U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a Fox News town hall at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Sunday, May 3, 2020. (Bloomberg)
COURTESY BY: https://www.hindustantimes.com/
President Donald Trump promised a “conclusive” report from the U.S. government on the Chinese origins of the coronavirus outbreak, adding that he has little doubt that Beijing misled the world about the scale and risk of the disease before it became a global pandemic.
“We will be giving a very strong report on what we think happened, and I think it will be very conclusive,” Trump said during a “virtual town hall” hosted by Fox News on Sunday, after he was asked about evidence the virus is related to research conducted in a laboratory in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
“Personally, I think they made a very horrible mistake,” Trump said of the Chinese. “They tried to cover it, they tried to put it out.”
The White House’s deputy national security adviser, Matt Pottinger, is scheduled to speak on the U.S. relationship with China on Monday in a webinar hosted by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
Earlier Sunday, the Associated Press reported that U.S. officials believe China covered up the extent of the outbreak, in part, to stock up on medical supplies needed to respond to it.
The president’s comments come as U.S.-China tensions climb amid the rising death toll from the virus in the U.S., which has the highest reported numbers of infections and deaths of any country, despite the outbreak first spreading more quickly in Asia and Europe. More than 67,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S. so far, out of a reported 247,000 worldwide.
Earlier in the day, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said “enormous evidence” shows the Covid-19 outbreak began in the Wuhan laboratory, but didn’t provide any proof for his claims.
“I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week.” “These are not the first times that we’ve had a world exposed to viruses as a result of failures in a Chinese lab.”
While the Wuhan Institute of Virology was studying bat-borne coronaviruses like the one that causes Covid-19 at the time of the first known outbreak nearby, there has so far been no evidence showing it possessed the previously unknown strain. Yuan Zhiming, director of the facility’s high-security Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, said last month that “there is absolutely no way that the virus originated from our institute.”
Pompeo stopped short of saying the virus was man-made, noting that he agreed with a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that ruled out genetic modification of the pathogen.
“I’ve seen what the intelligence community has said,” Pompeo said. “I have no reason to believe that they’ve got it wrong.”
Pompeo declined to say whether the Chinese intentionally released the virus. “I don’t have anything to say about that,” he said.
In his town hall event Sunday, Trump declined to directly criticize Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling him a “strong” leader who he struck a trade deal with just as the outbreak was spreading.
“I’m not going to say anything,” Trump responded when asked about Xi. “I had a very good relationship with him.”
Although China has reprimanded Wuhan police for punishing doctors who sounded early warnings about the disease and replaced local officials responsible for the initial outbreak, Beijing says its response has been open and transparent. China’s foreign ministry has cited Trump’s tweets praising Xi’s handling of the outbreak as evidence of U.S. satisfaction with its response.
Trump and his aides sharpened their criticism of Beijing last week, demanding answers about the virus’s origin. The president tweeted Friday that some U.S. television networks were “Chinese puppets,” while his super-political action committee unleashed anti-China ads.
“China behaved like authoritarian regimes do, attempted to conceal and hide and confuse,” Pompeo said on ABC. “It employed the World Health Organization as a tool to do the same.”
The secretary said China continued to block access by health experts from the WHO, as well as U.S. scientists, from getting access to samples of the virus needed for study.
“This is an ongoing threat, an ongoing pandemic,” Pompeo said. “The Chinese Communist Party continues to block access to the Western world, the world’s best scientists, to figure out exactly what happened.”