Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China on Wednesday of failing to provide samples of the new coronavirus needed by scientists to track the evolution of the pathogen.
Despite making official appeals to China’s government since January, “we still do not have a sample of the virus, nor has the world had access to the facilities or other locations where the virus may have originated in Wuhan,” Mr. Pompeo told reporters at the State Department.
The secretary also criticized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for failing to notify the World Health Organization of the disease outbreak in a timely fashion, and said the WHO failed to properly alert the world to the pandemic that began in December.
“Nations that desire to be part of the global landscape have an obligation for truthful information — obligations to share, to be transparent and open,” he said, noting China’s use of disinformation about the origin of the outbreak.
The Chinese government initially identified the source of the outbreak as a natural viral mutation from a wild animal at Wuhan market that infected humans. Later, the government attempted to blame the United States and other nations for banning the virus to China.
“You have to remember these labs are still open inside of China, these labs that contain complex pathogens that were being studied,” Mr. Pompeo said.
“It’s not just the Wuhan Institute of Virology, multiple labs inside China that are handling these things. It’s important that those materials are being handled in a safe and secure way such that there isn’t an accidental release.”
Mr. Pompeo declined to say what action the U.S. government may take against China for its mishandling of the virus outbreaks. But he said an effort to hold China accountable will be undertaken in the future.
International rules governing members of the WHO, which includes China, are required to alert the world body within 24 hours regarding information on disease outbreaks.
“Instead it covered up how dangerous the disease is. It didn’t report sustained human-to-human transmission for a month until it was in every province inside China. It censored those who tried to warn the world. It ordered a halt to testing of new samples and it destroyed existing samples.”
The government “still has not shared the virus sample from inside China with the outside world, making it impossible to track the disease’s evolution,” he said.
Similarly, the WHO also provided false information on Jan. 12 stating that China was handling the outbreak and that the virus was not being spread among humans. Travel, the agency experts said at the time, should not be restricted.
The WHO’s regulatory unit “clearly failed during this pandemic,” Mr. Pompeo said.
Shift in U.S. missile defense
Robert Soofer, deputy assistant defense secretary for nuclear and missile defense policy, outlined plans for expanding U.S. missile defenses this week.
The recent Missile Defense Review shifted the focus of missile defenses from limited regional defenses to preparing to counter a much wide range of missile threats.
The change was the result of the spread of a growing array of missiles of differing ranges and types.
The types include short-, medium- and intermediate-range missiles and intercontinental missiles — and not solely ballistic missiles but cruise missiles and emerging ultra-high speed hypersonic missiles.
“This was a threat posed not only by rogue regional potential adversaries but also in the context of great-power competition, by China and Russia,” Mr. Soofer said during a webinar hosted by the Hudson Institute.
“In order to address that problem, we developed a concept for missile defense that included not only active defense and passive defense but also attack operations … to try to eliminate the threat before it’s launched to the best that we could,” he said.
To counter large numbers of regional missile threats, the Pentagon moved to what is called integrated air and missile defense that combine sensors and interceptors in more efficient ways. The new system also seeks to integrate the different military services’ capabilities as well as those of allies.
In the past, missile defenses were not focused on countering Chinese and Russian missiles, but that has changed.
“The defenses that we are building in a regional context are meant to address not only the rogue states but also China and Russia, and it is in the context of their aerial denial and anti-access capabilities,” Mr. Soofer said.
“If we end up in a conflict either in Europe or in Asia, the objective of Russia or China will be to deny us access, to keep us from reinforcing our allies.”
Because the U.S. military has to overcome those denial strategies, missile defenses are being integrated into the forces to protect bases and ports for resupply efforts.
For North Korean missiles, the Pentagon is working on a version of the Navy SM-3 Block IIA anti-missile system capable of intercepting North Korean long-range missiles.
Missouri v. CCP
Details from the civil lawsuit filed against the Chinese Communist Party by Missouri’s government reveal that the state believes the lawsuit can go forward because the party is not immune from lawsuits the way a sovereign state would be.
“The Communist Party is not an organ or political subdivision of the [People’s Republic of China], nor is it owned by the PRC or a political subdivision of the PRC, and thus it is not protected by sovereign immunity,” the lawsuit states.
In addition to the Chinese government, the suit names as defendants the China National Health Commission; the Ministry of Emergency Management; the Ministry of Civil Affairs; the Hubei regional government and Wuhan city government; the Wuhan Institute of Virology and Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Missouri Attorney General Eric S. Schmitt, who is leading the lawsuit, stated that since the party controls all the defendants, the suit is valid.
“The United States is currently conducting ‘a full-scale investigation into whether the novel coronavirus, which went on to morph into a global pandemic that has brought the global economy to its knees, escaped from’ the Wuhan Institute,” the lawsuit states.
The suit says the damage to Missouri includes loss of life from those who died from the disease outbreak and billions in losses to the economic disruption. The Chinese are guilty of being public nuisance and engaging in dangerous activities and breach of duty for allowing the spread, the suit also alleges.
In Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping told a meeting of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, the seven-member collective dictatorship that rules China, that both the pandemic and economic situation have caused the leadership to adopt worst-case planning.
“Everyone must adhere to bottom-line thinking [worst scenarios] and have the mental and work preparation to deal with changes in the external environment for a long period of time,” Mr. Xi said, according to state media. “The coronavirus prevention and control work against importing the virus from abroad and reinfection internally must not be relaxed.”
One expert said Mr. Xi’s language suggests China is bracing itself for more lawsuits seeking damages caused by the pandemic.
Zhang Lifan, an independent historian told Radio Free Asia that Chinese leaders fear lawsuits.
“Many people said that 120 years ago, in 1900, eight countries sent a joint army to China” and forced the Qing Dynasty to pay a huge indemnity,” Mr. Zhang said. “This time it might be 80 countries that join forces to hold China accountable.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.
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