Coronavirus: US believes China failed to disclose outbreak to WHO in timely manner, says Pompeo

VIDEO: REUTERS
A person wearing a face mask carries groceries in a neighbourhood in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, April 20, 2020.
A person wearing a face mask carries groceries in a neighbourhood in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, April 20, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hit out at Beijing again on Wednesday (April 22) over the coronavirus outbreak and accused it of taking advantage of the pandemic to bully neighbours, even as he welcomed China's provision of essential medical supplies.

Speaking at a State Department news conference, Pompeo said Beijing had failed to report the outbreak in a timely manner and failed to report human-to-human transmission of the virus "for a month until it was in every province inside of China."

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticised China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which began late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has grown into a global pandemic.

The outbreak has killed nearly 180,000 people, including more than 45,000 in the United States, according to a Reuters tally.

Citing World Health Organisation rules implemented in 2007, Pompeo said, "We strongly believe that the Chinese Communist Party did not report the outbreak of the new coronavirus in a timely fashion to the World Health Organisation."

Even after Beijing notified the WHO of the outbreak, Pompeo said, "It did not share all of the information it had. Instead it covered up how dangerous the disease is."

President Donald Trump last week suspended US funding of the WHO, charging that the UN agency promoted China's "disinformation" about the outbreak.

WHO officials have denied this and China has said it has been transparent and open.

Pompeo said WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom, failed to use his ability "to go public" when a member state failed to follow the rules.

He said the WHO had an obligation to ensure safety standards were observed in virology laboratories in Wuhan and its director-general had "enormous authority with respect to nations that do not comply."

Pompeo repeated allegations that China was exploiting the world's focus on the pandemic with "provocative behaviour" to erode autonomy in Hong Kong, exert military pressure on Taiwan and coerce neighbors in the South China Sea.

 
 
 

"The United States strongly opposes China's bullying, we hope other nations will hold them to account," he said.

Pompeo said he would be speaking later on Wednesday with counterparts from the Association of South-east Asian Nations.

While the Trump administration has stepped up criticism of China as the pandemic worsens, the crisis has exposed US reliance on China for essential medical supplies.

Asked about recent reports that supplies were being held up in China, Pompeo said: "The good news is we have seen China provide those resources; sometimes they're from US companies that are there in China, but we've had success... We appreciate that.

"We are counting on China to continue to live up to its contractual obligations and international obligations to provide that assistance to us and to sell us those goods... in a way consistent with all of the international trade rules," Pompeo said.