Politics

'They owe trillions' – Steve Bannon says China must be held accountable for coronavirus spread

Key Points
  • Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Thursday sharply criticized China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, suggesting the country should be held financially responsible for the pandemic.
  • "I think the world's going to hold them in judgement, and that judgement is not going to be very pretty,"  Bannon said on CNBC's "Squawk Box."
  • "They owe trillions, if not tens of trillions of dollars," he added. 
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Bannon: China must be held accountable for coronavirus spread

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Thursday sharply criticized China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, suggesting the country should be held financially responsible for the pandemic. 

"The Chinese Communist Party is going to have to pay," Bannon said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "I think the world's going to hold them in judgement, and that judgement is not going to be very pretty. They owe trillions, if not tens of trillions of dollars," he added. 

Bannon, a longtime China critic, said the Chinese government was purposefully misleading about the deadly virus outbreak when it began in the country late last year.

He pointed to early suggestions from officials in the country that the virus could not be transmitted from person to person, before ultimately confirming it could be in late January

"They tried to protect it going around the rest of China but they didn't care about it going around the rest of the world," said Bannon, who used to run far-right Breitbart News. A more transparent response from the Chinese government could have saved lives and prevented economic damage, he added. 

More than 3.2 million people worldwide have been infected with Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University data. At least 228,000 people have died. 

U.S. intelligence officials reportedly believe China also is deliberately miscounting the number of deaths and cases in the country. According to JHU data, there are just under 84,000 confirmed cases in China and 4,637 deaths. 

Bannon praised U.S. officials "regardless of political ideology," from President Donald Trump to governors across the country, for how they responded to the pandemic given early information on the outbreak was "hidden from us and people lied about it." 

Criticism of China's early handling of the outbreak has intensified in recent weeks, including from the White House. But some believe focusing on recriminations over the pandemic risks overlooking the vital ties that remain between the two countries.

"Now, more than ever, the U.S. economy needs China's support to provide goods to the retail market, purchase American products, deliver medical supplies and protective equipment, and soon, to share the vaccine that's being developed there," said Jessica Chen Weiss, a professor of government at Cornell University and an expert in China's domestic politics.

Speaking to CNBC last week, Weiss also noted that promises, like Bannon's, to "hold China accountable" for the coronavirus pandemic have no basis in the real world.

"There is no accountability mechanism and no modern reparations system for pandemics," Weiss said.

The United States isn't the only place where China's handling of the outbreak is facing scrutiny. Governments across the globe have questioned why Chinese authorities withheld early reports of a new virus emerging in the city of Wuhan.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said last week that China's government "has been nothing but open, transparent and responsible" in sharing information about the outbreak since it began.

-- CNBC's Christina Wilkie contributed to this report. 

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Steve Bannon on reopening US economy, China's handling of Covid-19