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Solidarity and cooperation, the best weapon in the war against COVID-19
Full Text of Ambassador Zhou Ding's Interview by Albanian Daily News

-Mr. Ambassador, almost 6 months after the start of China's battle against COVID-19 a white paper, titled "Fighting COVID-19: China in Action," has been issued chronicling your country's painstaking yet effective efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. Could you please share with ADN's readers the main highlights of this document on China's 'test of fire' facing the "unknown, unexpected, and devastating disease"?

A: It's my pleasure to be interviewed by ADN. The COVID-19 pandemic is a huge crisis for the whole world, posing a grave threat to people's lives and health around the globe. As the first country that discovered, reported and started the fight against COVID-19, China has acted decisively to control its spread and save lives. Fully documenting China's response to COVID-19 throughout last couple of months is of great significance, not only for our country, but for the whole world, where the virus continues to wreak havoc. The white paper is quite comprehensive and detailed with a lot of information, but the following three aspects are what stand out to me:

First, the Chinese government has put the people's lives and health first, and took extraordinary measures in defending Wuhan and Hubei. President Xi Jinping emphasized that people's lives and health must always come first. China completed the testing of all 11 million residents of Wuhan in the span of two weeks, and overall has tested more than 90 million people across the country; the total case count remains stable at a little over 85,000. All COVID-19-related treatment costs have been covered by the government.

Second, China has established a well-functioning COVID-19 prevention and control mechanism. As the world has witnessed, China has adopted a science-based approach and mobilized medical resources across the country, in taking targeted measures against the disease. China has strictly implemented social distancing and contact tracing, built emergency and makeshift hospitals within days, developed fast test kits, applied the combination of traditional Chinese and Western medicine, and used Big Data and Artificial Intelligence to facilitate prevention and control measures etc.

Third, China has actively engaged in international cooperation against the pandemic from the very beginning, fighting shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world. The timeline of China's response is clear. China gave timely notification to WHO and other countries at the onset of the new virus, released the genome sequence of the virus, and shared its experience in treatment and prevention. The international community provided valuable support and assistance to China, and China has been doing all it can to support other countries. These efforts include a pledge of $2 billion of international aid over two years, a promise that a COVID-19 vaccine developed by China will be provided as a global public product, debt cancellation for relevant countries, and joining the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative for underdeveloped countries.

-Given what you said, Your Excellency, which is the message conveyed by this paper to the Chinese people and the world?

A: The white paper provides a thorough record of China's overall efforts in its fight against the virus. Hopefully, it can help readers both at home and abroad to better understand what really happened on the frontlines of fighting against COVID-19. It clarifies some doubts and misunderstandings regarding China's response, and may also provide both China and the rest of the world with some useful information for combating future public health crises.

-Mr. Zhou, China has been accused of delay and cover-up with regard to the COVID-19 outbreak, particularly by US and some other EU countries. Which is the latest stance of China towards this ongoing campaign, and in your view how much will it affect the relationship between China and the accusers?

A: The white paper provides thorough statistics, facts and the clear timeline of China's fight against COVID-19. China's response may not have been perfect. Given that China was the first in combating an unknown virus, in the beginning stages, there might be some degree of inefficiency, due to little knowledge and experience. The optimal strategy always depends on the given circumstances of a country, and also always needs to be science-based. All governments are being judged, and some criticized during this pandemic. Some responses have been faster, some slower; some more aggressive, some more reserved. Governments, academia, media, and individuals all have a lot to reflect on, and to learn from this pandemic. And of course, there is a lot more research to be conducted by scientists and doctors before we can fully understand the nature of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has posed huge challenges to public health systems and battered economies around the world, and consequently has reshaped the domestic and foreign policies of many nations. China has very strong relations with the rest of the world. We are the largest trade partner of 70% of countries around the world, the EU has remained China's largest trade partner for the last 16 years, while China is the second largest of the EU. China and the US are closely interconnected in many fields, with two-way trade volume close to $600 billion. Combined, China and the US make up 40% of the world's economy. Yes, there are issues on which we do not see eye to eye, but I do believe that at the end of the day, governments, leaders, and most of all, the peoples will be wise enough to find solutions in addressing our differences, and realizing the common goal of peace and prosperity in the world. In particular, in the face of the dual pressure of pandemic control and economic recovery, the world needs more solidarity and cooperation than ever.

-Your diplomatic duties have kept you and your staff here in Tirana during that battle against a devastating disease in your country. Please could you share some sentiments of yours, of the staff, of Chinese who work or live in Tirana on what was happening in the fatherland, and secondly, how do you assess the measures taken in Albania to combat the disease?

A: The outbreak in Wuhan began right before Chinese New Year, when I happened to be on vacation back in Beijing. I've always felt that, in a country with 1.4 billion people and an area of close to ten million square kilometers, small threats have the potential to cause large problems. When the outbreak started, we all took it very seriously, albeit with some panic, we were all willing to listen to the advice of doctors and scientists, and follow the government's instructions. When human-to-human transmission and clusters of cases were confirmed, the government took brave decision to impose a lockdown in a city with a population of 11 million. In Beijing, a city of 20 million people, we also volunteered to stay indoors, at a time when the city had only about a dozen confirmed cases. The successful curbing of the virus in China is a collective victory, thanks to the contributions and sacrifices of each individual.

During those days, people really showed tenacity, optimism and a spirit of sacrifice. There were touching stories everywhere. Young doctors and nurses bid goodbye to their loved ones before heading to Wuhan to help. Community volunteers went door to door to help check body temperatures and deliver groceries. People encouraged and entertained each other via social media. The same scenes also happened here in Albania and Europe, when the infection occurred. I'm always encouraged and touched when seeing doctors and medical workers risk their own lives to treat patients in danger, musicians and artists performing online or on their balconies to cheer others. In dark times, we have seen the brighter side of humanity and life itself shine through.

I think that the response of the Albanian government, as of now, has been quick and effective. Public servants, medical workers, and the police are fighting on the frontline, serving, caring, and saving lives, which is admirable. It has proved that with resolute measures and people's involvement, the virus is containable. Albania also sent two medical teams to its neighboring country Italy, even when Albania itself was under the threat of the virus. This show of solidarity and humanitarianism is very inspiring.

- Which are the lessons that Albania, Western Balkans, Europe and the entire world can learn from China's experience, particularly now when the opening up has started?

A: With regard to the prevention and control of COVID-19, different countries are in different domestic situations. Countries differ in their prevention and control measures, but I think we all agree that to save lives, we must respect the advice and scientific judgement of professionals.

A major dilemma for all countries is how to balance disease control and economic recovery. Within and across borders there have always been different opinions and even disputes. Based on its large population, high urban density and mobility, China took an unprecedented, strict, and thorough approach - and it has worked well in curbing the disease. Recently, some imported new cases have appeared in China, but the situation has been put under control pretty swiftly.

Now, many countries are easing lockdowns. But the pandemic hasn't yet been stopped, the spread hasn't been cut off. In Albania, we are also seeing the number of new cases go up and down. People need to stay vigilant. Once a cluster of infections is confirmed, quarantine and contact-tracing should be applied. On a global scale, it seems that the pandemic is still far from over. No one is safe, until all of us are safe –– that is clear.

-China has provided assistance to Albania in the combat against coronavirus. Albanians have been grateful about this because this assistance was in an extraordinary emergency. On some occasions you have had possibilities to meet ordinary Albanians besides politicians over the last months. What can you say on their assessment of the aid and in general the progress of the relations between the two countries and the perspective?

A: As Albania's friend, we responded immediately upon receiving the request from the Albanian government. We've overcome huge shipping barriers and provided Albania with batches of emergency medical supplies, including test kits, protection suits, gloves and masks worth more than 500,000 euros. Half a million masks have been donated to hospitals and families in need. Chinese public health officials and medical experts have held video conference with their Albanian counterparts to share their experiences. And some Chinese companies and individuals, both in China and Albania, have also supported Albania in their own ways. Albanian leaders and friends showed their solidarity with China in our most difficult moments, and we reciprocated our friendship and care.

Just as you mentioned, I have also had the honor of making friends with some ordinary Albanians, which has helped me to learn more about Albania and the Albanian people. On June 1st I visited some households in need here in Tirana, to celebrate Children's Day with the kids. The smiles on their faces are so unforgettable for me.

Ever since my arrival in Albania, I have constantly felt the kindness and friendliness of Albanians. And I can also feel their high expectations for closer ties between our two countries across many different fields. I think we've made a lot of progress. Investment from China has reached $1 billion up till now in Albania, and China has been Albania's third largest trade partner. But there is still huge potential for cooperation. More concrete actions need to be taken in the future. I believe that with the investment environment improving in Albania, more investment will come, and not just from China. China will also continue to contribute to Albania's post-earthquake reconstruction, and sponsor the strengthening of Albania's infrastructure and cultural facilities. Some new programs are being discussed.

- It is hard to predict, but please can you tell what are the repercussions of the COVID crisis on Chinese economy and secondly which are the projected ripple effect of them to the world economy since China is an important part of global supply chains?

A: Due to the pandemic, China's GDP contracted 6.8% in the first quarter of this year. We've been carefully balancing COVID-19 control and economic growth. Like many other countries, China is rolling out polices on both the fiscal and monetary fronts to support businesses and individuals. The good news is that the major economic indexes of China in May have improved, and the recovery is gaining momentum. I believe that the outlook of China's economy remains positive, since China is a huge economy with complete industrial chains, a strong industrial base and large innovative capacity. After the outbreak of the coronavirus, new economic forms such as digital economy and green economy are booming. Artificial intelligence and 5G are also providing new impetus for our economic growth.

It's also great to see that more economies are recovering as lockdowns are being lifted. Because of the outbreak, some countries are rethinking the composition of their industrial and supply chains. I think that China will also accordingly take measures to adjust our industrial policies, and protect the safety of our supply chain. At the same time, China will continue to open up, to facilitate trade and investment, and to share our opportunities of development with the world. According to the World Bank and other institutions, China will continue to be the major driver of world economic growth.

-'Solidarity' has been main topic of many interviews I have had since the outbreak of the pandemic, and most of the dignitaries I talked to shared the opinion that the world and the global economic order would be different in the post coronavirus era. Which is the attitude of China on the world when hopefully the pandemic is gone?

A: The pandemic has impacted international relations and the world economic order. Global trade and investment have gone down, countries' revenue have shrunk, and public debts are rising. Some scholars deem the pandemic as the 21st century's third largest incident with global impact, after 9/11 and the 2008 global financial crisis. In the last two crises, much was achieved through international cooperation, and solidarity carries even more significance this time. In the post-pandemic era, multilateralism and cooperation are more crucial than ever before.

Just several days ago, the 22nd bilateral summit between China and EU leaders was held through video conference. Leaders of China and the new leadership of the EU made in-depth exchanges of views on how to cooperate on combating the pandemic and boosting the economy, and discussed policy coordination on global and regional hotspots and jointly defending multilateralism. The two sides also reaffirmed their commitment to finalize a comprehensive bilateral investment agreement this year, which is very encouraging.

Albania has achieved significant progress on its way to EU integration. I express my sincerest wishes for future success. China will make every effort to work with organizations and countries around the world, including Albania, to maintain peace and prosperity in the post-pandemic era.

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