(CNSNews.com) – The Chinese government on Tuesday slammed U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns for calling on Beijing to “be more honest” about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reprised insinuations that the outbreak was linked to a leading U.S. bio lab.
A foreign ministry spokeswoman was responding to a comment by Burns, at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event on Monday. He was speaking about the importance of the U.S. and China working together on major challenges such as food security and global health, despite disagreements in many areas.
“If we’re going to do something to strengthen the World Health Organization,” he said, “then we’re going to have to push China to be more active in it and to, of course, be more honest about what happened three years ago in Wuhan, with the origin of the COVID-19 crisis.”
The spat – the latest of several involving the Chinese government and Burns – comes amid a renewed focus on claims that the coronavirus causing COVID-19 may have leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak emerged in late 2019.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Department of Energy has now joined the FBI in assessing that an accidental leak from a Wuhan lab likely gave rise to the once-in-a-century pandemic. Other U.S. intelligence agencies reportedly remain undecided, or back the theory of natural transmission of the coronavirus from an infected animal.
Beijing has dismissed the claims as an attempt to smear China.
Responding to a question about Burns’ remark, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning repeated China’s assertion that it has been “open and transparent” with investigations into the origins of the pandemic. China was the only country that had invited WHO experts studying the origins of the virus to visit, more than once.
“It is the U.S. who should respond to the world’s questions and concerns over Fort Detrick and its military and biological labs across the world,” she said. “By politicizing the issue, the U.S. will not succeed in discrediting China. Instead, it will only hurt the U.S.’s own credibility.”
Just weeks after the crisis began, China’s foreign ministry began to promote unsubstantiated theories that the U.S. military was responsible for the outbreak, pointing specifically at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md.
Mao’s assertion that China has been “open and transparent” fly in the face of claims to the contrary by numerous scientists and foreign government officials, with even the WHO voicing frustration at times.
After lengthy delays, China did permit a WHO-convened team of experts to visit Wuhan in early 2021. It concluded that the lab-leak theory was “extremely unlikely,” although WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus overruled the team’s recommendation that that avenue of inquiry not to pursued any further.
China has largely withheld further cooperation, arguing that it was time for other countries to open up to scrutiny as it had done. (“It is U.S.’ turn to open up its suspicious biological laboratories and invite international authoritative experts to investigate,” the Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times said in an editorial Tuesday.)
‘Strong-arm and coercive diplomacy’
Mao ended her response to the question about Burns’ remark by taking a swipe at the ambassador himself.
“As U.S. Ambassador to China, Mr. Burns needs to do more to help improve China-U.S. relations and promote mutual understanding between the two peoples, rather than the opposite,” she said.
It was the second time in four days that Burns was taken to task during a foreign ministry briefing.
On February 20, the ministry published a 4,000-word report entitled “U.S. Hegemony and its Perils,” which it said “seeks to expose the U.S. abuse of hegemony in the political, military, economic, financial, technological and cultural fields.”
Burns in a tweet called the report “crude propaganda and unworthy of a great power.”
At Friday’s ministry briefing, spokesman Wang Wenbin defended the “Hegemony” report and criticized Burns for his comment.
“Given Ambassador Burns’ tweet, it seems that the U.S. is not quite used to hearing the truth and is reluctant to acknowledge its problems, to the extent that it would simply dismiss all criticism as propaganda,” he said.
“We would like to say to the U.S. ambassador that strong-arm and coercive diplomacy is what is truly unworthy of a great power,” Wang continued. “The job of a U.S. ambassador is to report the truth and facts back to Washington D.C.”
In a recent speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in China, Burns referred to human rights concerns in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and reminded American firms of their obligation to abide by the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
He also commented on the Chinese spy balloon incident.
‘The past two weeks have been particularly challenging for our relationship with China with the irresponsible and illegal PRC surveillance balloon and its open violation of U.S. sovereignty, territorial integrity, and international law,” Burns said.
In an “exclusive” report on Monday, the CCP’s Global Times quoted unnamed attendees as saying that atmosphere during Burns’ speech had been “embarrassing,” with one source claiming that the ambassador had raised “almost all the topics that the chamber wanted to avoid.”
Burns is a foreign service veteran, with departmental and ambassadorial posts in the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Biden administrations. He took up his post in Beijing last April.
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