Express|Tensions between the US and China were once again simmering after the White House issued a strong rebuke to ambassador Cui Tiankai over Beijing’s attempts to blame America for the coronavirus epidemic.
The Chinese ambassador was summoned to the State Department on Friday, where he was given a very “stern representation” of the US Government’s position on the matter. Mr Cui was reported to have been “very defensive” in his meeting with David Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. A spokesperson briefed reporters: “China is seeking to deflect criticism for its role in starting a global pandemic and not telling the world.
“Spreading conspiracy theories is dangerous and ridiculous.
“We wanted to put the government on notice we won’t tolerate it for the good of the Chinese people and the world.”
The rebuke came in response to allegations made by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
In a series of tweets posted on Thursday and Friday, Mr Zhao implied that the coronavirus may have been deliberately spread by the US military.
The Foreign Minister appears to be trying to link the US Army’s participation in the international Military World Games held in Wuhan in October, with the subsequent outbreak of the lethal virus.
The move is seen as further attempts by Beijing to deflect blame from itself for the pandemic that is currently sweeping the world.
The international community has repeatedly accused Chinese authorities of trying to conceal the outbreak, when it first emerged and of hiding the true scale of the epidemic.
A Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, was reprimanded by security authorities when he tried to alert the world to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, by sharing lab reports with an online chat group.
In recent months, the US has been particularly vocal in its attempts to pin the blame on China.
Just last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred to the coronavirus on several occasions as the “Wuhan virus”.
In doing so, Mr Pompeo ignored pleas from Beijing and world health officials not to use language that could incite xenophobia and racial discrimination.
This is not the first time that US politicians have made provocative accusations towards Beijing.
Last month, senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, suggested that the coronavirus was created by the Chinese military as part of its biological warfare programme.
When ambassador Cui denied this and called such allegations “dangerous”, Mr Cotton pointed out that there was a virology lab on Wuhan’s outskirts.
He claimed that it was for Beijing to disprove his theory.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology houses China’s only level four biosafety laboratory, the highest-level classification for labs that study the deadliest viruses.
It is situated more than 30km (18.6 miles) from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
Senator Cotton was forced into an embarrassing climbdown, when scientists involved with the genetic sequencing of the virus categorically stated there was no evidence it had been engineered.
Mr Cotton subsequently retracted his allegation, saying: “We don’t have evidence that this disease originated there, but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says.”
The coronavirus has now spread to 46 states in the US and has infected almost 2,000 people, causing 41 deaths.
On Friday, Donald Trump declared a state of emergency, saying that this would release a further US$50 billion in funds to help fight the contagion.