Beijing has rejected Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s request for US inspectors’ access to Chinese labs to make sure that there was no “accidental release” of the coronavirus.
“Any objective person will see that some US politicians have been peddling lies that discredit China's anti-epidemic efforts to fuddle people's minds and deflect attention from the fact that they fell short of fulfilling their own anti-epidemic responsibilities”, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang pointed out on Thursday.
The statement came after Pompeo called for US inspections to be held at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other Chinese labs dealing with studies related to the coronavirus and other pathogens.
“We are still asking the Chinese Communist Party to allow experts to get into that virology lab so that we can determine precisely where this virus began. […] We have to make sure that the Chinese government is handling those materials in an appropriate way not only in the Wuhan Institute of Virology but elsewhere”, Pompeo said last week.
He spoke after Trump confirmed last week that the US is conducting an investigation into whether the virus escaped from a Wuhan lab before spreading to other countries.
US Military Doesn’t ‘Know for Certain’ if COVID-19 Appeared Naturally, Top General Says
In another development last week, US General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon news briefing about evidence on the natural origins of COVID-19, at the same time admitting that there is no certainty on the matter.
He referred to “a lot of rumour and speculation in a wide variety of media, the blog sites, etc.” pertaining to speculation that the coronavirus was accidentally released from a Chinese laboratory.
“It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that and we’ve had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that. And I would just say, at this point, it’s inconclusive although the weight of evidence seems to indicate natural. But we don’t know for certain”, Milley emphasised.
The comments followed Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian writing on his Twitter in March that the US Army might have “brought the [COVID-19] epidemic to [the city of] Wuhan”, where the outbreak originated in late December.
The claims were immediately rejected by the State Department which argued that China was trying to deflect criticism of its alleged role in “starting a global pandemic and not telling the world”.
Earlier in April, World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus praised the fact that Wuhan had not recorded any new cases of COVID-19 for the first time since the outbreak late last year. The remarks came after China announced the end of Wuhan's lockdown, but added that some restrictions within the city will remain in place.
The WHO’s latest estimates put the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China at 84,302, with 4,642 deaths. The US remains the country hardest hit by the pandemic, with over 869,000 infected and almost 50,000 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins University.