China pushed back against claims from the administration of President Donald Trump that coronavirus initially emerged from a virology lab in Wuhan, saying the United States has no evidence to back up the claim.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, continued Washington’s criticism of Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, saying China could have prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths around the world with increased transparency.
“I think this matter should be handed to scientists and medical professionals, and not politicians who lie for their own domestic political ends,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Wednesday.
“Mr Pompeo repeatedly spoke up but he cannot present any evidence. How can he? Because he doesn’t have any,” Hua added.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the coronavirus is “natural in origin” and it has not received any evidence that supports accusations the virus traces back to the lab, calling the US officials’ claims “speculative”.
The US and other world powers have condemned China’s initially opaque handling the virus that first appeared in the city of Wuhan in December of last year. To date, nearly 3.7 million people have been infected globally in the pandemic, with more than 258,000 deaths.
Pompeo told reporters on Wednesday: “China could have spared the world a descent into global economic malaise. They had a choice but instead – instead – China covered up the outbreak in Wuhan. China is still refusing to share the information we need to keep people safe.”
Allegations of diversion
Pompeo has said while he agreed with an intelligence agency report saying there is no indication coronavirus was “man-made or genetically modified”, there was “enormous evidence” to show the virus emerged from the Wuhan lab.
Last week, Trump told reporters he had seen evidence that gave him confidence this was true.
In an escalating war of words, which has included a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry suggesting the US military brought the virus to China, both countries have accused the other of trying to divert attention from their own response.
“We urge the US to stop … shifting the focus to China,” Hua said during the briefing.
“It should handle its domestic affairs properly first. The most important thing now is to control the US’ domestic pandemic spread and think of ways to save lives,” she said.
Growing investigation calls
The back-and-forth has played out amid growing calls, particularly from the US and Australia, for investigations into how the outbreak in China transformed into a global pandemic.
The WHO has also said it was waiting for an invitation from Beijing to participate in its investigation into the animal origins of the virus.
But Beijing’s UN ambassador in Geneva said Wednesday that China will not invite international experts to investigate the source of the pandemic until after securing the “final victory” over the virus.
The envoy, Chen Xu, also said China has to counter the “absurd and ridiculous” US politicisation of the coronavirus, adding the “right atmosphere” was needed for an invitation to take place