Coronavirus: China tells Zim not to panic

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Following the outbreak of the coronavirus that has killed over 2 800 and infected more than 82 000 globally, Daily News reporter Nokuthaba Nkomo sat down with the Chinese ambassador Guo Shaochun to find out how China is dealing with the disaster and how it has affected its trade relations with Zimbabwe among other wide ranging issues. Below are the excerpts of the interview.

Q: What is the situation with the coronavirus in China at the moment

A: China is making encouraging progress in fighting against coronavirus. Its daily number of recovered and discharged patients has surpassed that of new confirmed cases for consecutive 9 days. Yesterday we saw 2 750 patients leave hospital after recovery, much higher than the number of the same days’ new confirmed cases, which are 433.

In the meantime, 22 provincial-level regions outside Hubei Province, which is the epicenter of the outbreak, reported zero new confirmed cases. That is over 70 percent of the mainland provinces. Outside Hubei Province, only 24 new confirmed cases were reported. Six provinces have lowered their levels of emergency response. Some regions have gone over 20 days without reporting new cases. All of this is evidence that China’s efforts in containing the epidemic and treating the patients are paying off.

Q: How many Chinese nationals supposed to be in Zimbabwe are stuck in China?

A: Zimbabwe’s department of immigration is better placed to give you the exact numbers. At the Chinese government and the Chinese Embassy’s repeated proposals in Zimbabwe, many Chinese have postponed or cancelled their non-essential trips to Zimbabwe.

We have released five consular notices in relation to the epidemic. All Chinese nationals who have to travel to Zimbabwe in this special period are required to fully cooperate with all the measures adopted at their points of entry and undergo self-quarantine.

The local Chinese associations have also been mobilised to make sure these requests are complied with. As far as I know, Chinese tourists have stopped coming to Zimbabwe. I think the Zimbabwean government will have more specific numbers. It is clear that our measures are having a real effect.

Q: How many Chinese nationals with businesses in Zimbabwe have been infected or died from the virus?

A: I am happy to say so far, we do not have any such cases. I know people are hearing this and that from unreliable sources. It is very important that we keep our heads clear in times like this. I appeal to all Zimbabweans not to be misled by rumours and not to spread unverified information. Panic can be a worse enemy than the virus.

Q: I understand China is helping Zimbabwe with its preparedness for the coronavirus. What sort of assistance are you going to be offering Zimbabwe?

A: In the past month, China has developed much experience in preventing and treating the disease. We are ready to share this with Zimbabwe. The Chinese medical team here has helped train Zimbabwean doctors. In fact, they are already working side by side with their Zimbabwean colleagues in the ministry of Health and Child Care’s rapid response teams to handle any possible cases at the earliest time possible.

Q: Do you think Zimbabwe’s Health ministry is adequately prepared for the coronavirus?

A: The fact can speak for itself. We are now more than one month into the outbreak, and Zimbabwe has remained strong. No confirmed cases have been reported so far. It shows the measures taken by the Zimbabwean government are working and our joint efforts are paying off. I believe we can keep this good momentum by working closely with each other.

Q: What gaps do you think need to be covered in Zimbabwe’s preparedness for the coronavirus?

A: If there is only one thing we must learn from this outbreak, it is that strengthening the public health system is a must for any country.

We should not only look at the coronavirus, but also look at the new challenges we may face in the future. Public health should be one of the top concerns of any government. There is always a gap between reality and ideal. China will continue its good health cooperation with Zimbabwe to create more well-beings for our people.

Q: What challenges is China facing in dealing with the coronavirus?

A: Let’s be honest, the epidemic is the fast spreading and the most difficult to prevent and control since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, with the largest number of infected people.

Firstly, this is an unknown virus. It takes time to study and learn it, and to come up with an effective strategy to cope with it. Secondly, we must be aware that the outbreak is happening in a country with over 1.4 billion population, almost 100 times that of Zimbabwe.

In Wuhan, the population is 11 million, a little less than Zimbabwe. Moreover, the transmission of the virus took place at a time when the whole of China was moving for the lunar New Year. An estimated 3 billion trips were made. Thirdly, China has double responsibilities to honour. We must protect our own people, and we must stand between the virus and the rest of the world. This has given us a lot to do with very limited time.

Q: Considering the magnitude of the virus and how quick it spreads, why hasn’t China closed borders with Zimbabwe?

A: It’s important for governments to follow professional advice in the current situation. Basing on scientific assessment, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has explicitly stressed there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade. It doesn’t recommend and even opposes limiting trade and movement and calls on all countries to implement decisions that are evidence-based.

WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Outbreaks can bring out the best and worst in people. Stigmatising individuals or entire nations diverts our attention and turns people against each other”. In the case of the Ebola outbreak, which is a far more deadly disease, China did not close borders with African countries either. We only took some practical measures such as screening and quarantine.

Moreover, we sent more than 1 200 doctors to those most affected African countries and provided emergency humanitarian assistance. Obviously closing borders with Zimbabwe is not a good choice for both China and Zimbabwe. For example, if it really happened, who will come here from China to purchase Zimbabwean tobacco?

Q: How has the epidemic affected China and Zimbabwe’s trade relations?

A: We are still evaluating the economic impact of the epidemic. But some information is worth our attention. The Herald reported that some Zimbabwean businesses face difficulties in importing from China.

Together with the Zimbabwean government, we are confident we will keep the situation under control so that it will not gravely damage China-Zimbabwe trade or the health of the Zimbabwean people and economy. This is why we have been calling for scientific and rational measures, like what Zimbabwe is doing right now, to fight the epidemic.

Q: How many Chinese are in Zimbabwe and in which sectors?

A: I believe the department of immigration of Zimbabwe is in a better position to give you the exact number. Roughly speaking, there are thousands of them. Some of them are engineers and managers who are here to implement our joint projects and China’s grants.

Some others run their own businesses here, in retailing, manufacturing, construction and catering. In addition to that, we also have some Chinese tourists who are only here for a short vacation. I believe people-to-people exchanges are very important for good state-to-state relations. There is a natural affinity between our two peoples. We must build on it so that our friendship and bilateral cooperation can go from strength to strength.

Q: Do you agree that sanctions are hurting the poor in Zimbabwe?

A: Of course I do. The sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe not only hurt the poor, but also the whole nation. Sanctions spook investors, disrupt financial transactions between Zimbabwe and foreign countries, and disable Zimbabwe from accessing lines of credit from international financial institutions, which are essentially needed for the development of a country and the improvement of people’s lives.

These are facts beyond dispute. These sanctions are a tool to interfere in the internal affairs of Zimbabwe. They have no basis in international law and violate the right to development. We call for their early removal so that Zimbabweans can enjoy a better life.

Q: In the past five to 10 years, how much has China invested in Zimbabwe and in which projects?

A: Sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story. I prefer a result-oriented assessment of foreign investment and assistance to Zimbabwe. After years of cooperation between China and Zimbabwe, we see airports upgraded, power stations expanded, schools constructed, thousands of bore holes drilled, and bankrupt factories revived. These are real examples of how China has contributed to the development of Zimbabwe.

Q: Are the projects a donation or an investment? If they are an investment, what are you hoping to achieve for example from the parliament building?

A: Joint investment projects and grants are the two main patterns of cooperation between China and Zimbabwe. Let me make it clear that the new parliament building is not an investment, but built with China’s grants.

This is a significant project. It represents the deep traditional friendships between the two countries. Its modern facilities and ample space will make Zimbabwe a better host of international conference. It is also breathing life into a new city in Mount Hampden.

Q: How strong are Zimbabwe and China’s political relations amid reports that the Chinese are not happy with Zimbabwe working with the Japanese who have little investment in the country?

A: The mutual trust between our two countries is rock solid. Please never forget our friendship can be traced back to the days of the liberation struggle, and with the guidance of the two leaders, our relationship has been elevated to Comprehensive Strategic Cooperative Partnership.

We don’t need to pay much attention to the rumours which intend to create discord between the two countries. We are glad to see more genuine support to Zimbabwe by any foreign countries. We hope international partners working with Zimbabwe are sincere in providing help and do not force Zimbabwe to do this or to do that.

China has long supported the development of Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa. In doing so, it is our consistent position that we do not interfere in the internal affairs of any foreign country and do not impose political conditions on our assistance. Our cooperation with African counties is characterised by sincerity, real results, amity and good faith.

Q: Has Anjin been given back its license? Is it still a joint venture with the Zimbabwe Defense forces?

A: About its licence, I suggest you ask the Zimbabwean judicial authorities for information. This is a private company. The Chinese government is not involved in any way in private business activities. Nor do we benefit from their profits. We require all Chinese businesses working overseas to abide by the local laws and regulations.

Of course, we are also committed to safeguarding their legitimate rights and interests. Let me make one point clear. China is not interested in taking natural resources from Zimbabwe. This is never our intention, and we have never done anything close to it.

If you check all the cooperation agreements signed between the two governments, you will see none of them is about mining. In the mining of precious metals, such as gold, diamond and platinum, you will not find a single State-owned enterprise from China.

Instead, Sinosteel, a leading Chinese State-owned enterprise, has been working very hard for almost 10 years to revive Zimbabwe Mining and Smelting Company (Zimasco). The ferrochrome producer once bedevilled by debt is now reclaiming its past glory.

Q: Is it true that China has taken sides in the country’s political situation?

A: It is a fundamental principle in China’s diplomacy not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. This is also a cornerstone of international law, although some countries choose not to follow it. State-to-State relations shall be developed mainly through interactions between governments.

In addition to that, we also welcome engagement with other stakeholders as long as it is good for the development and stability of our host country and for friendship and cooperation between China and the host country. Chinese diplomats are here to promote China-Zimbabwe relations. We will never be involved in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs, and never foment differences among political forces.

Q: What was China’s role in former president Robert Mugabe’s coup?

A: Like I said just now, this is Zimbabwe’s internal affairs and China plays no part in it. We are confident Zimbabwe has the wisdom and capacity to manage their own affairs well and practice what works best for the country.

Q: Recently in Goromonzi, the deputy ambassador addressed a Zanu PF rally representing the communist party. Is there no conflation between the State and the Communist Party?

A: The centralised and unified leadership of the CPC Central Committee is the greatest strength of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the most important reason for China’s development miracle.

All Chinese government organs, including its diplomatic missions abroad, follow the leadership of Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core.

Let me also say a few words about China’s political party diplomacy. China conducts diplomacy with other States; and the CPC, as the ruling party, conducts diplomacy with foreign political parties. In Party diplomacy, we follow the principles of independence, equality, mutual respect, and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. In this spirit, we carry out exchange and cooperation with all legal political parties and political organisations in the host country, for the purpose of promoting the unity and stability of the host country and encouraging all stakeholders to contribute towards a better life for the people.

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