|Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference on March 14, 2023|
Following the decision to manage COVID-19 with measures against Class-B infectious diseases starting from January 8 this year, the Chinese government has introduced a series of measures to facilitate cross-border people-to-people exchange, which has been widely welcomed by the international community. To further facilitate exchange and cooperation between China and other countries, the Chinese government has decided that from March 15, visas that were issued before COVID and are still valid will be reactivated, the review and issuance of tourist visas and other types of visas will be resumed, and the visa-free entry for several places will be resumed.
Reuters: Reuters understands that President Xi will travel to Moscow as soon as next week to meet with President Putin. Will President Xi also engage President Zelenskyy either by call or by visiting? And what could China’s role in any peace settlement between Ukraine and Russia be?
Wang Wenbin: Let me answer your questions with the following three points.
First, China and Russia maintain close communication at all levels. As to what you mentioned, I have nothing to share at the moment.
Second, China’s position on the Ukraine crisis is consistent and clear. China stays in communication with all parties.
Third, when viewing and addressing international and regional hotspot issues, China always upholds our foreign policy goals of safeguarding world peace and promoting common development. Based on the merits of the matter concerned, we are committed to the peaceful settlement of conflicts including through diplomatic negotiations. The same goes for the Ukraine issue.
Not long ago, we issued China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis. It offers 12 propositions, including respecting the sovereignty of all countries, abandoning the Cold War mentality, ceasing hostilities, and resuming peace talks. The core stance is to promote talks for peace. China is ready to build on this position paper, work with the international community and continue to play a constructive part in the political settlement of the crisis.
CCTV: After China released information on the Saudi Arabia-Iran talks in Beijing, many Middle East countries including Egypt, Algeria, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Lebanon, Bahrain and the UAE have welcomed the talks and the important outcomes, which have been hailed as a major win for easing tensions in the Gulf region. The spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a note welcomed the agreement reached between Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume diplomatic ties and expressed appreciation to China for promoting dialogue between the two countries. Secretary-General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit praised the agreement, saying it would contribute to regional stability. Hissein Brahim Taha, Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) expressed the hope that this step would give a new momentum to cooperation among OIC Member States. What’s your comment? How will China contribute to the implementation of the agreement?
Wang Wenbin: In response to the noble initiative of President Xi Jinping of China’s support for developing good neighborly relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the delegations from the two countries recently held talks in Beijing, which yielded important outcomes. An agreement was reached and a joint tripartite statement was released. Saudi Arabia and Iran agreed to resume diplomatic relations. The three countries expressed their keenness to exert all efforts towards enhancing regional and international peace and security. As noted by Wang Yi, Member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, it is a victory for dialogue and a victory for peace. The international acclaim fully demonstrates that lasting peace, stability and security is the shared aspiration of regional countries and that upholding strategic independence and seeking solidarity and cooperation has strong backing from people worldwide.
The talks in Beijing have turned a new page in Saudi Arabia-Iran relations, paved the way for realizing peace and stability in the Middle East and set a fine example for resolving problems and disagreements between countries through dialogue and consultation. No matter how complex the issues are or how thorny the challenges may be, equal-footed dialogue on the basis of mutual respect will lead to a mutually acceptable solution. The Middle East belongs to the people of the region. Its future must be determined by the people of Middle East countries. Countries in the region have China’s support to carry forward the spirit of independence, strengthen solidarity and coordination, and join hands to make the Middle East more peaceful, stable and prosperous.
The Beijing dialogue is a robust and successful effort to put the Global Security Initiative (GSI) into practice. Tactics like “bolster one and bash the other” or “divide and rule” or “bloc confrontation” have never been proven to work on security issues. The viable approach to realize lasting peace and security in the region and beyond is to uphold the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, pursue the long-term objective of building a security community, and follow a new path to security featuring dialogue over confrontation, partnership over alliance and win-win over zero-sum.
State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang noted that China will be a promoter of security and stability, partner for development and prosperity and supporter of the Middle East’s development through solidarity. China will continue to contribute its insights and proposals to realizing peace and tranquility in the Middle East and play its role as a responsible major country in this process. It is our hope that more and more countries will join us in implementing the GSI to realize enduring peace and universal security.
AFP: US President and the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom yesterday announced that Australia will buy nuclear-powered submarines from the US. Do you have any comment on this agreement between these three countries?
Wang Wenbin: We’ve repeatedly said that the establishment of the so-called AUKUS security partnership between the US, the UK and Australia to promote cooperation on nuclear submarines and other cutting-edge military technologies is a typical Cold War mentality. It will only exacerbate arms race, undermine the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and hurt regional peace and stability. Peace-loving countries have expressed grave concern and firm opposition. The latest joint statement issued by the US, the UK and Australia shows that the three countries, for their own geopolitical interests, have totally disregarded the concerns of the international community and gone further down the wrong and dangerous path.
Nuclear submarine cooperation between the US, the UK and Australia involves the transfer of large amounts of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium from nuclear weapon states to a non-nuclear weapon state, which poses a serious nuclear proliferation risk and violates the purpose and object of the NPT. The US, the UK and Australia said they are committed to set the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard, this is nothing but a high-sounding rhetoric to deceive the world. In essence, it is a move to coerce the IAEA Secretariat into making safeguards exemption arrangements, which would seriously undermine the authority of the IAEA. China is firmly opposed to this.
We need to point out once again that nuclear submarine cooperation bears on the integrity, efficacy and authority of the NPT. The safeguards issues related to AUKUS concern the interests of all member states of the IAEA and should be jointly discussed and decided by all member states through transparent, open and inclusive intergovernmental process. Pending the consensus reached by all IAEA member states, the US, the UK and Australia should not proceed with relevant cooperation, and the IAEA Secretariat should not engage with the three countries on the safeguards arrangements for their nuclear submarine cooperation.
It should be stressed that the Asia-Pacific is the most dynamic and fastest growing region in the world. This doesn’t come easily. China urges the three countries to heed the call of the international community and regional countries, discard the outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow geopolitical mindset, earnestly fulfill their international obligations and refrain from doing anything that undermines regional and world peace and stability.
MBC: China has announced 60 countries for group tours, but the ROK is off the list. Coincidentally, the US, Japan, Germany and Australia, which recently have friction with China, have also been excluded from the list of allowed countries. Especially as we all know, the ROK is the place where Chinese people often come to enjoy group tours. There are some news that group tourism to the ROK is being prevented for political and diplomatic reasons, not for quarantine. What is China’s opinion on this?
Wang Wenbin: A few months ago, China resumed outbound group tours to some countries on a pilot basis and this policy is in sound implementation. As the COVID-19 situation in China has remained steady for a while, the Chinese public has a stronger demand for outbound tours, and many countries welcome Chinese tourists with arms wide open, China has decided to revive outbound group tours to more countries from March 15 and create more favorable conditions for outbound travel. Competent authorities will continue to guide the tourism sector to implement the measures in a coherent manner. At the same time, we hope tourists will look after their health before departure, take good care of themselves when they are abroad, and strictly abide by COVID requirements of China and their travel destinations, so that they can enjoy their trips without any unpleasantry or worry about their health and safety.
As to the specific countries where group tours from China will be resumed, I would refer you to the information released by competent authorities.
Since China adopted provisional measures on cross-border travel on January 8, the number of inbound and outbound travelers has seen a notable increase, the number of international flights is on steady rise, and people-to-people exchange is much easier. China resumed outbound group tours to some countries on a pilot basis, improved pre-departure COVID protocols for some countries, and allowed the replacement of nucleic acid tests with antigen tests before boarding. The policies are in sound implementation and the risks related to COVID are manageable. In light of the evolving COVID situation, China will continue to better facilitate the safe and orderly cross-border travel of Chinese and foreign nationals based on scientific assessment. We hope other parties will do the same and make cross-border exchange much easier.
Bloomberg: US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said yesterday that the US would expect to have a call in the coming weeks between US and Chinese presidents. Can the foreign ministry confirm that there is preparation in place for a call between the two presidents? If so, can you give any more details about that?
Wang Wenbin: China and the US maintain necessary communication. We believe that the value and significance of communication lies in enhancing mutual understanding and managing differences. Communication should not be carried out for the sake of communication. The US side should show sincerity, work with China to take concrete actions to help bring China-US relations back to the right track.
China Daily: March 11 marked the 12th anniversary of the massive earthquake and tsunami which led to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. In recent days, people in Japan have rallied to protest against the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)’s plan for radioactive water discharge in this spring or summer. Mizuho Fukushima, head of Japan’s Social Democratic Party said that 12 years on, the impact of the nuclear accident is still going on and the nuclear-contaminated water cannot be released into the sea. “The discharge of the treated water is a step that cannot be delayed,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on March 11. He repeated an earlier pledge that “the release will not be carried out without understanding of the stakeholders.” Do you have any comment?
Wang Wenbin: We noted relevant reports. Twelve years on, the Japanese government, instead of learning the painful lesson of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident, is set on pushing through the ocean discharge plan in an attempt to shift the risk of nuclear pollution onto all humanity. A responsible country would never do such things and this simply runs counter to the international obligations Japan should fulfill.
Japan has stored more than 1.3 million tonnes of nuclear-contaminated water in Fukushima, which contains over 60 radionuclides. Once released into the sea, it will be carried through the ocean to all parts of the world in a few decades, causing immeasurable harm to marine environment and people’s health. China and Russia gave Japan a joint list of technical questions twice but haven’t received adequate and convincing response from Japan yet. New Zealand sociologist Karly Burch from the University of Auckland noted that “Pacific peoples have a fundamental right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. By proceeding with this plan to discharge radioactive wastewater...the Japanese government is showing direct disregard for the sovereignty and self-determination of Pacific peoples.” The Pacific Islands Forum noted that TEPCO’s testing data of the nuclear contaminated-water cannot be used as a basis for the discharge and urged Japan to delay the ocean discharge plan.
As Japanese media commented, Japan has chosen to take a shortcut that puts economic interest above everything else without having enough science-based and professional discussions and full communication with the public. Japan’s national federation of fisheries cooperatives and other non-governmental organizations strongly criticized the Japanese government’s violation of its pledge and disregard for fishermen’s interest. They said that rather than getting the understanding of the public, the Japanese government has hastily restarted nuclear power plants and accelerated construction of the facilities for ocean discharge. Such reckless and arbitrary way has led to greater concerns and fears among the people. According to a poll, more than 43 percent of people in Japan are against the ocean discharge and over 90 percent believe that this move will lead to negative effects. If the Japanese government is unable to convince its own people, how can it expect any trust from the international community?
On the one hand, the Japanese government keeps repeating its pledge that the ocean discharge will not be carried out without understanding of the stakeholders. On the other hand, it has turned a deaf ear to the legitimate and justified concerns of the international community and the Japanese people and has approved the ocean discharge plan, declaring that it will start in the spring and summer of this year and cannot be delayed. The inconsistency in what Japan said and did shows no sincerity in addressing the concerns of stakeholders.
The disposal of the Fukushima nuclear-contaminated water is not Japan’s domestic affair, but an important matter that bears on the marine environment and public health. We urge Japan to take seriously the legitimate concerns of all parties, earnestly live up to its international obligations, place itself under the strict monitoring of the international community, and dispose of the nuclear-contaminated water in a science-based, open, transparent and safe manner, including assessing the alternatives to ocean discharge. Japan must not start discharging the nuclear-contaminated water into the ocean before reaching consensus through full consultation with neighboring countries and other stakeholders as well as relevant international agencies.
Global Times: According to reports, the US and the ROK are set to conduct joint military exercises from March 13 to 23. This marks the longest and largest-scale edition of the exercises dubbed “Freedom Shield” to strengthen the US-ROK combined defense posture in response to the DPRK’s nuclear threat. Recently, the DPRK has frequently demanded that the US and the ROK immediately stop provocations and joint military exercises. Do you have any comment?
Wang Wenbin: We are gravely concerned over the moves of the US and the ROK in their military exercises. The crux of how the Korean Peninsula situation gets to where it is today is clear. The main reason is that the parties concerned have refused to respond to the denuclearization measures taken by the DPRK, and continued to pressure and deter the DPRK. The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is highly complex and sensitive. All parties concerned should remain restrained and do more things that are conducive to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, not otherwise.
Shenzhen TV: According to reports, Kenzaburo Oe, a Nobel literature laureate and a well-known Japanese author, passed away on March 3. He was a life-long opponent to militarism and an advocate for world peace. Do you have any comment?
Wang Wenbin: China mourns for the passing of Kenzaburo Oe, and extends our sympathies to his family. Mr. Oe was a world renowned author, and many of his works manifest the moral compass in the Japanese society with reflection on the wars of aggression, defense of objective historical facts and pursuit of peace. Mr. Oe visited China many times, and made contribution to promoting friendship between the two peoples and the exchange between the two cultures.
CCTV: According to reports, the 38th Meeting of the ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (JWG-DOC) was held in Indonesia from March 8 to 10. Could you share any information on the progress of the meeting?
Wang Wenbin: As you mentioned, from March 8 to 10, the 38th Meeting of the ASEAN-China Joint Working Group on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (JWG-DOC) was held in Jakarta, Indonesia. During the meeting, China and ASEAN countries continued to advance the consultation on the text of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea and had an in-depth exchange of views on the implementation of the DOC and maritime practical cooperation. They agreed to carry out multiple practical cooperation projects in such fields as marine scientific research, environmental protection and search and rescue operation at sea, step up dialogue and communication, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and jointly uphold peace and stability in the South China Sea. The parties have also reached agreement on the working plan for this year and agreed to hold multiple rounds of the ASEAN-China Senior Officials’ Meeting on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (SOM-DOC) and JWG-DOC meeting within this year and bring about greater progress in the COC consultation.
BBC: There is still a shortage of international flights to China and the tickets remain quite expensive. Can the Chinese government find some ways to increase the number of flights and lower ticket prices?
Wang Wenbin: Actually I already covered this just now. China resumed outbound group tours to some countries on a pilot basis and refined pre-departure COVID protocols for some countries. The number of international flights is on steady rise. These policies have been in sound implementation. In light of the evolving situation, China will continue to better facilitate the safe and orderly cross-border travel of Chinese and foreign nationals based on scientific assessment. Regarding the further increase of flights, I will need to refer you to competent Chinese authorities.