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

BEIJING — China on Friday defended its strict “zero-COVID” policy after the US ambassador said it was causing serious damage to the global economy and foreign business sentiment.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China’s economy is recovering from the impact of the pandemic and “facts prove” that the policies mandating lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing are “suitable for China’s national conditions and are historically consistent.” has proven itself”.

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

China has tried to completely eliminate outbreaks of COVID-19 with tight restrictions, while most other countries are relaxing their anti-coronavirus measures to “live with” the disease.

Ambassador Nicholas Burns said Thursday that the “zero-COVID” policy has had “a major impact” on business sentiment, citing a two-month lockdown in Shanghai, China’s largest city and main financial hub, as particularly damaging.

Most of Shanghai’s 25 million people have been confined to their homes or immediate neighborhoods, and hundreds of thousands remain under restrictions. Rolling lockdowns also continued in Beijing and other cities.

Critics say the policy is disrupting global supply chains and harming employment and consumption in China. The United Nations World Health Organization has labeled it as unsustainable. China condemned the comments as irresponsible.

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

“We are well aware of the need, I think the Chinese government is well aware of the need to try and get back to a situation of normality,” Burns said.

He said few American companies are exiting China entirely 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’s a reluctance to committing to investing in the future until they can see the end of it.”

The US and China recorded trade sales of US$650 billion last year, and around 1,100 American companies have operations in China.

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

“It’s difficult to convince any of my colleagues in Washington to come here when I tell them that if they do, they must quarantine for 14 days before they can have a single meeting,” he said burns “And I understand your reluctance to do that.”

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

Burns, who said Washington-Beijing ties are at their lowest since former President Richard Nixon’s visit in 1972, said China’s aggressive foreign policy has increased competition between the countries. But he said they still have several areas where they can engage constructively, including climate change, anti-drug action and agricultural trade.

Burns said much of his work focuses on outreach to the Chinese public, a task made difficult by the government’s COVID-19 restrictions and strict censorship.

A recent speech by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on China, which the embassy posted on China’s Twitter-like social media platform Weibo, was taken down within about 2 1/2 hours but attracted many views while it was active , he said.

A second attempt to post it three days later resulted in it being censored within 20 minutes, Burns said.

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

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