Relations between the US and China seem to be getting worse by the day, as Beijing pushes back against renewed White House insistence that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is leading the White House charge, and he's taking the brunt of criticism from China's government. Coverage:
- Pompeo: He said Sunday there's "enormous evidence" that COVID-19 originated in a lab in Wuhan, reports Axios. "These are not the first times that we have had the world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab," he said. Pompeo didn't provide specifics to back up his claim.
- New twist: The consensus among scientists and the intelligence community is that the virus isn't man-made or genetically modified, explains the New York Times. The White House isn't necessarily disputing that. A new theory is that a coronavirus was being studied in animals in the lab, and it jumped to a human accidentally, perhaps when an infected animal was improperly disposed of. From there, the virus spread in Wuhan. Axios adds: "This is plausible, but there is no direct or public evidence to support it."
- Trump: The president pushed the lab-accident theory Sunday during his Fox News town hall. "My opinion is they made a mistake," he said. "They tried to cover it, they tried to put it out. It's like a fire ... [but] they couldn't put out the fire." Trump added that "we're going to be giving a very strong report as to exactly what we think happened," though it's not clear when that will happen. Trump has been repeating the charge lately.
- China's response: Beijing is going after Pompeo in particular, saying, essentially, prove it or shut up. "Since Pompeo said his claims are supported by 'enormous evidence,' then he should present this so-called evidence to the world, and especially to the American public who he continually tries to fool," says an editorial Monday in the state-owned Global Times newspaper, per CNN. "The truth is that Pompeo does not have any evidence, and during Sunday's interview, he was bluffing." An editorial in the People's Daily asserted, "Pompeo has made people wonder if he believes he can 'make America great again' just by bullying and talking nonsense."
- Mocking video: China also released a scathing animated video on Twitter that mocks the US response to the outbreak. And a Foreign Ministry spokesman said the US attacks are an attempt to "shirk responsibility" and "divert attention" from the American response, per CNN.
- US strategy: Foreign Policy looks at all this, suggesting that "Pompeo's media blitz in the conservative bubble appears designed to rally US President Donald Trump's base around what could be a key 2020 election issue." The idea is to blame China for the economic slowdown that the pandemic has created. On a related note, Reuters reports that the White House is "turbocharging" efforts to remove global supply chains from China.
- But not just here: The New York Times reports that China is now receiving backlash from around the world over its initial "mishandling" of the outbreak. Australia, for example, has just called for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. China is responding to all this aggressively with economic threats. "The result has only added momentum to the blowback and the growing mistrust of China in Europe and Africa, undermining China's desired image as a generous global actor," writes Steven Erlanger.
(The US intelligence community just announced an investigation
into the origins of the virus.)