|Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference on February 15, 2023|
The entry of a Chinese civilian unmanned airship into the US airspace is purely an unintended, unexpected and isolated event caused by force majeure. China has repeatedly communicated this to the US side, yet the US overreacted by abusing the use of force and escalating the situation. It also used the incident as an excuse to impose illegal sanctions on Chinese companies and institutions. China is strongly opposed to this and will take countermeasures in accordance with law against relevant US entities that have undermined China’s sovereignty and security to firmly safeguard China’s sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests.
NBC: China has stated that the Chinese airship shot down by the US had been accidentally blown off course. Could you clarify what then was the intended course, flight path or destination of the downed balloon?
Wang Wenbin: The entry of a Chinese civilian unmanned airship into the US airspace is purely an unintended, unexpected and isolated event caused by force majeure. The facts are clear and shall not be distorted or misrepresented. Despite that, the US still decided to use force against the civilian airship even as it was about to leave US airspace. This is a clear overreaction that seriously contravenes the spirit of international law and customary international practice. What the US did has had a grave impact on the efforts and progress made by China and the US in stabilizing bilateral relations since the leaders’ meeting in Bali. We are firmly opposed to what the US has done and urge the US not to take further actions that could undermine China’s interests or escalate tensions.
Phoenix TV: It was reported that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently told reporters that “obviously there is some sort of pattern” in the four flying objects shot down over the US and Canada in the past week. What is your response?
Wang Wenbin: Other than the US overreaction, we don’t see any pattern here.
AFP: Yesterday you said that US balloons have illegally flown over China’s airspace more than ten times at least since May last year. How did China deal with these US balloons?
Wang Wenbin: Since May last year, the US has released a large number of high-altitude balloons from its territory, which have continuously circled the globe and illegally flown over China’s airspace, including Xinjiang and Tibet, more than ten times at least without the approval of relevant Chinese authorities.
With regard to the unintended entry of a Chinese civilian unmanned airship into the US airspace caused by force majeure, China has repeatedly communicated it to the US side. The US, however, says nothing about the illegal flight of its balloons over China’s airspace without China’s approval, and even accuses China of spreading disinformation. The US cited the unintended entry of a Chinese unmanned airship into its airspace as a violation of its sovereignty, then how does it explain the illegal overflight of its balloons through China’s airspace? China has handled the illegal flight of US balloons through our airspace in a calm and professional manner. By contrast, the US overreacted to the unintended entry of a Chinese civilian airship into its airspace caused by force majeure.
The US needs to give an explanation to China and the international community, reflect on its behavior, stop smearing and attacking China and stop misleading the US public and the international community. China reserves the right to further respond if necessary.
People’s Daily: Report said that the China-EU Human Rights Dialogue mechanism will restart in Brussels this week, citing EU sources. Can you confirm this and provide more information?
Wang Wenbin: As agreed between China and the EU, the 38th round of China-EU Human Rights Dialogue will be held in Brussels, Belgium in the coming days. The Dialogue will be co-chaired by principal officials from the Department of International Organizations and Conferences of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Asia and Pacific Department at the European External Action Service. Competent authorities of the two sides will attend the Dialogue, where the two sides will exchange views on progress in the area of human rights, international human rights cooperation and other issues. China stands ready to carry out constructive dialogue and cooperation with all parties, including the EU, on human rights issues on the basis of equality and mutual respect, so as to enhance understanding and build up consensus.
Kyodo News: Japan’s Defence Ministry said in a statement yesterday that the Japanese government strongly suspects that the three unidentified flying objects previously spotted in its airspace are Chinese surveillance balloons. What’s your response?
Wang Wenbin: China is a responsible country. We always act in strict compliance with international law and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries. The Japanese side, without any solid evidence, has made unfounded allegations to smear and attack China. We are firmly opposed to this.
China has repeatedly shared information on the unintended entry of a Chinese civilian unmanned airship into US airspace, Japan should adopt an objective and just position, view this unexpected incident caused by force majeure in the right way, and stop following the US’s suit in dramatizing it.
CCTV: State Councilor Wang Yi announced during his visit to Pacific Island countries in May and June 2022 that China will appoint a Chinese government special envoy for Pacific Island Countries affairs. Do you have any updates?
Wang Wenbin: Based on the work arrangement, China has appointed Ambassador Qian Bo as the Chinese government special envoy for Pacific Island Countries affairs. He is a veteran diplomat well-versed in Pacific Island affairs who served as China’s Ambassador to Fiji.
Special Envoy Qian Bo is ready to establish close working relations with his colleagues of Pacific Island countries, promote all-round communication and cooperation between China and Pacific Island countries, and make strong efforts to advance further development of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Pacific Island countries.
China-Arab TV: Now that the “golden window” for rescue following the earthquakes in Türkiye is closed, how many rescue teams has China sent? Where will be the priority of their rescue efforts going forward?
Wang Wenbin: After the earthquakes, the Chinese government sent an 82-member rescue team to Türkiye, and the Hong Kong SAR government also sent a 59-member rescue team to assist in local rescue efforts. They are joined by a total of 441 people from 17 private Chinese emergency response teams. It has been nine days since the earthquake struck. Although the golden window for rescue efforts is now closed, Chinese rescuers are still working hard on the ground.
Hubei Media Group: With the arrival of the first groups of Chinese tourists, many countries are now engaged in improving the facilities to prepare themselves for more visits from China. What’s your comment?
Wang Wenbin: We have noted relevant reports. We are glad to see that the outbound visits of Chinese tourists have boosted the recovery of tourism and economic growth in many countries.
Since China announced the resumption of outbound group tours, many countries’ governments and tourist sector have been looking forward to welcoming Chinese tourists. Kenya’s tourism department held a welcoming ceremony for the first Chinese tourist group arriving in the country. Parks and scenic spots in the UAE rolled out red carpets to welcome Chinese tourist groups. A banner reading “Welcome to Geneva, Switzerland!” in Chinese greeted travelers at the arrival lane at the airport. The Joint Statement between the People’s Republic of China and the Kingdom of Cambodia on Building a China-Cambodia Community with a Shared Future in the New Era made a special mention of the Cambodian side’s “warm welcome to Chinese tourists and the commitment to provide quality service and security.” The Hungarian National Tourist Office said it is ready to make Chinese guests feel at home, and welcome the return of travelers from China.
For many years running before the pandemic, China had been the largest source of outbound tourists, and Chinese tourists the biggest source of tourism expenditure. As outbound trips continue to recover, economic contact and people-to-people exchange between China and the wider world will further deepen, adding more confidence and dynamism to the world economic recovery.
We hope Chinese tourists will enjoy a safe and easy travel environment, take good care of themselves and travel with civility while they are abroad.
Bloomberg: The World Health Organization has said that the second phase of the planned study into the origins of the virus won’t be done. The issue reportedly is that China is no longer cooperating with that effort. Can you tell us whether China is working to understand how the coronavirus emerged, and whether the country is collaborating with global scientists on that effort?
Wang Wenbin: China’s position on the study of the origins of SARS-CoV-2 is consistent. We always support and participate in science-based global origins-tracing. At the same time, we firmly oppose all forms of political manipulation. Since COVID-19 broke out, the Chinese side has twice received WHO experts for origins-tracing cooperation, which produced a scientific and authoritative joint report and laid a solid foundation for global origins-tracing. After the WHO established the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins on Novel Pathogens (SAGO), China recommended experts to join the group and organized events for Chinese experts to share research findings with the WHO Secretariat and SAGO.
China is the only country that has invited more than once WHO expert groups to come into the country to conduct joint SARS-CoV-2 origins study. It is also the only country that has provided multiple opportunities for its experts to share progress on origins-tracing with SAGO. China has shared more data and research findings on SARS-CoV-2 origins study than any other country. This fully demonstrates China’s open, transparent and responsible attitude and its support for the work of the WHO and SAGO. China will continue to support science-based global origins-tracing and keep up communication and cooperation with the WHO.
At present, more and more clues from the international science community are pointing the origins of SARS-CoV-2 to sources around the world. Many have raised questions and concerns about US bio-military bases at Fort Detrick and around the world. The WHO and SAGO should take a close look at these clues, effectively cooperate with these relevant countries, and share research findings with all parties in a timely way. we hope the WHO will keep its position on this issue objective and just, and contribute its part to science-based global origins research and a united response to COVID-19.
AFP: I got a question on Canada. Canada said it will stop funding research project on sensitive topics, if any of the researchers involved are connected with defense or security entities of hostile foreign states. This is obviously targeting China. So are you planning any countermeasures?
Wang Wenbin: China-Canada exchange and cooperation in science and technology is a two-way street and mutually-beneficial. The Canadian side needs to discard the ideological bias and Cold War mentality and avoid politicizing or stigmatizing normal exchange and cooperation with the Chinese side, otherwise it will only hurt others without benefiting itself.
Yomiuri Shimbun: The spokesperson for the Philippine Presidential Communications Office said that President Ferdinand Marcos summoned the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines yesterday morning to express his serious concern over “the increasing frequency and intensity of actions” by China against the Philippine Coast Guard and fishermen. What’s your comment?
Wang Wenbin: We provided the facts and China’s principled position on that. For the purpose of clarity, let me provide some more details.
As is widely known, China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, including the Ren’ai Reef. On February 6, a Philippine Coast Guard vessel intruded into the waters adjacent to the Ren’ai Reef without Chinese permission. The China Coast Guard ship was compelled to respond in accordance with law and warned the vessel to leave the area. During that process, the China Coast Guard ship used hand-held laser speed detector and hand-held greenlight pointer to measure the distance and speed of the Philippine vessel and signal directions to ensure navigation safety. We need to highlight the fact that the China Coast Guard ship did not direct lasers at the Philippine crew, and the hand-held equipment does not inflict damage on anything or anyone on the vessel. The Philippine side’s allegation does not reflect the truth.
The Chinese ambassador to the Philippines has clarified the facts with Philippine leaders. The diplomatic service and coast guards on both sides are in communication through bilateral liaison mechanisms. The Philippine side has learned what actually happened. We stand ready to work with the Philippine side to fully deliver on the important common understandings reached between the two presidents, continue to properly handle maritime issues through friendly consultation and jointly uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea.
AFP: Do you have any update on the visit of Iranian President Raisi? For example, who will he meet today and do China and Iran plan to publish any joint statement?
Wang Wenbin: We have released a readout on Iranian President Raisi’s visit to China, which you may refer to.
Bloomberg: According to reports, the US tracked the balloon that it eventually shot down as it lifted off from Hainan. It appeared to be headed toward Guam, and then took an unexpected turn, putting it on a new path. And analysts are now examining the possibility that China didn’t intend to fly the aircraft over the continental US. How does the foreign ministry respond to that?
Wang Wenbin: I’ve covered this question. I want to stress once again that the unintended entry into US airspace of the Chinese civilian unmanned airship was entirely caused by force majeure. The US side should not have overreacted.
Bloomberg: Chinese diplomats, state media outlets and social media influencers appear to be making efforts to exaggerate and misrepresent a chemical leak in the US and a report that the US military blew up the Nord Stream pipelines. All of this seems to be in response to questions about the balloon issue. How does the foreign ministry respond to that?
Wang Wenbin: When you said that China seems to be “exaggerating and misrepresenting” those events, it actually reflects the long-held bias among some media against China.
Immediately after the explosions of the Nord Stream pipelines, we saw extensive coverage in Western media with one-sided speculations on who was “responsible” for the sabotage. What we see now, however, is that these media, hailed as free, professional and impartial, have fallen silent over Seymour Hersh’s investigative report. Doesn’t this call for concern and reflection?
Since the train derailment caused the chemical leak in the US, many American people have questioned the US government and media for downplaying the accident. At public events, US officials described the balloon as a challenge to the US, yet said nothing about this serious chemical leak accident. On social media, many Americans are asking the US government: what is it hiding?
People have sharp eyes. They have already seen through the US government’s calculations in overreacting to and dramatizing the unexpected incident of the civilian airship. They are fully aware who exactly is trying to deflect public attention.
Bloomberg: China’s EXIM bank recently arranged for debt extension with Sri Lanka. There are now reports that said China will not follow the IMF’s debt reduction target. How does the foreign ministry respond to this? And sort of corollary to that, who will China send to attend the IMF debt roundtable talks this weekend? What about the G20 finance minister and central banker debt roundtable talks next week?
Wang Wenbin: As a friendly neighbor and true friend, China has been closely following the difficulties and challenges faced by Sri Lanka. We have provided support to Sri Lanka’s socioeconomic development to the best of our capacity. As for Sri Lanka’s China-related debts, China supports relevant financial institutions in discussing with Sri Lanka and properly resolving them. We also stand ready to work with relevant countries and financial institutions to continue to play a positive role in helping Sri Lanka navigate the situation, easing its debt burden and helping it achieve sustainable development.
The Export-Import Bank of China, as the official bilateral creditor, recently provided a financing support document to the Ministry of Finance, Economic Stabilization and National Policies of Sri Lanka, saying the Bank is going to provide an extension on the debt service due in 2022 and 2023 to help relieve Sri Lanka’s short-term debt repayment pressure; meanwhile, the Bank would like to have friendly consultation with Sri Lanka regarding medium- and long-term debt treatment in this window period; and the Bank will make best efforts to contribute to the debt sustainability of Sri Lanka. The Bank also noted that it will support Sri Lanka in its loan application to the IMF and that it will continuously call on commercial creditors to provide debt treatment in an equally comparable manner, and encourage multilateral creditors to do their utmost to make corresponding contributions.
As to the specifics about the meetings you asked about, I would refer you to competent authorities.