Senior State Department official James Richardson – who runs the Office of Foreign Assistance Resources – levied the charges to reporters during a briefing on Thursday night. Calling on China to provide “no-strings-attached” assistance, Richardson suggested Beijing had placed conditions on its coronavirus aid. When asked to elaborate, however, the official punted, confessing he had no specific evidence and was merely relaying what he read in the media.
“On the strings attached, I mean, I’m not the intelligence folks, so I don’t know what exactly has been proven,” Richardson said.
I read the same articles that you do … And so I think – I don’t have any hard proof besides the articles that I’ve seen, but that certainly rings true.
The official also made a passing reference to “the coverup that happened in Wuhan” – the Chinese city where Covid-19 was first observed. Though he was not pressed to provide further detail, reports in US media have accused China of concealing information in the early stages of its outbreak. Most pointed to Li Wenliang, a Wuhan doctor who was reprimanded by Chinese authorities over “spreading rumors” about the virus in early December. Later, an investigation by the country’s anti-corruption agency determined that Li, who later died of the illness, did not seek to undermine public order. However, the report noted that the doctor failed to verify his data before sharing it, stating his information was “not consistent” with the situation on the ground at the time.
A State Department cable recently obtained by the Daily Beast contains language nearly identical to Richardson’s remarks, part of a department-wide effort to pin a “coverup” on Beijing. The cable also instructs officials to insist that China has a “special responsibility” to provide aid to other afflicted nations, a phrase repeated verbatim by Richardson during Thursday’s briefing.
Beijing has responded to allegations of a coverup, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Suang arguing last week that his country has provided “timely information” about the virus, noting that even US President Donald Trump – a frequent critic of China – had deemed the data “helpful.” Earlier this month, Chinese authorities also acknowledged that punishing Dr. Li was an error, issuing a “solemn apology” to the man’s family and noting that the police officers who threatened him with arrest had been disciplined.
As the US steps up attacks on China and its response to the pandemic, however, a number of other countries have turned to Beijing for aid. To date, the government – as well as Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, co-founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba – has distributed medical supplies to France, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Iran, Iraq, the Philippines and even the United States.
China has largely seen the worst of its own Covid-19 outbreak, reporting only one new case of the illness beyond those imported from abroad on Friday. The virus continues to accelerate elsewhere, however, with the US becoming the world’s largest epicenter on Thursday, while new infections also soar across Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia.
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