Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Sunday criticized the Chinese government for a lack of transparency during the pandemic, particularly during “the early stages of Covid,” and he called for a more thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus.
A report of a joint inquiry by the World Health Organization and China published last month did not conclusively establish how or when the virus began spreading, and did little to allay Western concerns that the Chinese Communist Party bent the investigation to its advantage. Mr. Blinken, echoing those concerns, called on Beijing to make “a real commitment to transparency, to information sharing, to access for experts.”
“I think China knows that in the early stages of Covid, it didn’t do what it needed to do,” Mr. Blinken said in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “One result of that failure is that the virus got out of hand faster and with, I think, much more egregious results than it might otherwise.”
Mr. Blinken urged more investigation.
“We need to get to the bottom of this,” he said of the virus’ origins. “We need to do that precisely so we fully understand what happened, in order to have the best shot possible preventing it from happening again.”
The secretary of state’s remarks offered a more diplomatic approach than that of Trump administration officials who have sought to blame China for the spread of Covid-19 in the U.S., often fanning the flames of xenophobia in their public campaign to shirk responsibility for a poor response to the pandemic. Mr. Blinken’s comments, however, illustrated the Biden administration’s willingness to convey skepticism of the official narrative coming from Beijing.
Mr. Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, had asserted with little evidence months into the pandemic the notion that the coronavirus originated in a research laboratory in Wuhan, China. He had pressed American spy agencies to hunt for evidence to support the unsubstantiated theory, but most agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a link to a lab can be found.
Days before the W.H.O. released their report, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Trump administration also speculated that the virus originated in a lab in China. The former official, Dr. Robert Redfield, offered no evidence and emphasized that it was his opinion.
The international W.H.O. team of experts who investigated the origins of the virus in China dismissed the lab theory in their report as “extremely unlikely.” But Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O.’s director-general, took the unexpected step of publicly raising doubts, saying that the theory required further investigation and that he was ready to deploy more experts to do so.
The Chinese foreign ministry and state media rejected criticism from the White House and others that Beijing had not been transparent during the W.H.O. inquiry.
Chinese experts involved in the investigation “offered necessary facilitation for the team’s work, fully demonstrating its openness, transparency and responsible attitude,” a representative for the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement last month. “To politicize this issue will only severely hinder global cooperation in study of origins, jeopardize anti-pandemic cooperation, and cost more lives.”