China official insists COVID lab-leak theory ‘absurd’ in Blinken call

A top Chinese diplomat told Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday that the theory that COVID-19 leaked from a laboratory in the city of Wuhan was an “absurd story,” the country’s state media reported.

Yang Jiechi, the head of Beijing’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission, also told Blinken that the US should approach issues surrounding the island nation of Taiwan “carefully and appropriately,” according to broadcaster CCTV.

Blinken, meanwhile, “stressed the importance of cooperation and transparency regarding the origin of the virus, including the need for WHO Phase 2 expert-led studies in China,” a State Department press release said.

The statement added that Blinken and Yang had discussed other contentious issues between the US and China, including “the deterioration of democratic norms in Hong Kong and the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.”

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken testifies during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Department of State budget request on June 08, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for cooperation in regard to COVID-19 origins.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Blinken also called on China to “cease its pressure campaign against Taiwan” and release American and Canadian citizens who have been “wrongfully detained,” the statement said.

Another topic that Blinken and Yang broached in their discussion, according to the State Department, was the need for the US and China to “work together for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The secretary of state accompanied President Biden to this week’s G7 summit in Cornwall, England, where the question of how to handle China is expected to occupy much of the agenda. Relations between Washington and Beijing are near their lowest point in a half-century due to tensions over issues like trade, China’s military ambitions in the South China Sea, and the Beijing government’s lack of transparency about the origin of the pandemic.

The theory that the virus accidentally leaked from a lab that was doing research on bat coronaviruses has gained traction after The Wall Street Journal revealed last month that a US intelligence report revealed that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were sought hospital treatment for an unidentified illness in November 2019, when researchers say the virus was spreading through the 11 million-strong city.

In addition, the Journal reported earlier this week that a top US government laboratory had reported in May 2020 that the “lab leak” theory was plausible and should be studied further.

“We urge the United States to respect facts and science, refrain from politicizing the issue … and focus on international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic,” Yang said.

A security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan in China's Hubei province.
Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi said the theory that COVID escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, above, was an “absurd story.”
Ng Han Guan/AP

Meanwhile, over the past eight days, Biden updated an executive order banning U.S. investment in companies linked to China’s military and rolled out steps aimed at China to shore up U.S. supply chains. His trade representative Katherine Tai held a call with Taiwan, the Pentagon wrapped up a China policy review, and the Senate passed a sweeping package of China-focused legislation.

With Post wires

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