The Daily Telegraph

China must be more honest on Covid origins, argues US envoy

Washington urged to press Beijing over the pandemic and give country a greater role within the WHO

- By Nick Allen in Washington

THE US ambassador to China has said that Washington must put pressure on Beijing to be more honest about the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Nicholas Burns said China should “be more honest about what happened three years ago in Wuhan”.

He made the comments after it was reported on Sunday that the US energy department had concluded that the pandemic probably arose from a Chinese laboratory leak, which Beijing denies. The energy department reached its conclusion with “low confidence” in a classified intelligen­ce report.

The document was provided to the White House and key members of Congress, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Mr Burns was speaking by video link at a US Chamber of Commerce event. He said the US would need to pressure China to take a more active role in the World Health Organisati­on if it wanted to strengthen the United Nations’ health agency.

The ambassador also said the Chinese spy balloon affair, and Beijing’s stance on the war in Ukraine, were “two of the most important issues that we’re dealing with right now”. He said it was a “moment where we’ve got to manage these difference­s, hold China to account and build up our alliance system out here in the Indo-pacific”.

Mr Burns said the US had believed there was a “chance for greater stability” this year following the meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpar­t, last November.

“A lot of that conversati­on was focused, frankly, on the difference­s between us, in our interest, both of us, in trying to manage those difference­s effectivel­y so that we don’t end up in a conflict, God forbid, between our two countries,” he said. However, he added, following the balloon incident the two countries were in a “surreal moment”.

He said: “The Chinese... lost the debate over the balloon, globally lost influence and credibilit­y around the world because of what they have done.”

The US energy department has not commented publicly on its Covid report, which highlighte­d a split in the US intelligen­ce community over the origins of the pandemic. On Sunday, Jake Sullivan, Mr Biden’s national security adviser, said there were a “variety of views in the intelligen­ce community”.

The US energy department oversees 17 laboratori­es encompassi­ng research in advanced biology. The FBI has also blamed the pandemic on a leak from a Chinese laboratory. In 2021, it concluded with “moderate confidence” that it was caused by an accidental leak. The Wuhan Institute of Virology in China had been collecting bat viruses.

Four other US agencies still believe the pandemic was the result of natural transmissi­on, and two others are undecided. One of the agencies that remains undecided is reportedly the CIA.

China’s foreign ministry pointed to a Who-china report that suggested a natural origin for the pandemic, probably from bats, rather than a leak from a laboratory. A foreign ministry spokesman said: “Certain parties should stop rehashing the ‘lab leak’ narrative, stop smearing China and stop politicisi­ng the origins-tracing issue.”

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