China berates ‘lying’ Pompeo as US presses on pandemic data

Pompeo, like President Donald Trump, has enraged Beijing by speaking of the ‘Chinese virus’. (AFP pic)

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday demanded that China share more data on the novel coronavirus as Beijing angrily accused him of lying and said Washington was trying to shift blame.

It was the latest clash in an escalating feud between the two powers over the global Covid-19 pandemic, which was first detected in the Chinese metropolis Wuhan but has now infected more than 250,000 people worldwide and hobbled life in the West.

Pompeo – who, like President Donald Trump, has enraged Beijing by speaking of the “Chinese virus” – said Beijing had a “special obligation” to scientists due to its early knowledge of the illness.

“This is not about retribution,” Pompeo told reporters at the White House.

“We need to make sure that even today, the data sets that are available to every country, including data sets that are made available to the Chinese Communist Party, are made available to the whole world. It’s an imperative to keep people safe.”

In an interview earlier with Fox News, Pompeo said China “wasted valuable days” after identifying the novel coronavirus by letting “hundreds of thousands” leave Wuhan to places including Italy – which has surpassed China as the country with the highest death toll.

“The Chinese Communist Party didn’t get it right and put countless lives at risk as a result of that,” Pompeo said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying voiced anger over Pompeo’s claim of hundreds of thousands leaving Wuhan, writing in English: “Stop lying through your teeth!”

“As WHO experts said, China’s efforts averted hundreds of thousands of infection cases,” she tweeted.

In a briefing in Beijing, another foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said that China had shown “great sacrifice” and contributed to global health.

“Some people on the US side are trying to stigmatise China’s fight against the epidemic, and shift the blame onto China,” he said.

Foreign ministry feud on Twitter

Beijing’s state media took to Trump’s favourite medium of Twitter – which is largely banned in China – to taunt him with hashtags such as #TrumpSlump and #Trumpandemic.

Hua said China first told the United States of the novel coronavirus outbreak on Jan 3, with the State Department alerting Americans in Wuhan on Jan 15.

“And now blame China for delay? Seriously?” she wrote on Twitter.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus soon replied: “By Jan 3, Chinese authorities had already ordered #Covid19 virus samples destroyed, silenced Wuhan doctors, and censored public concerns online.”

Hua “is right: This is a timeline the world must absolutely scrutinise,” Ortagus tweeted.

The United States last week summoned the Chinese ambassador after another foreign ministry spokesman tweeted an unfounded conspiracy theory that the US military brought the virus to Wuhan.

Trump has refused to stop saying “Chinese virus”, despite criticism also within the United States that the terminology can falsely associate Asian Americans with the malady.

As the United States increasingly locks down to stem rising infections, China has stepped up crisis aid to US allies, with a plane on Friday bringing more than one million masks to the Czech Republic.