- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2020

China must provide more information about the nature of the coronavirus now ravaging populations and economies around the world, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday.

Speaking after an online meeting of Group of Seven foreign ministers, Mr. Pompeo criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for what he said was secrecy and dissembling about the virus outbreak and more recently for a disinformation campaign blaming the U.S. for the pandemic. He said the other G-7 ministers shared his concerns.

“The Chinese Communist Party poses a substantial threat to our health and way of life, as the Wuhan virus outbreak clearly has demonstrated,” Mr. Pompeo said.

The pandemic dominated the teleconference of ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the U.S., and Mr. Pompeo repeated charges that China continues to withhold information about the coronavirus and COVID-19.

He called for “full transparency” from all states.

Beijing has said the spread of the virus has receded inside China, although the accuracy of data on the declining number of new infections has been questioned.

Mr. Pompeo said the Trump administration has sought to work with the Chinese leaders throughout the crisis that began with the outbreak in Wuhan, China, in early December.

“We tried – you’ll remember – from the opening days to get our scientists, our experts on the ground there so that we could begin to assist in the global response to what began there in China, but we weren’t able to do that,” he said.

A joint report by China and the World Health Organization made public in February stated that Chinese President Xi Jinping was in charge of a high-level Party “leading small group” that handled the response to the virus.

China, Mr. Pompeo noted, was “the first country to know about the risk to the world from this virus, and they repeatedly delayed sharing that information with the globe.

The first indication of the outbreak came in early January with vague information provided by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then asked to send its virology experts to investigate but was denied access.

After a two-week delay, the World Health Organization was permitted to send a team of experts to China. But the team was forced to wait another two weeks in Beijing before being granted access to Wuhan.

Mr. Pompeo said he also urged fellow G-7 nations to work together to protect the United Nations and other international organizations from the increasing influence of authoritarian states like China and Russia.

“We G-7 countries must promote our shared values of freedom, sovereignty, good governance, transparency, and accountability, and push the U.N. to uphold these principles as well,” he said.

Last week, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman noted rumors that the U.S. Army had brought the virus to China, disinformation that the Trump administration said was a deliberate ploy by Beijing to divert attention from its early mishandling of the outbreak.

“You see it in the social media. You see it in remarks from senior people inside the Chinese Communist Party talking about whether this was [the] U.S. brought to China,” Mr. Pompeo said. “I mean, this is crazy talk, and every member of the G-7 today saw that – this disinformation campaign.”

But the German news outlet Der Speigel also reported Wednesday that the ministers had difficulty agreeing on a joint summit statement after other G-7 ministers balked at the U.S. insistence on calling COVID-19 the “Wuhan virus” — a term Chinese leaders have angrily denounced — in the communique.

China’s state media in recent days has begun highlighting the aid, medical experts and equipment it has sent to other hard-hit countries, including G-7 nations such as Italy. Chinese analysts say the U.S. disinformation charges are meant to deflect criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the virus at home.

But the Chinese aid may not be all it seems — authorities in Prague told reporters that the coronavirus test kits they had received from China were faulty.

Some Chinese propaganda outlets have taken a new tack, claiming the virus may have originated in Italy.

The secretary said China continues to withhold information about the virus and the highly contagious disease caused by it. He called for “full transparency” from all states, including China.

“This is a continuing challenge,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We still need good information from the Chinese Communist Party about what has taken place there and the level of the virus that continues inside of that country.”

China has said the spread of the virus has receded in China although the accuracy of data provided by Beijing on the declining number of new infections has been questioned.

“We need accurate, transparent information just like we’re demanding from every country around the world,” Mr. Pompeo.

Mr. Pompeo added it was not a time for finger-pointing among nations in the midst of the pandemic and sidestepped a question about whether China should forced to pay damages for the trillions of dollars in economic losses suffered by nations around the world.

“I’ll leave that to Congress,” he said. “But there will be a right time, after we’ve managed to address this crisis … for the world to evaluate responsibility for what took place.”

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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