China defends ‘zero-COVID’ after US envoy warns of costs

BEIJING (AP) — China on Friday defended its tough “zero-COVID” policy after the U.S. ambassador said it was causing serious damage to the global economy and foreign business climate.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China’s economy was recovering from the effects of the pandemic and “facts prove” that the policy imposing lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing is ” adapted to China’s national conditions and has stood the test of history”.

“We fully believe that (we can) contain the epidemic, stabilize the economy and achieve the goal of safe economic development,” Wang said at a daily press briefing.

China has sought to completely eliminate COVID-19 outbreaks with strict restrictions, while most other countries are easing their anti-coronavirus measures to “live with” the disease.

Ambassador Nicholas Burns said on Thursday the “zero-COVID” policy had “had a major impact” on business sentiment, pointing to a two-month lockdown in Shanghai, China’s largest city and main financial center.

Most of Shanghai’s 25 million people were confined to their homes or immediate neighborhoods, and hundreds of thousands continue to face restrictions. Continuous lockdowns also continued in Beijing and other cities.

Critics say the policy is disrupting global supply chains and hurting jobs and consumption in China. The UN’s World Health Organization has called it unsustainable. China denounced the remarks as irresponsible.

Burns said in a virtual address to the Brookings Institution think tank that there were 40,000 US citizens in the Shanghai area before the pandemic, but “many of those people have gone home.” Diplomats from Europe, Japan and other countries are reporting similar denials, he said.

“We are very aware of the need, I think the Chinese government is very aware of the need, to try to return to a situation of normalcy,” Burns said.

He said few U.S. companies are leaving China completely because of its continued importance, “but from the results I’ve read and the conversations I’ve had with many business leaders here, I think there is a hesitation to invest in future bonds until they can see the end of it.”

The United States and China recorded $650 billion in trade last year, and about 1,100 American companies operate in China.

Chinese restrictions have all but ended visits by US government officials and business leaders, while the number of American students has fallen sharply since China suspended the issuance of student visas.

“It’s hard to convince any of my colleagues in Washington to come here if I tell them that when they do, they have to self-quarantine for 14 days before they can have a single meeting,” Burns said. “And I understand their reluctance to do that.”

Burns said the Chinese government is signaling that the “zero-COVID” policy will likely be extended at least until the early months of 2023.

Burns, who said relations between Washington and Beijing were at their lowest point since former President Richard Nixon’s visit in 1972, said China’s aggressive foreign policy had intensified competition between the countries. But he said they still had many areas where they could constructively engage, including on climate change, anti-narcotics measures and agricultural trade.

Burns said much of his work has focused on educating the Chinese public, a task made more difficult by COVID-19 restrictions and strict government censorship.

A recent speech on China by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the embassy posted on China’s Twitter-like Weibo social media platform was deleted in about 2.5 hours, but attracted a large number of seen while he was in place, he said.

A second attempt at publication three days later resulted in its censorship within 20 minutes, Burns said.

“So that’s the game they’re playing,” he said.

Leave a Comment