State Department: Biden, senior officials have ‘repeatedly’ pressed China on COVID origins

President Biden has repeatedly raised with Chinese President Xi Jinping the need for Beijing to address the origins of COVID-19, the State Department said on Monday, following reports that a new intelligence assessment favors a theory that the global pandemic resulted from a lab leak in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019. 

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the president and his most senior officials have pressed Beijing to provide more information and allow international investigations to take place unimpeded as part of efforts to determine where the virus originated. 

“The President has raised this, the Secretary [of State] has raised this, the National Security Adviser has raised this, it’s been raised repeatedly and consistently at various levels because it is that important to us,” Price said of administration efforts to “impress upon the [People’s Republic of China] the importance of transparency.” 

Ongoing questions surrounding COVID-19’s origins are a vexing irritant in the U.S. and China relationship, with tensions between Washington and Beijing newly roiling over the discovery of a Chinese spy balloon in late January, plus Beijing’s close ties with Russia amid its war in Ukraine and the risk of conflict related to Taiwan. 

Price would not confirm a reported intelligence conclusion from the Department of Energy that assessed with “low confidence” that the outbreak of COVID-19 was the result of an accidental leak at a laboratory. It was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday. 

Instead, Price pointed to a “variety of views within the intelligence community” that have lent support to two of the main theories for the origins of the virus: the virus leaked from a lab — in particular, the Wuhan Institute of Virology — or was the result of animal-to-human transmission. Price added that some intelligence agencies have reached no answer.

“There are some elements within the intelligence community that have reached conclusions on one side. There are others that have reached conclusions on the other. There are a number of intelligence community agencies that have put forward an assessment that essentially makes clear they don’t have enough information to conclude one way or another,” he said.

The White House on Monday also downplayed and would not confirm the report on the Energy Department assessment, saying there is no government consensus yet about what caused the outbreak.

An unclassified summary published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in August 2021 was inconclusive over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying both the lab leak theory and naturally occurring theory were plausible.

The report cited assessments from at least nine intelligence agencies that are part of the 18 intelligence offices of the U.S. government. Despite varying conclusions, they reached consensus on ruling out that COVID-19 was rooted in biological weapons research. 

Price, along with other U.S. officials, has criticized the Chinese government as obstructing international investigations into the origins of COVID-19, specifically for withholding data related to a report published in March 2021 by World Health Organization investigators into the origins of the virus. 

“Unfortunately, the PRC has been blocking from the very beginning, the ability of international investigators and members of the global health community from accessing the information that they would need to form their own conclusions to come to their own judgments,” Price said. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning said Monday that “certain parties should stop rehashing the ‘lab leak’ narrative, stop smearing China and stop politicizing origins-tracing,” in response to a question over the reported conclusions by the Department of Energy.

Tags China China COVID-19 COVID-19 origins Joe Biden Ned Price Xi Jinping

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