China on Thursday accused the Biden administration of playing politics and shirking its responsibility in calling for a renewed investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic that was first detected in China in late 2019.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing that President Joe Biden’s order showed the U.S. “does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing."
Biden told U.S. intelligence officials to redouble their efforts to investigate the origins of the pandemic, including any possibility the trail might lead to a Chinese laboratory.
After months of minimizing that possibility as a fringe theory, the Biden administration is joining worldwide pressure on China to be more open about the outbreak, aiming to head off Republican complaints the president has not been tough enough to press China on alleged obstruction.
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Biden's request comes after a U.S. intelligence report said three lab workers in Wuhan fell ill in November 2019, before the first coronavirus cases were reported, adding to circumstantial evidence for a hypothesis that the virus could have escaped from a lab in the city.
Zhao also said the U.S. must open itself up to investigations into its biological laboratories, including at the Naval Medical Research Center’s Biological Defense Research Directorate at Fort Detrick in the state of Maryland.
“The U.S. side claims that it wants China to participate in a comprehensive, transparent, evidence-based international investigation," Zhao said. “We would like to ask the U.S. side to do the same as China and immediately cooperate with the World Health Organization on origin tracing research in a scientific manner."
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Biden on Wednesday asked U.S. intelligence agencies to report back within 90 days. He directed U.S. national laboratories to assist with the investigation and the intelligence community to prepare a list of specific queries for the Chinese government. He called on China to cooperate with international probes into the origins of the pandemic.
Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, have promoted the theory that the virus emerged from a laboratory accident rather than naturally through human contact with an infected animal at a traditional wet market in Wuhan.
Biden in a statement said the majority of the intelligence community had “coalesced” around those two scenarios but “do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.” He revealed that two agencies lean toward the animal link and “one leans more toward” the lab theory, “each with low or moderate confidence.”
Top administration officials have been speaking out more strongly about the need for China and the World Health Organization to more fully cooperate in investigations over the virus's origins after The Wall Street Journal was first to report on the lab workers who fell ill.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told a WHO ministerial meeting Tuesday that there must be a “transparent” follow-up probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Andy Slavitt, a senior White House adviser for Covid-19 response, said Tuesday that it is a “critical priority” for the U.S. to uncover the truth.
“It is our position that we need to get to the bottom of this, and we need a completely transparent process from China; we need the WHO to assist in that matter,” he said. “We don't feel like we have that now.”
Biden still held out the possibility that a firm conclusion may never be reached, given the Chinese government’s refusal to fully cooperate with international investigations.
“The failure to get our inspectors on the ground in those early months will always hamper any investigation into the origin of COVID-19,” he said.
Zhao said the administration's position came in “in total disregard of facts and science ... while totally ignoring the doubts over the origin-tracing work and failure of pandemic response in the U.S."
“This fully shows that the U.S. side does not care about facts and truth, nor is it interested in serious scientific origin tracing, but wants to use the epidemic to engage in stigmatization and political manipulation, and to shirk responsibility," Zhao said. “This is disrespectful to science and irresponsible to people’s lives, and moreover, it undermines the global unity of efforts to fight the epidemic."