State Secretary Antony J. Blinken on Sunday criticized the Chinese government for a lack of transparency during the pandemic, particularly in the “early stages of Covid,” and called for a more thorough investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
A report published last month of a joint World Health Organization-China investigation did not definitively determine how or when the virus spread and did little to allay Western concerns that the Chinese Communist Party bent the investigation to their advantage . Mr. Blinken reiterated these concerns and urged Beijing to “genuinely commit to transparency, information sharing and expert access.”
“I think China knows it didn’t do what it needed to do in the early stages of Covid,” Blinken said in an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. “One result of this bug is that the virus has gotten out of control faster and, I believe, with much more egregious results than it would otherwise.”
Mr. Blinken urged further investigation.
“We have to get to the bottom of this,” he said of the origins of the virus. “We have to do this carefully so that we fully understand what happened in order to get the best possible shot that will prevent it from happening again.”
The Secretary of State’s remarks offered a more diplomatic approach than those of Trump administration officials, who wanted China to be responsible for the spread of Covid-19 in the US and who often used the flames of xenophobia in their public campaign to blame themselves for a bad response to withdraw to the pandemic. However, Mr. Blinken’s comments showed the Biden government’s willingness to convey skepticism about the official Beijing narrative.
Mr Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, had claimed with little evidence months into the pandemic that the coronavirus came from a research laboratory in Wuhan, China. He had urged American spy agencies to look for evidence to support the unsubstantiated theory, but most agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a laboratory link can be found.
Days before the WHO released its report, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Trump administration also speculated that the virus came from a laboratory in China. The former officer, Dr. Robert Redfield, did not provide any evidence and insisted that this was his opinion.
The WHO international team of experts studying the origins of the virus in China dismissed the laboratory theory as “extremely unlikely” in their report. Dr. However, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, took the unexpected step of publicly casting doubt, saying that the theory needed further investigation and that he was ready to deploy more experts on it.
The Chinese State Department and state media rejected criticism from the White House and others that Beijing was not transparent during the WHO investigation.
Chinese experts involved in the investigation “provided the necessary relief for the team’s work and fully demonstrated its openness, transparency and responsible attitude,” a representative from the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement last month. “The politicization of this issue will only significantly impede global cooperation in investigating origins, endanger cooperation against pandemics and cost more lives.”