The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has lambasted Beijing's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic while expressing support for Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus.
“First, basic facts. China’s been ruled by a brutal, authoritarian regime, a communist regime since 1949… For several decades we thought the regime would become more like us through trade, scientific exchanges, diplomatic outreach, letting them in the WTO (World Trade Organisation) as a developing nation. That didn’t happen,” Pompeo said in a media address in Washington on Wednesday.
The Secretary of State continued, lamenting the fact that initial hopes the “regime would change” through trade, diplomatic efforts and scientific exchange to become more like the US proved to be futile.
“We greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations. The whole world is waking up to that fact,” said Pompeo.
Touching upon the Chinese Communist Party’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, which has been repeatedly slammed by Washington as allegedly lacking transparency, Pompeo said it had “accelerated” a “more realistic understanding of Communist China”.
“The Party chose to destroy live samples of the virus instead of sharing them or asking us to help secure them,” said the US official.
At this point in the address Pompeo emphasized his country’s support for Australia, which earlier called for an independent international probe into the origins of the COVID-19, and lambasted China’s response to Canberra’s initiative.
“The Chinese Communist Party chose to threaten Australia with economic retribution for the simple act of asking for an independent inquiry into the origins of the virus. It’s not right,” said Pompeo, warning the world was waking up to the “reality of the communist regime”.
“We stand with Australia and the more than 120 nations now who have taken up the American call for an inquiry into the origins of the virus, so we can understand what went wrong and save lives now, and into the future.”
Amid escalating unsubstantiated allegations of a cover-up, China has repeatedly rejected downplaying the scope of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“There has never been any cover up and we do not allow cover ups. China, in response to Covid-19, has done nothing that should be criticized,” said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at an April briefing.
The US official’s statements came soon after the Global Times newspaper, perceived as the mouthpiece of the Chinese Government, quoted anonymous citizens on the internet likening Australia to a “dog” taking orders from US President Donald Trump.
“By following the steps of some US hawks who harshly attack China over coronavirus, “it seems that Australia, this giant kangaroo that serves as a dog of the US, will hit a deadlock with China on trade disputes in sectors like coal and beef. Hopefully, the US will compensate it!” a netizen reportedly said in a Weibo post on Tuesday.
China-Aussie Barley Spat
Pompeo’s barrage against China comes after Beijing’s move to slap five-year duties on Australian barley exports, with a 73.6 percent anti-dumping tariff and a 6.9 percent anti-subsidy tariff applied from 19 May, ABC news reported.
China’s Ministry of Commerce announced the move on Monday, after completing a 16-month investigation into an anti-dumping complaint. Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham reiterated that Australia had neither subsidised nor dumped barley in China.
The move to impose tariffs came after China’s ambassador to Australia, Jingye Cheng, had warned of economic repercussions for Australia over Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s push for an independent COVID-19 probe.
Allegations the Asian country had downplayed the gravity of the virus and not been transparent enough regarding its own response to the pandemic have been circulating for some time now, with Washington spearheading the accusations, which Beijing emphatically rejects.
Nevertheless, on 19 May the World Health Assembly voted to conduct an independent probe into the global coronavirus response, with the motion proposed by more than 130 states including Australia.
Just before it was adopted, China agreed to co-sponsor the resolution, despite a previous rejection of such calls from Washington and Canberra.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his country supported “the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19”.
“This work should be based on science and professionalism, led by WHO and conducted in an objective and impartial manner,” said Xi Jinping.