(CNSNews.com) – Chinese officials and state media have stepped up insinuations that the United States may be responsible for the coronavirus outbreak which emerged in China late last year, and on Monday Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called them out on it.
In a phone conversation with the Communist Party’s top foreign relations official, Yang Jiechi, “Secretary Pompeo conveyed strong U.S. objections to PRC efforts to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.
“The Secretary stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat.”
Yang, a former foreign minister and former ambassador to Washington, is the director of the Communist Party’s office of foreign affairs and a member of the politburo of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times said Yang told Pompeo in the phone call that U.S. politicians’ “slandering” and “stigmatizing” of China over the outbreak “has aroused outrage among Chinese people.”
“Any attempt to discredit and defame China will never succeed, and any act that undermines China’s interests will be met with a firm counterattack from the Chinese side,” it cited Yang as saying.
After the phone call, Pompeo tweeted that he had spoken to Yang “about disinformation and outlandish rumors that are being spread through official PRC channels.”
“The United States is sparing no effort to protect our people and contain the global coronavirus pandemic,” he said. “Beijing must acknowledge its role and be part of the solution.”
China’s foreign ministry has in recent weeks pushed back when attention is drawn to the fact that the outbreak first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan. It has taken issue in particular with those like Pompeo who have referred to the “Wuhan coronavirus.”
But officials and state media have gone further, promoting unsubstantiated theories blaming the United States for the outbreak, which is today affecting more than 150 countries and territories and has been blamed for more than 6,600 deaths.
On Friday Lijian Zhao, a foreign ministry spokesman who is also deputy director-general of its information department, tweeted: “When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”
The same day, Zhao drew attention on Twitter to an article on a website notorious for disseminating conspiracy theories, relating to one of numerous such theories to have emerged about the outbreak – attempts to draw a link between safety concerns at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, in Fort Detrick, Md., and Wuhan’s hosting of the World Military Games last fall.
Organized by the International Military Sports Council, the summer games are held every four years. Almost 8,000 military personnel athletes from the U.S. and 108 other countries took part in the ten-day event in Wuhan last October.
The article Zhao promoted suggested U.S. participants had brought to the virus to Wuhan. Research into the virus thus far indicates its likeliest origin to be at or near the Huanan food market in Wuhan, in late November or early December last year.
“This article is very much important to each and every one of us,” Zhao commented. “Please read and retweet it.”
According to Global Times, the State Department called in Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai for a reprimand about Zhao’s tweets. The State Department did not responded to queries about this by press time.
‘Jumping to conclusions’
The ministry’s regular spokesman, Geng Shuang, has been more circumspect, saying periodically during briefings that scientists’ findings on the origin of the virus should be awaited.
At Friday’s briefing, he was asked outright, “Some say it might be the U.S. Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. How do you comment on that?”
Geng did not answer directly, but pointed instead to U.S. criticism of China.
“In recent days we noticed many discussions on the origin of the COVID-19. We firmly oppose the unfounded and irresponsible comments made by certain high-level U.S. officials and Congress members on this issue to smear and attack China,” he said.
“The fact is, there are different opinions in the U.S. and among the larger international community on the origin of the virus,” Geng continued. “China believes it’s a matter of science which requires professional and science-based assessment.”
He was asked again, “Is it the Chinese government’s position that it might be the U.S. Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan?
Geng merely repeated his reply about “different opinions” on the origin of the coronavirus.
The issue came up again at Monday’s briefing in Beijing.
“As to the origin of the virus, like we stressed many times, is a matter of science which requires scientific and professional assessment, and we should wait for findings of the science community,” he said. “Considering all this, jumping to conclusions won’t help any country and will only cause panic and discrimination.”
State media, meanwhile, have pointed to comments by Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan, who at a briefing last month said that just because the coronavirus was first detected in China did not necessarily mean it originated in China.
On Monday, the People’s Daily, a Communist Party paper, gave op-ed space to a Pakistani sinologist who mused on a potential U.S. motivation for the outbreak.
“The U.S. has been using all tools at its disposal to counter China, including diplomatic, political, economic, social, and science and technology, including the health sector,” opined Zamir Ahmed Awan. “If evidence proves that the origin of the coronavirus was the U.S., and it was a deliberate attempt to ‘contain China,’ it might be really embarrassing for the whole world.”
China’s foreign ministry has accused U.S. officials of trying to divert attention from their own response to the outbreak by pointing fingers at China.
In contrast to widespread criticism of its handling of the crisis, Beijing continues to promote the narrative that it was completely transparent about the outbreak from the outset, that China brought “precious time” for the rest of the world, and that the international community “has acknowledged China’s signature speed, scale and efficiency.”