BEIJING — China went on the offensive Wednesday ahead of the release of a U.S. intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus, bringing out a senior official to accuse the United States of politicizing the issue by seeking to blame China.
Fu Cong, a Foreign Ministry director general, said at a briefing for foreign journalists that “scapegoating China cannot whitewash the U.S.”
“If they want to baselessly accuse China, they better be prepared to accept the counterattack from China,” he said.
China, the U.S. and the World Health Organization are entangled in a feud that centres on whether the virus that causes COVID-19 could have leaked from a lab in the city of Wuhan, where the disease was first detected in late 2019.
A joint WHO-China report earlier this year concluded that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely,” and China wants the investigation to move on to other possibilities. The most likely scenario, the report said, is that the virus jumped from bats to another animal that then infected humans.
But the findings are not conclusive, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in late March that “all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies.”
U.S. President Joe Biden ordered a 90-day review by intelligence agencies of both theories. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that an unclassified version of the report was expected to be released within “several days.”
China has responded to continuing speculation about a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology by suggesting the virus could have escaped from Fort Detrick, a U.S. military lab in Maryland.
Fu, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Arms Control Department, denied that China is engaging in a disinformation campaign.
He said that if other parties insist on pursuing the lab leak theory, then the WHO team of researchers should visit Fort Detrick. He portrayed it as a fairness issue, since the WHO has been to the Wuhan institute twice.
“If Dr. Tedros believes that we should not rule out the hypothesis of a lab leak, well, he knows where to go,” Fu said. “He needs to go to the U.S. labs.”
China notes that the Fort Detrick’s infectious disease institute has studied coronaviruses and that it was closed for several months in 2019-20 for safety violations.