Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that China’s Communist Party must allow international investigators to look into security and research conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers were studying bat coronaviruses like the one behind the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Pompeo also suggested that poor security at China’s biological research labs could have resulted in the virus leaking from a laboratory and causing the global outbreak of disease.
Asked by a reporter about Chinese disinformation blaming the United States for the pandemic, Mr. Pompeo said that “the information we provide about where this virus began in Wuhan is just data.”
“The Chinese Communist Party tells us they want to be our partner. They want to be transparent,” he said at a press briefing at the State Department. “We need partners that we can rely on, that when they tell us something it is accurate and that we don’t think they’re hiding anything.
“But we still haven’t gained access, the world hasn’t gained access to the WIV, the virology institute there. We don’t know precisely where this virus originated from.”
Multiple labs are continuing to conduct research on contagious pathogens in China, and “we don’t know if they are operating at a level of security to prevent this from happening again,” he said.
“Remember, this isn’t the first time we’ve had a virus come out of China,” Mr. Pompeo said.
China was the origin of a similar coronavirus found in bats in 2003 that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether the new coronavirus strain escaped from a Wuhan laboratory or was triggered by a mutation of a virus found in bats that allowed it to jump to humans through meat from a nearby wild animal market.
Mr. Pompeo said biological laboratories like those China should follow international inspection protocols like those used at nuclear facilities to prevent accidents.
“We need the same kinds of processes for bio systems and bio laboratories as well,” he said.
“We would urge every country, all of our partners to demand that we get answers for what happened here,” Mr. Pompeo said at the briefing.
“But also that we get the transparency, that the world gets the transparency it needs to make sure that those who are conducting scientific research on complex viruses and pathogens are doing so in a way that doesn’t create the risk that we get, precisely the economic devastation and the enormous loss of life that we have all suffered, that came out of Wuhan, China.”
Mr. Pompeo also defended President Trump’s plan to suspend U.S. funding for the World Health Organization, which he said “failed in its mission.” Mr. Trump has said the U.N. agency understated the dangers of COVID-19 early in the crisis and is too beholden to China.
“We shouldn’t pretend that just because some organization has ‘health’ in its title that it is capable of delivering the outcomes that we need,” Mr. Pompeo said.
Critics say China pressured WHO in January to falsely report that the virus was not transmittable between humans and therefore no travel restrictions were needed.
Earlier on Fox News Channel, Mr. Pompeo said China is continuing to “hide and obfuscate” the facts about the viral outbreak.
Beijing’s efforts to blame the United States are “classic communist disinformation,” he added.
Mr. Trump also commented Wednesday on the early findings of a U.S. investigation into the Chinese government’s mishandling of the outbreak. “There’s nothing positive about what happened in China,” he said.
Mr. Trump also suggested that the Chinese government deliberately allowed its citizens infected with the coronavirus to travel around the world while restricting domestic flights in China.
Chinese authorities banned all flights from Wuhan to Beijing but did not restrict other flights within China, a U.S. official said.
NAVY DENIES CHINA WARSHIP CLAIM
The Navy is disputing a Chinese claim that People’s Liberation Army forces “expelled” a U.S. destroyer from the South China Sea this week.
The Pacific Fleet disclosed on its website that the guided-missile destroyer USS Barry conducted what it described as normal operations in waters near the Paracel Islands on Tuesday.
Navy officials said the Barry was engaged in a “freedom of navigation” operation in international waters to challenge expansive Chinese maritime sovereignty claims. One official said the Barry had completed its operations as scheduled and was not forced out of the strategic waterway by Chinese forces.
The Parcels operation followed two transits by the Barry, part of the Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet, through the Taiwan Strait this month, in a show of support for Taiwan.
The warship visit was denounced by major Chinese state-media organs. The Global Times reported that the warship was “expelled” from the sea by Chinese forces. The PLA Daily, the official military newspaper, denounced the warship passage as a provocative act and said PLA naval and air forces “warned the ship away.”
The Chinese denunciations for the first time were made on the same day that the Barry conducted its operation. In the past, China’s state media waited until the warships had transited out of the area.
PLA Senior Col. Li Huamin, a spokesman for the PLA’s Southern Theater Command, said Tuesday that the warship “illegally” entered Chinese waters near the Paracels without Beijing’s permission.
He called the warship passage “incompatible with the current joint efforts of international community to fight against the COVID-19.”
“China urges the United States to focus on its own business with pandemic prevention and control, make more contributions to the global fight against the COVID-19, and immediately stop military operations that are detrimental to regional security, peace and stability,” Col. Li said.
On March 10, the USS McCampbell sailed near the Paracels, which China condemned as “hegemonic behavior.”
The Paracels, in the northern part of the South China Sea, are claimed by China, Vietnam and Taiwan. China has built 20 outposts on the islands, including a major military base and runway on Woody Island.
China contends that 90% of the sea is Chinese maritime territory, a claim rejected by the U.N. Permanent Court of Arbitration in a 2016 ruling on a case brought by the Philippine government.
AI STUDY: OUTBREAK TO END IN MAY
A Singaporean university data laboratory used artificial intelligence to predict that the coronavirus outbreak will be mostly over by the middle of next month in the United States and largely done worldwide by May 30.
The study by the Singapore University of Technology and Design estimates that the coronavirus will have run its course by 97% in the U.S. by May 14. The entire world should be 97% virus-free by May 30 and completely rid of it by Dec. 2.
Similar results were predicted for Europe and Asia.
The results are tabulated daily on a website, based on data crunched by the university’s Data-Driven Innovation Lab. The lab uses a formula based on evidence of people tested rather than other modeling projections about the virus, many of which have been proved to be wildly inaccurate.
The lab formula takes information from past disease outbreaks for which people had no immunity and applies a mathematical model called “SIR” based on the number of people susceptible, infected and recovered.
Lab director Luo Jianxi tells Inside the Ring that the study employs the standard statistical tool known as regression analysis.
“The basic technique is simply regression,” he said. “The younger generation calls it supervised learning, as a branch of machine learning and statistics. To us, it is an old, classic and basic data science technique.”
Mr. Luo said in a paper that predictive modeling “will allow the decisions and planning of the governments and companies that must be made now for the future to be more ‘future-informed.’”
The research comes with a strong caution that the study is strictly for educational and research purposes and may contain errors.
“The model and data are inaccurate to the complex, evolving and heterogeneous realities of different countries,” the website states.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.
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