China's top diplomat Wang Yi suggests foreign outbreaks caused coronavirus pandemic

With its domestic outbreak largely contained, Beijing is stonewalling efforts to find out more about the virus' origins.
With its domestic outbreak largely contained, Beijing is stonewalling efforts to find out more about the virus' origins.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - China's foreign minister said outbreaks outside of the country may have caused the Covid-19 pandemic, as Beijing steps up efforts to recast the coronavirus narrative amid growing scrutiny over the pathogen's origins.

"More and more research suggests that the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places in the world," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in comments published over the weekend from an interview with the official Xinhua News Agency and state broadcaster CCTV.

"(China took) immediate actions to carry out epidemiological investigation, identify the pathogen and publicise key information including the genome sequencing of the virus," Mr Wang said. "All this sounded alarm bells across the world."

His comments come a year after the first known cluster of coronavirus cases emerged in the central city of Wuhan, before spreading around the globe.

The country was criticised for initially covering up human-to-human transmission of the disease and for acting too slowly to halt its dispersion, with doctors who blew the whistle on a mysterious new pneumonia accused of spreading rumours by police.

With its domestic outbreak largely contained, Beijing is stonewalling efforts to find out more about the virus' origins, with World Health Organisation experts kept out of Wuhan last year and an independent probe rebuffed.

China is also seeking to recast its response and the early history of the virus. Officials and state media have alternately pushed theories linking Covid-19 to the US military, that the virus could have entered China on imported frozen food, and jumped on research suggesting cases in the United States and Italy pre-dated those in Wuhan.

The US, led by President Donald Trump, has contributed to the politicisation of the debate, pushing one theory that suggests a laboratory in Wuhan may have leaked the virus, either accidentally or intentionally.

In the interview, Mr Wang said China had "actively engaged" in the global response to the pandemic.

"We have stood at the forefront of fighting misinformation, rebutting attempts of politicisation and stigmatisation," he said. "We were determined to make sure that the objective narrative and collective memory of the battle against the pandemic would not be distorted by lies."

While WHO experts have been to China in the past year, they haven't been allowed into Wuhan, the pandemic's original epicentre.

A spokesman for the body said last month the WHO hoped its expert committee looking into the origin would be able to visit the city in January.

China also levelled trade restrictions on Australia after it called for an independent investigation into the virus' source.