Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning’s Regular Press Conference on Chinese Weather Balloon and others February 6, 2023
Reuters: I understand what you said just now about China reserving the right to take necessary actions in relation to the shooting down of the balloon by the US but what would be your position hypothetically before this balloon incident? Would China shoot down a US balloon or drone if it finds it above Chinese territory?
Mao Ning: I do not take hypothetical questions. What I can tell you is that the unintended entry of the airship is an entirely unexpected, isolated incident caused by force majeure. The US side needs to handle it in a calm, professional and proper manner.
New York Times: China has objected to the downing in shallow water of the balloon. Where did China want the balloon to go instead? Did it expect it to crash into the ocean? Did it expect it to land on a Chinese ship in the ocean? Did it expect it to fly back to China? What was the plan for the airship if it had not been downed?
Mao Ning: This is a hypothetical question, which I cannot answer.
We have repeatedly stressed to the US that it should act in a calm, professional and proper manner without the use of force.
Reuters: At what point, on which day did the foreign ministry find out about this balloon? Was it before or after the US said it has discovered this balloon?
Mao Ning: China is a responsible country. After the US side informed the Chinese side of the situation, we immediately verified it and communicated it to the US side, and we specifically asked the US side to properly handle the matter in a calm, professional and restrained manner.
Reuters: Does it concern or worry China that it doesn’t have an overall systematic way of tracking where its balloons are so that it needs to rely on the other countries to let it know that they have found a balloon in their airspace?
Mao Ning: I have stressed repeatedly that this is an unexpected, isolated incident caused by force majeure and should be handled in a calm, professional and proper manner.
Wall Street Journal: We saw this morning the statement that Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng had met with or had conveyed his reaction to the US embassy. I’m curious, over the weekend, can you comment on whether there’s been any other direct communication between the US and China specifically about the downing of the aircraft? For example, has the Chinese Ministry of Defense communicated at all with the Pentagon about this issue?
Mao Ning: I can share with you that China has been in communication with the US and specifically asked the US side to properly handle the matter in a calm, professional and restrained manner. We made the result of our verification available to the US side in a timely way.
At the invitation of Premier of the State Council Li Keqiang, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia Hun Sen will pay an official visit to China from February 9 to 11.
CCTV: You just announced that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will visit China. Can you share more about this visit? How does China view the current China-Cambodia relations? And what does China expect to achieve through this visit?
Mao Ning: Prime Minister Hun Sen is a good and old friend of the Chinese people. He is the first foreign leader to be received by China after the Spring Festival this year, which speaks to the high quality of China-Cambodia relations. During the visit, Chinese leaders will meet and hold talks with him respectively to have in-depth exchanges of views on bilateral relations and regional and international issues of common interest.
China and Cambodia have traditionally been close neighbors and iron-clad friends. The China-Cambodia friendship, forged by the older generation of the leaders of the two countries, has stood the test of time and grown from strength to strength. Under the strategic guidance of the leaders of the two countries, efforts to build the China-Cambodia community with a shared future has achieved fruitful outcomes in recent years, bringing tangible benefits to the peoples of our two countries and making positive contribution to the peace and prosperity in the region and beyond. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of China-Cambodia diplomatic relations and the “China-Cambodia Friendship Year”. China hopes to take this visit as an opportunity to push for even greater progress in the building of the China-Cambodia community with a shared future and carry forward the China-Cambodia friendship from generation to generation.
CNN: The Pentagon says another surveillance balloon from China has been spotted over Latin America and the US says there were three instances during the Trump administration of China flying surveillance balloons over the US. What’s the purpose of these balloons from China?
Mao Ning: With regard to the balloon over Latin America, it has been verified that the unmanned airship is from China, of civilian nature and used for flight test. Affected by the weather and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course and entered into the airspace of Latin America and the Caribbean. China is a responsible country and always acts in strict accordance with international law. We have informed relevant sides. It is being properly handled and will not pose any threat to any country. They have expressed their understanding.
As to the alleged three instances of China flying surveillance balloons over the US during the Trump administration, I noted that Mr. Trump has denied the claim.
CNN: The US is confident though that what they shot down is in fact a spy balloon. Can you help us understand how this could be a weather balloon?
Mao Ning: The Chinese side has provided relevant information to the US side on multiple occasions. The unmanned airship is found to be a civilian airship used for meteorological and other research purposes. Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. This is entirely an unexpected, isolated incident caused by force majeure.
As a responsible country, China strictly adheres to international law and respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries. As history shows, it is the US that has repeatedly trampled on international law and violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries. The Chinese side has made it clear that this is entirely an unexpected, isolated incident caused by force majeure. The US side’s deliberate hyping up of the matter and even use of force are unacceptable and irresponsible.
Sky News: The eyes of the world are now on China as you know following the shooting down of that balloon. Does China recognize how dangerous this moment could be? And with that in mind, should it avoid tit-for-tat escalations, especially if the debris gathered shows that the balloon was spying?
Mao Ning: We have stated several times that this incident was totally unexpected and caused by force majeure. The US Department of Defense already stated that “the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground”. China has time and again made that clear to the US, and yet the US side still went ahead with the use of force, which is a clear overreaction. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to that.
I wish to stress that in the face of this kind of unexpected, isolated incidents, both sides, the US in particular, should act in a calm, professional and proper manner without the use of force.
Beijing Youth Daily: Your colleague said that the 14th “Love Knows No Borders” international charity sale includes a livestreaming sale scheduled during the evening around February 8. Can you update us on the event?
Mao Ning: Thanks for your interest in the event. With the support and contribution from various quarters in China and abroad, the opening ceremony of the 14th “Love Knows No Borders” international charity sale was successfully held in an online format on January 17. A livestreaming sale has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on February 8. Some diplomatic envoys and senior diplomats in China and representatives from the two counties paired with our ministry in Yunnan Province and the two counties in Hebei Province which have support-driven and cooperative ties with our ministry will promote the products of the charity sale and showcase diverse culture on CCTV news app and the CCTV news channel at Taobao Live.
Donations collected at the event will be used for “projects of warmth”, which will install and upgrade shower facilities for elementary and middle schools in Malipo and Jinping, two counties in Yunnan, bringing warmth to nearly 20,000 children there to help them grow up healthily. We hope friends from home and abroad will join the upcoming events of the “Love Knows No Borders” international charity sale online, share your love and contribute to rural revitalization.
Xinhua News Agency: We noted that President of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly Csaba Kőrösi wrapped up his visit to China over the weekend. Could you share more information with us?
Mao Ning: President of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly Csaba Kőrösi paid a visit to China from February 1 to 4 upon invitation. Premier Li Keqiang and State Councilor Wang Yi met with him respectively. Foreign Minister Qin Gang held talks with him. The two sides exchanged in-depth views on the current international situation, the role of the United Nations and issues of common interest. During the visit, President Csaba Kőrösi also met with officials of relevant ministries and leading officials of the Henan Provincial Party Committee. He also went to Zhengzhou, Henan, where he visited the central route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project that crosses the Yellow River.
Kőrösi is the first senior official of the UN system to have visited China this year. China always supports multilateralism, the work of the UN and the important role of the UN General Assembly. This visit has been a complete success and I’ve come up with three keywords to highlight the outcomes.
The first is unity. Both sides agreed that it’s important to uphold multilateralism, safeguard the authority of the UN, and firmly uphold the UN-centered international order and the basic norms governing international relations based on international law. We need to remain committed to making international relations more democratic and further increase the representation and say of developing countries in international affairs.
The second is development. Both sides agreed to put development at the center of the global agenda, host UN high-level forums on sustainable development this year, support developing countries in enhancing their capacity for self-driven development, and ensure that no country and no one is left behind on the path of common development. China is ready to strengthen the synergy between the Global Development Initiative and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and carry out more practical cooperation projects that deliver tangible results.
The third is challenge. Both sides agreed that in the face of multiple challenges and crises in today’s world, countries should attach importance to the application of science and technology, and strengthen the unique role of data in water conservation, climate response, biodiversity conservation and implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. China supports the UN Water Conference to be held in March and appreciates the personal efforts made by President Csaba Kőrösi for the event.
Bloomberg: First, you’ve characterized both balloons as entering the US and Latin America accidentally and being blown off course, so I guess the question is, why is China having so much trouble controlling weather balloons? And is it gonna take steps to sort of remedy that problem?
Mao Ning: I’m not an expert on controlling the balloon, so I’m probably not the right person to answer this question. But to my knowledge, this is not the first time in the world that balloons for scientific research went out of control.
Dragon TV: Former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf passed away due to illness on February 5. Do you have any comment?
Mao Ning: Former President Musharraf was an old friend of the Chinese people. He made important contribution to China-Pakistan relations. We deeply mourn the passing of Mr Musharraf and extend our sincere sympathies to his family. China stands ready to work with Pakistan to carry forward our iron-clad friendship, deepen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic cooperative partnership, and advance the building of an even closer China-Pakistan community with a shard future in the new era.
Wall Street Journal: To your knowledge, are there any other balloons in the world that currently the government or China has lost control of?? What information can you share with us about that?
Mao Ning: I’ve shared with you what I know. I don’t have other information.
AFP: The foreign ministry said this morning that Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng has lodged stern representations to the US Embassy over the handling of the Chinese balloon. Could you give more details about this encounter? Did Vice Minister Xie meet personally with the US Ambassador? And China has said it reserves the right to further respond to the balloon being shot down. What responses does China plan to take?
Mao Ning: The Chinese side has put out a press release regarding Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng’s démarche and you may refer to that. I want to stress that despite our repeated communication with the US, the US side still went ahead with the use of force. This is a clear overreaction. The Chinese side is firmly opposed to that. The US side needs to stop pushing the envelope and stop escalating or exacerbating the situation. The Chinese side will respond as necessary in light of the development of the situation.
New York Times: Is China taking the position that it reserves the right to shoot down unmanned aircraft that fly across its borders without permission or is China taking the position that it is wrong to shoot down unmanned aircraft that fly across borders without permission?
Mao Ning: I want to stress that the US made an overreaction by using force on a strayed unmanned civilian airship. This violates customary international practice.
TASS: How does China see the prospects of BRICS? How do you assess China’s influence and role in BRICS’ development? What is China’s position on BRICS’ expansion? If BRICS countries start to use more local currencies for settlement in international trade and other areas and reduce the use of the US dollar, how do you view this? Do BRICS countries need to create a common currency? A separate question. On February 1, Ukrainian law enforcement agencies expanded their fight against corruption and searched the homes of many incumbent and former high-ranking officials and rich businessmen. Do you have anything to comment on this?
Mao Ning: On your first question, BRICS came into being as the world was experiencing major transformation. After more than a decade of continuous hard work and nurture, BRICS cooperation has struck deep roots and come a long way. It has enjoyed robust momentum and become a key force in international affairs. China, as the BRICS chair last year, held a successful 14th BRICS Summit and achieved a series of pioneering, guiding and institutional outcomes. During the BRICS China Year, more than 160 meetings and events, covering more than 30 specific areas, were held, leaving a deep China imprint on BRICS cooperation.
The XIV BRICS Summit Beijing Declaration noted that “We support promoting discussions among BRICS members on BRICS expansion process.” China will continue to follow the BRICS spirit of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, work with BRICS partners, strengthen cooperation with other emerging markets and developing countries, and jointly advance the BRICS expansion process on the basis of full discussion and consensus through consultation.
In recent years, BRICS countries have made progress through exchange and cooperation in financial and monetary sectors. This is of great importance to facilitating trade among BRICS countries and jointly promoting economic recovery.
On your second question, what you mentioned is Ukraine’s domestic affair, and we will not comment on that.
Bloomberg: On Friday China dismissed the head of its weather department. This came just after the Pentagon said that the balloon was over Montana which houses US nuclear missile sites. Was this dismissal of the weather department official related to the balloon? Separately, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that he will postpone his trip to China. Are there any plans for that trip to be put back on the schedule?
Mao Ning: On your first question, there is an announcement on the website of the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of China. I have nothing more to share.
You mentioned Secretary Blinken’s visit to China in your second question. In fact, neither China nor the US has ever announced that there would be a visit. It is a matter for the US to make its latest announcement. It is the responsibility of the diplomatic teams on both sides to properly manage bilateral relations.
CNBC: I have two questions. The first question is, the US Senator Schumer said that once the balloon was exposed to the public, China attempted to maneuver the balloon to leave the US as soon as they could. Can the Chinese side confirm this? And how did it attempt to maneuver the balloon? The second question is, now that we don’t know exactly when Blinken would be coming to visit China, what sorts of actions is China planning in order to put further guard rails on the US-China relationship and prevent further economic fallout?
Mao Ning: On your first question, I can tell you that we have maintained communication with the US side and made a great effort to handle this matter in a responsible way.
On China-US relations, China views and grows its relations with the US in accordance with the three principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation proposed by President Xi Jinping. At the same time, we firmly uphold our sovereignty, security and development interests. The unintended entry of the airship into US airspace is totally unexpected and isolated. It is, however, a test for the US side’s sincerity about stabilizing and improving its relations with China and its approach to crisis management. The US side needs to work with China to properly manage differences and avoid misunderstanding and miscalculation and damaging mutual trust.
AFP: Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell has said that he has agreed to an in-person meeting with Chinese Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao. Can you confirm this and can you share any details of the recent talks between the two trade ministers?
Mao Ning: The Ministry of Commerce has put out a release, which you may refer to. I would refer you to the responsible department for the specifics.
Reuters: This is about the Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell’s upcoming meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Wentao. Just to confirm does this meeting replace the online meeting that the commerce ministry confirmed last week? Or has that meeting been postponed and replaced with this in-person meeting?
Mao Ning: I’m not aware of the specifics. I would refer you to the Ministry of Commerce.
AFP: A magnitude 7.8 earthquake today has killed hundreds of people in Türkiye and Syria. Have any Chinese citizens been hurt and is China planning to provide humanitarian assistance?
Mao Ning: We have been closely following the major earthquake that hit Türkiye and Syria. We mourn for the victims and express our sympathies to those who lost their loved ones and people who are injured. We sincerely hope that the Turkish and Syrian people will overcome the disaster and rebuild their home at an early date.
After the earthquake, Chinese embassies and consulates in the region, including in Türkiye and Syria, immediately activated emergency response mechanisms to verify the situation of Chinese citizens affected by the earthquake. So far, no Chinese casualties have been reported. Chinese diplomatic and consular missions in the affected region will continue to closely follow the situation on the ground and provide consular protection and assistance to Chinese citizens there.
We’d also like to take this opportunity to remind fellow Chinese compatriots in Türkiye and Syria to guard against post-earthquake secondary disasters.