as possible. Ever since Monday Feb 10, many enterprises, factories and institutions in China have resumed work.

China has taken a series of key measures, including offering loans with discounted interest and easing enterprises' rent and tax burdens. In order to encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to resume production as early as possible, Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has unveiled a number of measures. More efforts will be made to help SMEs better apply for loans from banks and adopt cutting-edge technologies to advance digital transformation. At the same time, multiple measures will be taken to ensure a stable job market. Foreign trade companies will get help to resume work at an earlier date and financing support to trade will be beefed up.

We are confident that Chinese economy will make a quick and strong rebound once the epidemic is contained. Just like SARS outbreak in 2003, there was a sharp slowing in output growth in China for a few months, before a sharp bounce-back as the outbreak was controlled and economic stimulus measures were introduced. The fundamentals sustaining sound economic growth have not changed and will not change.

Fourthly, the epidemic and comprehensive travel ban will have significant impact on Australian economy. We have to cooperate to tackle common challenges in this difficult period of time.

Compared with 2003 when SARS epidemic broke out, China-Australia trade and economic ties have become much tighter. Our interests are intertwined like never before. There is already a lot of news coverage on the figures of potential losses for tourism sector and international education. Some 28 per cent of Australia's agricultural exports now go to China, compared with only 8 per cent in 2002. China makes up 44 per cent of today's total Australian wine exports. The impact on bilateral trade will also be significant.

At this critical juncture, It is a difficult decision to make and a delicate balance to strike for the any government weighing between public health concerns and our bilateral economic ties. Again we hope that Australia could make science-based judgment, react rationally, and respect WHO's authoritative and professional recommendations. Overreacting will cause unnecessary panic and impede normal personnel exchange and practical cooperation, which is not in the interest of either side.

As to the impact on Western Australia, we have representatives today from different sectors and they will be invited to tell the story. I highly appreciate that WA's response has been professional and rational so far. There is no confirmed cases in WA and the risk here remains low. The state government has reiterated many times there is no need for alarm while taking all necessary precautionary measures. It is the consensus among WA main industries such as mining, energy, agriculture, tourism and international education that WA need to maintain strong relationship with China, both now and into the future.

Dear friends,

Virus knows no border, but the worst of times reveals the best in people. From the onset of the outbreak, the Consulate General in Perth has been receiving constant support from WA State Government, Chinese communities, WA business and all walks of life in Western Australia. On behalf of the Chinese Consulate General and also in my own name, I thank you all for your valuable and timely assistance and support.

I wish to thank Premier McGowan, who have called me on the first instance and repeatedly expressed sympathy and support to the Chinese people on a number of occasions during the recent days. He also sent a letter to the Chinese Ambassador in Canberra and myself. He made a video for us to show support.

And I thank his ministers, including Minister Papalia who are with us today. We shared happy and triumphant moments in announcing the good news of China Eastern's trial flight between Perth and Shanghai, and celebrated the first flight arriving Perth together. But at this difficult time when all the direct flights between China and WA are canceled, when the catering and travel industry is hit hard by the epidemic and ensuing travel ban, the Premier and his ministers again stand firmly with us and with the WA Chinese community. The Premier invited me to dine together with his ministers in the empty lanes of North Bridge, to show solidarity and support to the Chinese community.

I thank FMG, Rio Tinto and BHP for donating millions of dollars to China, especially Andrew Forest and Elizabeth Gains, Chairman and CEO of FMG who wrote an article in the West Australian calling on WA to show support to China. I also thank ACBC and many of its members for sending best wishes and expressing support to and confidence in the Chinese people.

I thank Vice-Chancellor of Curtin University and also current Chair of University Australia, for writing to me to introduce the measures adopted to help Chinese students who cannot come back for the new semester. I thank the other universities for stretching out to us to seek solutions and listening to our advices.

I thank Michelle, CEO of Rottnest Island for sending us chocolates made by Magarat river Chocolate factory in traditional Hongbao, a very sweet way to express sympathy and support. I thank Kevin and Carolina for calling me immediately after the comprehensive travel ban was announced and stretch out to offer help. And for answering my calls late at night helping to confirm cases and being so patient and supportive.

We are overwhelmed by the video sent by Geraldton's Fishermen's Cooperative to see so many fishermen chanting in Chinese to add oil to China and Wuhan, as well as the warm message from Chinese and Australian staff standing shoulder to shoulder of CITIC Pacific Sino Iron project.

And we have the students from Oberthur Primary school, from the family of Anna as well as the members from Australia China Friendship Society. Their messages are heart warming and reflect the friendship between our peoples.

And most importantly my compatriots from Chinese enterprises and companies here, as represented by President Sun Xiaoxun of CCCA, who provided most needed medical supplies back to the most needed region in China. WA Chinese community are fully mobilized to do their utmost to help in make donations and providing medical supplies through whatever means they have. I am so touched seeing leaders of Chinese associations gathering together to cheer for China and Wuhan from the bottom of their heart. I am deeply moved by their genuine and heartfelt compassion, and commend and appreciate their selfless support and generous assistance.

There are many more who I cannot mention here one by one. The Chinese is a grateful nation. We shall never forget the friendship and support of WA government and people. I have done my duty and I am so proud while not boasting I have done it so well in conveying your messages back to China, they are now widely circulated and shared in the Chinese state media and social media. And your messages have been widely and warmly received. I am sure that there will be more Chinese people getting to know Western Australia and its specialties through these warm messages.

I think WA as a whole takes the lead in expressing compassion and solidarity at this difficult time and you have been constantly injecting positive energy into our overall bilateral relations. And that will be noticed and will make a difference. Ultimately People-to-people bond holds the key to state-to-state relations. After this special period, its the humane face that accounts and will be remembered and have long-term bearing.

I hope WA could continue to push the federal government and exert influence through all channels for Australia to adopt a rational attitude and lift the blanket travel ban as soon as possible, before it's too late for long term negative consequences.

No matter what, I hope that once all this is over, there will be more Chinese tourists coming to the friendly, beautiful and exotic Western Australia and meet with the lovely and warm people here. Rock Lobsters might be more popular and well-known in China, even though expensive. Let's get fully prepared and work together to make it happen.

I thank you.

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