Chinese leader Xi Jinping is not President Joe Biden’s “old friend,” Biden said on June 16 as he raised concerns about Beijing’s willingness to help find the origins of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
Asked if the president would call Xi and ask him “old friend to old friend” to re-admit World Health Organization investigators, Biden said: “Let’s get something straight: We know each other well, we’re not old friends. It’s just pure business.”
The remarks appeared to be a departure from previous comments from Biden where he sought to highlight his close relationship with Xi cultivated from when he was vice president.
Xi was China’s vice chair, and thus Biden’s counterpart at the time. The two had spent more than 24 hours in private meetings and 17,000 miles traveling together during that time, according to Biden. During a 2013 trip Biden made to Beijing, Xi addressed the then-vice president as “my old friend.”
Biden, speaking at a press conference after his meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Geneva, expressed skepticism about the Chinese regime’s cooperation with a virus origins investigation.
“China is trying very hard to project itself as a responsible and very, very forthcoming nation, and they are trying very hard to talk about how they’re helping the world in terms of COVID-19 and vaccines,” the president said.
“Look, certain things you don’t have to explain to the people of the world, they see the results. Is China really actually trying to get to the bottom of this?”
Biden in May ordered aides to find answers to the origin of the virus that causes COVID-19, which was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and said U.S. intelligence agencies are looking at rival theories, potentially including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China.
Earlier this year, a team of foreign and Chinese scientists assembled by the WHO that spent two weeks on the ground in Wuhan in February found in its report that the virus “likely” transmitted from bats to humans via another animal, and the possibility it leaked from a lab was “extremely unlikely.”
But the report was widely criticized, with Washington and other governments saying the study was “insufficient and inconclusive.” In addition, Beijing refused to provide the team with raw data to early COVID-19 cases nor access to records of the Wuhan Institute of Virology—the lab at the center of the lab leak theory.
In recent weeks, the United States and allies have stepped up calls for a thorough investigation into the pandemic origins, while ratcheting pressure on Beijing to fully cooperate.
On June 13, Group of Seven leaders issued a joint statement calling for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier this week: “We need to understand what happened. We need to get to the bottom of it. And we’re working on that through the WHO. We’re also working on that ourselves.”
Reuters contributed to this report.