Coronavirus pandemic

US questions China's new virus figures, wants neutral observers

People walk down the steps during evening rush hour at a subway station in Beijing, June 18, 2020.
People walk down the steps during evening rush hour at a subway station in Beijing, June 18, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON •• The United States questioned China's credibility on reporting fresh coronavirus cases in Beijing and called for neutral observers to assess the extent of the outbreak.

Chinese capital city Beijing has raised its emergency response level to 2, the second highest of four levels, as it seeks to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 since a fresh cluster was detected last week.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, an outspoken critic of China, urged greater transparency during talks on Wednesday in Hawaii with senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi.

"I would hope that their numbers and their reporting are more accurate than what we saw in the case of Wuhan and other places in the PRC, but that remains to be seen," said Mr David Stilwell, the top US diplomat for East Asia who accompanied Mr Pompeo, referring to the country's official name, the People's Republic of China. "As far as numbers, it would be good to have folks on the ground to get confirmation" in Beijing, he told reporters.

Mr Stilwell pointed to reports in scientific journals that gave higher estimates for Covid-19 cases in Wuhan, the metropolis where the coronavirus was first detected late last year. "So once your credibility is lost, you will have to find a way to re-establish that," he said. "I think the only way to do that is by bringing in neutral observers to help understand exactly what happened there."

The latest outbreak started in Beijing's sprawling Xinfadi wholesale market, which supplies over 70 per cent of the city's fresh produce.

After months of normality, Beijing has urged people not to leave the city and again closed schools.

Mr Pompeo has been at the forefront of promoting a theory, discounted by mainstream scientists, that the coronavirus first emerged in a Wuhan laboratory.

China has accused President Donald Trump's administration of politicising the pandemic to deflect from its own handling of the illness in the US, which has suffered by far the highest death toll of any country.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2020, with the headline 'US questions China's new virus figures, wants neutral observers'. Print Edition | Subscribe