China’s state broadcaster CCTV has attacked recent remarks from US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, calling them “insane and evasive”.
Pompeo, speaking on Sunday, said “enormous evidence” showed the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where cases of the illness were first recorded, doubling down on previous claims from US officials and right-wing groups, which have been repeatedly denied by the World Health Organization (WHO) and various scientific experts.
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The theory has been heavily pushed by the administration of President Donald Trump, who has been increasingly critical of China’s handling of the outbreak that first emerged in Wuhan late last year, continuing to ratchet up a war of words between the two countries.
Last week, Trump said he saw evidence that gave him confidence the virus emerged from a lab in Wuhan, without offering support to his claim.
To date, the pandemic has killed about 250,000 people globally, while 3.6 million have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
Titled “Evil Pompeo is wantonly spewing poison and spreading lies”, the harshly worded commentary on CCTV referred to statements by WHO Executive Director Mike Ryan and Columbia University virologist W Ian Lipkin, who has repeated that all indications are the virus is natural in origin and was not man-made or leaked from a laboratory.
“These flawed and unreasonable remarks by American politicians make it clear to more and more people that no ‘evidence’ exists,” the commentary said.
“The so-called ‘virus leaked from a Wuhan lab’ hype is a complete and utter lie. American politicians are rushing to shift the blame, cheat votes and suppress China when their own domestic anti-epidemic efforts are a mess,” it added.
Two further commentaries published on Monday by state newspaper People’s Daily attacked Pompeo and former White House strategist Steve Bannon as a “pair of lying clowns”, and blasted Bannon as a “Cold War living fossil”.
Bannon last week said on a US far-right talk show that China committed a “biological Chernobyl” against the United States and advocated the theory the virus originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, echoing recent White House rhetoric.
The WHO’s emergencies chief said on Monday, the agency had received no evidence from the US government to back up the allegations by Trump and Pompeo.
“From our perspective, this remains speculative,” Dr Ryan told reporters in Geneva. “We have not received any data or specific evidence from the US government relating to the purported origin of the virus.”
He said WHO would be “very willing” to receive any such information the United States has.
In his comments on Sunday, Pompeo said he agreed with a US intelligence agency report that said there was no indication the virus was “man-made or genetically modified”.
However, he said that did not mean the virus did not emerge from a lab, while calling early Chinese efforts to downplay coronavirus “a classic Communist disinformation effort. That created enormous risk.”
“I think the whole world can see now, remember, China has a history of infecting the world and running substandard laboratories,” he said.
Pompeo further pledged that the US would “hold those responsible accountable”.
In the past week, CCTV has repeatedly slammed Pompeo as the “common enemy of mankind” and accused him of “spreading a political virus” for his repeated claims that the pandemic originated in a lab.
In March, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian pushed the conspiracy theory that the US military may have brought the virus to China.