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The Chinese government protects citizens’ freedom of religious belief in accordance with law

Xinhua News Agency: The BRICS countries held a Foreign Ministers’ Extraordinary Conference on COVID-19 last night. What is China’s view on the outcomes of this meeting? How significant is this meeting for international anti-pandemic cooperation?

Geng Shuang: On April 28, the Extraordinary Meeting of BRICS Foreign Ministers on COVID-19 was held via video link. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended that meeting and delivered an important address.

State Councilor Wang expounded on China’s measures to fight the epidemic under the leadership and direction of President Xi Jinping and stated China’s four-point proposition on enhancing global cooperation on COVID-19. He proposed that all parties should uphold multilateralism and improve global governance, come together in the spirit of partnership to jointly combat COVID-19, uphold unity and coordination to forge a powerful synergy, and keep forging ahead with BRICS cooperation.

At the meeting, State Councilor Wang Yi exchanged views with foreign ministers of Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil on adherence to multilateralism, joint combat against COVID-19, deepening BRICS cooperation, etc. The five countries unanimously agreed that they should strengthen solidarity and cooperation, support each other in formulating and implementing anti-epidemic strategies befitting their national conditions, stepping up information-sharing, conducting in-depth exchange of experience and carrying out effective cooperation on the research and development of drugs and vaccines. They agreed to strengthen macroeconomic policy coordination, maintain coordination within such frameworks as the UN and G20, and jointly uphold the steady development of the world economy. The five countries all agreed to make global public health cooperation a higher priority on the BRICS agenda on top of the three-pillar-driven cooperation in the areas of economy, peace and security and people-to-people exchanges and ensure a full success of the St Petersburg Summit this year. Most members made it very clear that it is essential to firmly support multilateralism, the core status of the UN in international system, and the leading role of WHO in global anti-pandemic cooperation, and oppose stigmatization and politicization of the pandemic.

The BRICS is an important mechanism for the cooperation among emerging major countries. At this crucial moment in the global combat against COVID-19, the Extraordinary Meeting of BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs is of special significance as it sent out a positive signal of solidarity and coordination and cooperation against the pandemic by the BRICS countries. China stands ready to encourage the five countries to uphold the BRICS spirit, guard against the pandemic, broaden prospects for win-win cooperation and advance the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

CCTV: The Russian foreign ministry spokesperson recently expressed concerns over the US building biological laboratories in former USSR countries. Some foreign media exposed that the labs were entirely led by the US and instructed by USDOD agencies to study dangerous diseases targeting specific groups, among which many projects are banned within the United States. I wonder if you have any comment?

Geng Shuang: We noted the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson’s remarks and related reports. The US established multiple biological laboratories in former USSR countries but kept its mouth shut regarding the labs’ functions, purposes and safety, causing deep concerns from local people and surrounding countries. As we know, some local people strongly demand the labs be closed. We hope the US will act in a responsible manner, heed the concerns from the international community, attach importance to local people’s health and safety, and take concrete measures to eliminate the doubts.

China Daily: The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) yesterday released its 2020 Annual Report, which criticized China’s religious freedom situation. Do you have any comment?

Geng Shuang: China upholds the rule of law. The Chinese government protects citizens’ freedom of religious belief in accordance with law. At present, China has nearly 200 million religious believers, more than 380,000 clerical personnel, some 5,500 religious groups and more than 140,000 venues for religious activities registered according to law. No matter how hard the US side tried to vilify and smear us, these facts cannot be changed. At the same time, China, like other countries, will never allow anyone to engage in criminal activities in the name of religion.

The so-called commission you mentioned never runs short of political bias against China. Over the years, it has published one report after another to slander China’s religious policies. We urge the US side to respect the basic facts, discard arrogance and prejudice, stop the wrong practice of publishing such reports year after year, and stop using religious issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs.

BBC: I heard that a DPRK delegation is coming to Beijing. Do you have more information? What is the purpose of their trip here?

Geng Shuang: You are practicing your Chinese now?

I am not aware of what you asked about.

The Australian: We had a bit of a chat yesterday and one of the questions I asked about was Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians who have been detained in China for more than 500 days. That reference was cut from the transcript of yesterday’s press conference. I’m quite new to reporting in Beijing. How does the transcript work? What gets included and what gets cut?

Geng Shuang: Yesterday you and I did have a rather long chat. But how much of that chat has found its way to your report afterwards, I wonder? The back-and-forth went on for about 20 minutes. How much of our exchange have you cited in your report? Did you quote all of my words in your report?

Of course, it is your call to decide how much you want to put in the report because it is your report. In the same way, we decide how to present our press conference and what gets on the Foreign Ministry’s website. Besides, we never called it a transcript. You can check that out on our website.

Are you interested in the current conditions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor? If you are, I can give you some information.

Shenzhen TV: A US State Department spokesperson said on April 27 that the United States is ready to recognize Israel’s actions to extend Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, but expects Israel to continue negotiations with the Palestinians. Do you have any comment?

Geng Shuang: China expresses concerns about the recent plan to annex part of the occupied territory of Palestine in the West Bank as it violates international law and UN Security Council Resolution 2334. We hope relevant parties will refrain from actions escalating the conflicts between Palestine and Israel. The international community should play a constructive role, further advance the political process, adhere to a “two-state solution” and work for early resumption of peace talks between Palestine and Israel.

Beijing Daily: The joint working group sent to Uzbekistan by Jiangxi province returned to China on April 28. Could you please share with us more details on its work in Uzbekistan?

Geng Shuang: The joint working group Jiangxi province sent to Uzbekistan, comprising experts of epidemic prevention, control, diagnosis, traditional Chinese medicine and overseas Chinese affairs, stayed in Uzbekistan for 12 days. The working group traveled to over half of Uzbekistan’s states and cities and visited all hardest-hit areas by COVID-19, met with officials from Uzbek Ministry of Health and local governments, had remote communication on prevention and treatment experience with the research institute of epidemiology, microbiology and infectious diseases, the national emergency medical center and designated hospitals, held lectures and training sessions, and donated medical supplies and materials on COVID-19.

The Uzbek side highly commended the Chinese working group. President Shavkat Mirziyoyev sent a letter to President Xi Jinping to express appreciation. The Uzbek Minister of Health conferred medal and honorary credential on the working group, and the heads of relevant states and cities also expressed sincere thanks to the Chinese government and people. Uzbek medical workers expressed great interest in the traditional Chinese medicine solutions and said they hope to introduce and apply them in the treatment of novel coronavirus pneumonia patients. Mainstream media in Uzbekistan made continuous reporting on relevant activities which were well received and gained millions of views. Uzbek people said that China’s assistance is all the more precious as it came in trying times.

During their stay in Uzbekistan, the group worked closely with the Chinese embassy, visited Chinese students and other overseas Chinese nationals, Chinese businesses and institutions, distributed 6,000 health kits, provided consultation and guidance and donated medical supplies and gifts to them, conveying the motherland’s care and solicitude.

In this pandemic, no man is an island. Upholding the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind, China, Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries will continue to lend each other mutual support, deepen cooperation in medical care and public health, and consolidate confidence and strength to defeat this pandemic.

BBC: I’ll continue speaking Chinese. The Chinese government announced that the two sessions will start on May 21 and May 22. I know it’s not the foreign ministry’s job, but can you tell us if there is anything different this year compared to the years before? For example, will the delegates be quarantined after they arrive in Beijing? Will there be fewer delegates in the Great Hall of the People?

Geng Shuang: Like you said, it’s not within the foreign ministry’s duty, so I’m not aware of the specifics. But due to the impact of the pandemic, I think things will be somehow different this year.

Reuters: You said the developments and arrangements will be slightly different this year. Could you offer us an indication as to how they may be different? For example, will foreign dignitaries be invited this year and will journalists based abroad be invited this year? And what kind of quarantine measures will be put in place?

Geng Shuang: Those questions are fair enough, but unfortunately I cannot give you an authoritative answer now. Here’s my advice: first, you may ask the competent authorities; second, you may stay patient for a little bit longer and the arrangements will be made public in due course.

The Paper: White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy director Peter Navarro has repeatedly accused China of concealing the outbreak which led to the virus spreading to the rest of the world. He also said that China was hoarding personal protective equipment and now they’re profiteering from it. Michael Pillsbury, Director of the China programs of the Hudson Institute, commented that what Navarro said was “quite a split” from President Trump and that it was “a mistake” and urged him to “modify” his comments. What is your response?

Geng Shuang: Like I said yesterday, Navarro is a habitual liar. Now even his own people find him impossible to listen to.

The Australian: You said China is a country with rule of law. I’ve got a question about the law that I’ve bumped up against since I moved to Beijing. Last weekend and the weekend before I tried to go to a park, and I was told by the policeman there that there is a law that says because I’m a journalist, I cannot go to the park. Do you know that law?

Geng Shuang: I haven’t heard of it. You should ask that policeman which law he was citing since he stopped you.

Follow-up: I asked them on three different days because I went three times and had the same experience. The first time a junior policeman looks at my passport and everything is fine until they see that I’ve got a journalism visa. And then I have to wait for half an hour and then his boss comes. And the first time he says hello, now you are from the media, there is a rule you will need to get permission to get to the park. I said, I’ve never heard of the rule, what’s the rule? And he said, you know the rule. And I said, no, I don’t know the rule. Back and forth, back and forth. Eventually he said you need to get permission from the Beijing Public Security Bureau and from the Tiananmen Administrative Committee.

Geng Shuang: Which park was that?

Follow-up: Zhongshan Park. So I went to the public security authorities and asked them, and they said there’s no rule. And then I went to the Tiananmen Administrative Committee and they said there’s no rule. And then I went back. And he said there is a rule you cannot come in. So what do you think is going on? It’s quite interesting. Could you find out for me?

Geng Shuang: Quite a story!

The MFA Information Department is in charge of foreign media and journalists stationed in China, and we are committed to facilitating and supporting your news coverage and daily life in China. You are welcome to contact us if you have any problems. Of course, it is one way to tell us your problems in the press conference, but you may also reach my colleagues via other means, and they will get back to you. Then you may raise your questions and concerns to them, and they will seek answers from the competent authorities for you.

Follow-up: I have spoken to your colleagues and they said there’s no rule. So I wonder maybe you could study it or you could give me a form that says the foreign ministry of China gives me permission to go to the park so when I go next weekend I can go.

Geng Shuang: What’s your purpose of raising this question today? Do you want to solve the problem of you not being able to enter the park or to question if China lawfully manages the affairs of journalists? If your purpose is the first one, to go to Zhongshan Park, you may reach my colleagues and they will help you solve the problem to the best of their ability.

That said, if your purpose is to question whether China has been treating foreign journalists in a biased way or handling related affairs according to law, then I believe you got it wrong from the very beginning.

Let me be frank, Bill. You have the right to ask questions at our press conference, but this is not the proper occasion for you to settle your problems in personal life. You are welcome to contact my colleagues and tell them your difficulties. But now you are complaining about some personal issues at the MFA press conference. I don’t think it’s the proper venue to solve such problems.

My colleagues will contact you after the press conference, all right?

Reuters: Today, the Australian Prime Minister said that it is “entirely reasonable and sensible” to carry out an independent investigation into the source of the virus and not targeting a specific country. What is your comment?

Geng Shuang: Is speaking Chinese a fashion today?

On this issue, I had a rather in-depth discussion with the journalist from The Australian yesterday. I’ve made our position quite clear. You can check on yesterday’s press conference if you please.

Reuters: The Chinese embassy in Australia said today that China does not play petty tricks, but if others do, we will have to reciprocate. What does that mean?

Geng Shuang: I don’t know who from the embassy said it and where it was said. Is it published in a news report or on the website?

Follow-up: It’s a statement.

Geng Shuang: I’m not aware of it.

Reuters: The ROK and the US have both said that the DPRK leader may be sheltering from the virus and that’s why he’s believed to be located in a place which has been reported by a number of different media. Is this China’s view too?

Geng Shuang: Which agencies reported this? Reuters?

Follow-up: What’s China’s current view or understanding of the DPRK leader’s health?

Geng Shuang: We’ve taken a lot of similar questions lately. Many media, especially western media, covered stories of this. I’ve been saying that I have no idea as to the source of these reports. On the specific issue, I have no information to offer here.

Follow-up: I understand you don’t have any information to offer, but about the information that you hold which you cannot offer at this press conference, is this information that concerns you? Reassures you? What verb would you use to describe your feeling with regard to this information?

Geng Shuang: You are interested in knowing my feeling?

I’ll say that China and the DPRK are close neighbors and we are ready to work with the DPRK to move forward bilateral relations.

BBC: The head of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade contacted the Chinese embassy to complain about the comments from the ambassador regarding a possible boycott of Australian goods. Then the Chinese embassy made a statement about this referring to the discussion with the head of the DFAT. Then the Australian DFAT said we won’t comment on this because that’s a breach of diplomatic protocol.

Geng Shuang: In fact, regarding the remarks by the Chinese ambassador to Australia, I answered questions and had quite thorough discussions with the journalist from The Australian yesterday. You may refer to the text of that press conference on our website.

I’d like to stress again that Australia’s claim of China’s “economic coercion” is simply baseless. As the world economy faces the impact of COVID-19, China would like to cooperate with all countries, help each other, tide over the difficulties together, and contribute to the health and wellbeing of the entire human race. In the meantime, we hope other countries can join China in boosting international cooperation and mutual trust.

Reuters: Earlier you invited us to ask about the two Canadians that have been detained. What’s the latest?

Geng Shuang: We stated our position on the cases of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor many times. The cases are being handled according to law, and their legitimate rights are fully guaranteed. The Canadian embassy visited them multiple times.

Recently, for epidemic control and safety purposes, consular visits to the detainees have been suspended, and the visits will be resumed when the situation gets better. Now Kovrig and Spavor are in sound health, and their legitimate rights and interests have all along been lawfully protected.

The Australian: On the inquiry, we spoke about that a bit yesterday. I wonder if we could take a more positive approach, rather than go back and forth about what’s wrong with what’s being proposed. What would be a form of inquiry that China would agree to? What would it look like? Who would it be made up of?

Geng Shuang: We had quite long and thorough discussions yesterday. I believe I made clear China’s position and I have nothing to add.

Follow-up: Not on the Australian position. Has China got any interest in any form of inquiry whatsoever so that the international community could learn from the coronavirus?

Geng Shuang: Faced with the pandemic, the international community needs solidarity and cooperation to defeat the virus. As for the inquiry, I made clear our position yesterday.

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