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China’s ambassador to U.S. says his country is doing everything possible to stop outbreak

There’s no indication yet that China’s novel coronavirus outbreak is slowing. More than 50 million people live in cities essentially locked down to prevent the illness’ spread, but fatalities and infections continue to rise. There are also many questions about how the Chinese government has handled the outbreak. Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is no sign yet of the coronavirus outbreak slowing down in China.

    More than 50 million people live in cities that have essentially been locked down to try to slow its spread. But the number of reported fatalities and infections has shot up throughout the week. And there are many questions about the way the Chinese government has handled the outbreak since the beginning.

    Mass quarantine shelters have been set up. And there are reports tonight that infected people are being taken to designated centers.

    Cui Tiankai is China's ambassador to the United States.

    And he joins me now.

    Mr. Ambassador, welcome to the "NewsHour."

  • Cui Tiankai:

    Thank you. Good evening.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, I want to quote first what your president, President Xi, has said.

    He has called this epidemic a major test of China's system and capacity for governance.

    So, my question is, can you say with confidence that you are anywhere near controlling this outbreak?

  • Cui Tiankai:

    I think that the whole Chinese nation is fighting this coronavirus now.

    Now, this is a tough fight. This is a big challenge, of course. But we have the confidence that we will eventually control the outbreak and win the battle, because we have very strong leadership under President Xi Jinping.

    We have 1.4 billion people united and determined. And we have hundreds of thousands of doctors, medical workers, men and women in uniform, and others fighting at the very front with such dedication.

    And, of course, we are working so closely with other countries, with international organizations, like the World Health Organization.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    At the same time, we read, Mr. Ambassador, the hospitals in the affected areas are way over capacity.

    You're having to set up temporary shelters.

  • Cui Tiankai:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is this an acknowledgment that this faster — is moving faster than any — this virus is moving faster than anyone there expected?

  • Cui Tiankai:

    You see, this is a new virus.

    Just not long ago, nobody knew it. So, this is an entirely new type of challenge to everybody. And you see, the city of Wuhan has over a dozen (ph) people living and working there.

    And the province of Hubei, of which Wuhan is the capital city, the province has a population of about 60 million people, almost one-fifth of the U.S. population, or the entire population of Italy.

    And the province covers the area of the size of North Dakota. So you can imagine how difficult it could be to identify the virus, the new virus, detect the outbreak — detect the outbreak, and also mobilize the whole public health system and build the capacity.

    But we are doing everything we can.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Can — are the numbers that your government is producing every day numbers that the world can trust, the numbers of people who have been infected, the number of deaths?

    I'm asking because there are real questions about this.

  • Cui Tiankai:

    Now we are publishing numbers every day.

    These numbers are outcome of very careful screening throughout the area. Of course, there were still people who are suspect of infection, but not determined, not identified as truly affected by the virus.

    So that's why the numbers are changing every day. But we're doing our best to have the numbers as accurate as possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    At the same time, there is a Chinese vice premier who it's reported has ordered the authorities in Wuhan to round up all the residents who were infected and to put them in isolation or in designated places.

    We are told there's a city, investigators have been told to go into every home to check people's temperature. This sounds like something that's not realistic. Can this be done?

  • Cui Tiankai:

    According to our experts, and according to institutions like WHO, so far, the best way we know how to stop the outbreak, to stop the virus is to cut off all possible channels of infection, the spread of the virus.

    So that is exactly what we are doing now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But by the idea of going into individual — every single residence, it sounds like an enormous, impossible job.

  • Cui Tiankai:

    You see, everybody wants to go to the hospital — hospital to be sure whether they are affected.

    But there could be a huge crowd in hospitals. That's why we are going to every home, to serve the needs of the people. They need such determination, whether they are affected or not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The reason I ask you, Mr. Ambassador, about whether the world can trust the numbers of your government is, we know the initial report about the coronavirus, the doctor who issued his warning, his concern, he was criticized.

    He was detained. He was told that he had made — he had to sign a statement saying he had made false comments that severely disturbed the social order, and I'm quoting.

    Three weeks later China declared a virus outbreak as a national emergency.

    How big a mistake was that?

  • Cui Tiankai:

    You see, as I said earlier, this is a new virus. Nobody knew it beforehand.

    So, at the initial stage, you have to go through a period of tests, a period of trying to identify the new virus to know more about it. But this Dr. Li, he was a very devoted doctor.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Reports now that he has died.

  • Cui Tiankai:

    Yes, I'm really saddened by the news of his death.

    I think he is such a devoted doctor. We are so grateful to him to whatever he has done in our joint efforts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But at a time when it was clear the government wanted good news, and this is bad news, isn't — if there was ever a time for telling the truth in China, is this not the time?

  • Cui Tiankai:

    I think we are telling people the truth.

    That's why you have such growing numbers every day. Of course, we also see that the number of people who are cured is already much larger than the cases of death. This is encouraging, but this is not enough. We have to do more. We have to do much more.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Will people be punished if they don't — if the news is not good, if they find the problem is bigger in some places than the government had realized?

  • Cui Tiankai:

    I think the people will be encouraged to tell the truth.

    Maybe, at the initial stage, such people are not fully understood and appreciated by everybody. This could happen anywhere. But our goal is to encourage people to tell the truth and to confront the challenge. And people will only be punished if they fail to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One other thing I want to ask you about, Mr. Ambassador, so much to discuss, clearly, trade relations, so much else between our two countries.

    But that is the report that we mentioned earlier in the program. Two of the most senior U.S. law enforcement officials today, the attorney general, the head of the FBI, said that China's efforts to, in their words, steal American technology and trade secrets, especially by your tech giant Huawei, constitute what they call the greatest long-term threat to American economic vitality.

    Why shouldn't Americans view China with worry and suspicion?

  • Cui Tiankai:

    That's a very good question.

    I don't see any reason at all why they should be so worried, why they should be — they should have such suspicion, without any grounds.

    You see, I have been here for quite a long — and I have heard such people putting all the blame, accusations, groundless accusations on China.

    But, honestly, I think these accusations sound more like their own job descriptions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What do you mean?

  • Cui Tiankai:

    Maybe that's something they are doing every day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean they are jeopardizing American economic…

  • Cui Tiankai:

    No, maybe they are trying the steal things from other countries.

    You see, the blame they put, the accusations they put on companies like Huawei are totally groundless. Huawei is a privately owned company.

    But how can people be punished because they are just doing very well in their research, they are making themselves more competitive? This is the market. It's a good thing to be competitive in the market.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I hope — this is a conversation I hope we can continue in the future.

  • Cui Tiankai:

    Of course, any time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    China's Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai, thank you very much.

  • Cui Tiankai:

    Thank you, Madam. Thank you.

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