A top Chinese diplomat told Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday that the theory that COVID-19 leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan is an “absurd story,” the country’s state media reported.
Yang Jiechi, the head of Beijing’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission, also told Blinken that the U.S. should approach issues surrounding the island nation of Taiwan “carefully and appropriately,” according to CCTV.
Blinken, meanwhile, “stressed the importance of cooperation and transparency regarding the origin of the virus, including the need for WHO Phase 2 expert-led studies in China,” a State Department press release said.
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The statement added that Blinken and Yang discussed other contentious issues between the U.S. and China, including “the deterioration of democratic norms in Hong Kong and the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang.”
Blinken called on China to “cease its pressure campaign against Taiwan” and release American and Canadian citizens who have been “wrongfully detained,” the statement said.
Another topic that Blinken and Yang broached, according to the State Department, was the need for the U.S. and China to “work together for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
The secretary of state accompanied President Biden to this week’s G7 summit in Cornwall, England, where the question of how to handle China is expected to occupy much of the agenda.
Relations between Washington and Beijing are near their lowest point in a half-century due to tensions over trade, China’s military ambitions in the South China Sea, and Beijing’s lack of transparency about the origin of the pandemic.
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The theory that the virus accidentally leaked from a lab that was doing research on bat coronaviruses has gained traction after The Wall Street Journal revealed last month that a U.S. intelligence report revealed that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology sought hospital treatment for an unidentified illness in November 2019, when researchers say the virus was spreading through the city of 11 million people.
The Journal reported earlier this week that a top U.S. government laboratory had reported in May 2020 that the “lab leak” theory was plausible and should be studied further.
Yang, however, suggested that Washington was merely engaging in politics.
“We urge the United States to respect facts and science, refrain from politicizing the issue … and focus on international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic,” he said.
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Meanwhile, Biden has recently updated an executive order banning U.S. investment in companies linked to China’s military and rolled out steps aimed at China that shore up U.S. supply chains. His trade representative, Katherine Tai, had a call with Taiwan officials, the Pentagon wrapped up a China policy review, and the Senate passed a sweeping package of China-focused legislation.
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