Speaking to the London think tank Chatham House, China’s ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming said Beijing’s response had shown China to be “contributing to global public health”.
“We have done more than what we are asked to do by the WHO and under international health regulations.
“We have made huge sacrifices to slow down the spread of the epidemic to other parts of the world.
“China has also engaged in international cooperation in an open, transparent and responsible manner in order to safeguard and improve global public health at this very critical moment,” he said.
Liu also said his country had the “advantage of socialism”, “unparalleled mobilisation capability” and the “solidarity of the Chinese people”.
“It also shows the strength of China’s system, I’m not trying to export China’s model…this really shows that China’s system can deliver, we built two hospitals in 10 days,” he said.
But when asked by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age why Dr Li was punished for raising the alarm and how that was a demonstration of China’s openness and transparency, the ambassador denied there had been any suppression of the virus’ spread in the early days.
“There’s no such a thing that China cracked down on people who gave away information,” he said.
Liu said Li was not the first to raise the alarm and that the doctor who discovered the virus, Zhang Jizian, reported it to the health authorities who reported it to an “even higher authority”.
“And this doctor was praised in China,” the ambassador said, contrasting it with Li’s approach.
“Li, he went the other channel, he did [it] on social media, not on the official channel.”
But he said: “[Li] will be remembered as a hero in his fighting of this virus and the central authority have sent an investigation team down to Wuhan to find out what really happened to him, so there’s no such thing as a cover-up, we’re trying very best to be transparent and to be responsible.”
China’s police state has been widely blamed for the delay in the government’s initial response to the outbreak in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus. Liu blamed the nerves of local officials for the early delays.
“First I would say this virus is really new, [it is] is novel, people do not know enough about it.
“So from the very beginning, I think the locals, mainly, according to the report, is the local government, they became somewhat nervous when faced with this new virus.”
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.