Biden Admin Says No Immediate Plans to Confront China Over COVID-19 Origins

Biden Admin Says No Immediate Plans to Confront China Over COVID-19 Origins
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington on June 7, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
Isabel van Brugen

The Biden administration won’t take immediate action on China to pressure the country’s communist regime to allow an independent probe into whether COVID-19 originated in a Wuhan lab, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on June 20.

During an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sullivan said no pressure will be applied on Beijing immediately on the issue, explaining that President Joe Biden’s administration is operating on “two tracks” in terms of attempting to determine the origins of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

That includes an assessment by the U.S. intelligence community ordered by the president with a 90-day deadline, and an international investigation led by the World Health Organization (WHO), Sullivan told host Dana Bash.

He suggested that the administration will put additional pressure on China when there is an “international consensus.

“We are not, at this point, going to issue threats or ultimatums. What we’re going to do is continue to rally support in the international community,” Sullivan said. “And if it turns out that China refuses to live up to its international obligations, we will have to consider our responses at that point, and we will do so in concert with allies and partners.

“This is not a question of time, Dana.

“We are in the process of using our own capacities, our own capabilities to begin to develop a clearer picture. And then, secondly, in order to build the kind of international consensus around this issue that will be required to put additional pressure on China, that takes diplomatic spadework.”

The United States is “not going to simply accept China saying no,” Sullivan said, noting that the administration will work between now and when the “second phase” of the WHO-led probe is underway to have “as strong a consensus in the international community as possible.”

“Because it is from that position of strength that we will best be able to deal with China,” he said.

The Biden administration’s approach comes as the hypothesis that the CCP virus could have been manipulated at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is receiving wider recognition.

Early reports about an outbreak of the CCP virus first appeared in Wuhan in late 2019, when a cluster of cases was reported by state-controlled media to be linked to a local wet market. More than a year later, the origins of the virus remain unknown, although the possibility that the virus leaked from a laboratory at the WIV is gaining traction.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on June 13 that Beijing must work with further investigations into the origins of the CCP virus. He noted that China’s failure to cooperate was one reason that the WHO’s initial report didn’t go well.

Blinken said that the initial report—a phase one study published by the WHO in March—had “real problems with it, not the least of which was China’s failure to cooperate.” The report was based on findings by a WHO-led investigation team that conducted groundwork in Wuhan earlier this year.

Beijing refused to provide raw data on early COVID-19 cases to the investigation team. Critics have also noted that the WHO investigation lacked independence, as some team members had ties to the CCP.
The initial report adhered to Beijing’s preferred stances on the virus’s origin and concluded that the possibility of the virus originating from a lab leak was “extremely unlikely.” Beijing has pushed a natural zoonotic hypothesis—that the virus had transmitted to humans from an animal host.
In a separate interview with Fox News, Sullivan warned China that it will face “isolation in the international community” if it fails to cooperate with future probes.

Eventually, Sullivan said, China will face a “stark choice.”

“Either they will allow, in a responsible way, investigators in to do the real work of figuring out where this came from, or they will face isolation in the international community,” he said.

Frank Fang contributed to this report.
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
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