Secretary of State Antony Blinken will not say what the Biden administration will do to hold China accountable for denying the United States and the international community access to the Wuhan Institute of Virology during the hunt for the origins of COVID-19.
During a hearing in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday, Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, asked Blinken what the U.S. “would actually do of substance” to “pressure China to give access to the lab” if China denies access to it, and Blinken contended that the People’s Republic of China has refused to be transparent since the start of the pandemic, but declined to commit to any specific action to push China into granting access. This answer came a day after the airing of an interview on HBO where the top Biden diplomat skipped an opportunity to lay out if and how the U.S. would punish China over its intransigence in assisting investigations.
“What we’ve seen, unfortunately, more than unfortunately, from the PRC since the beginning of this crisis is a failure to meet its basic responsibilities in terms of sharing information, providing access, and doing that in real time with transparency. That was true at the start, it remains true, unfortunately, today,” Blinken testified on Monday. “And I think what you’re seeing is, through the work that’s being done, for example, at the WHO, the work that we’re doing, and the concerns expressed by countries around the world, that there is a strong chorus insisting that China make good on its commitment, on its responsibilities to provide the information.”
Blinken added: “I don’t want to get into, you know, hypotheticals going forward in the future about what we would or would not do, but I think I can say with confidence that there is going to be an increasing international demand that countries, including China, meet their responsibilities when it comes to providing information, access, and transparency on global health, including covid.”
Zeldin followed up by saying that “there’s just many in Congress who are skeptical of whether or not China is going to grant access to the lab and we’re trying to understand what the next step is going to be if and when China says that lab access won’t be granted.”
LIKELY BIDEN CHINA AMBASSADOR NOMINEE CONDEMNED TRUMP ‘BLAME GAME’ TOWARD CHINA OVER COVID-19 ORIGINS
Officials from both the Trump and Biden administrations have said the Chinese government worked for over a year to thwart an independent investigation into the origins of the virus. Both administrations have cast doubt on the manner in which the joint study from China and the World Health Organization was conducted earlier this year. The WHO-China report said a lab leak was “extremely unlikely” and that a jump from animals to humans was most likely, but Trump officials, Republican leaders, some Democrats, and a number of scientists have pointed to an accidental escape from the Wuhan Institute of Virology as, at minimum, a highly plausible origin for the pandemic.
Last month, Biden called upon U.S. spy agencies to “redouble” their efforts to understand COVID-19’s origins, a day after it was revealed that the administration had ended an origins investigation by the State Department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance that had been initiated by the Trump administration.
A State Department fact sheet released in January contended Wuhan lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar)” and that the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.” The fact sheet also contended that the lab “has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military” and that lab workers became sick with COVID-19-like symptoms in autumn 2019.
The Biden administration has thus far not weighed in publicly on that intelligence.
Blinken seemed to dodge a similar question during an Axios on HBO interview on Sunday.
“We have to get to the bottom of what happened. There’s accountability, but from my perspective, the most important thing, and the most important reason we have to get to the bottom of this, is that’s the only way we’re going to be able to prevent the next pandemic or at least do a better job in mitigating it,” Blinken said. “What the (Chinese) government didn’t do in the early days and still hasn’t done is given us the transparency we need, the international community — access for inspectors and experts, the sharing of information in real time. That has to happen.”
Blinken was asked if the U.S. would need access to the labs to do a proper investigation and if the U.S. would “put teeth on” those demands or “go as far as sanctions on China” if blocked from accessing the Wuhan lab.
“At the end of the day, it’s profoundly in China’s interest to do this as well, because, look, it suffered too in the outbreak of this pandemic,” Blinken said. “It presumably has an interest as well, especially if it purports to be a responsible international actor, to do everything it can to provide all the information it has to make sure we can hopefully prevent this from happening again.”
CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER
The intelligence community confirmed last month that one of its 18 spy agencies is leaning toward the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis on COVID-19’s origins, while two are leaning toward a natural origin, with the vast majority remaining undecided.
China denies that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese lab and has attempted to cast doubt on it originating in China, baselessly suggesting that the U.S. military is to blame.