World Politics

China has questions to answer over the coronavirus outbreak, UK minister says

Key Points
  • The U.K. has added to international pressure on China to answer questions over information it gave the world about the coronavirus outbreak
  • However, it said the priority now is to beat the pandemic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump in Beijing, China.
Artyom Ivanov | TASS | Getty Images

The U.K. has added to international pressure on China to answer questions over information it gave the world about the coronavirus outbreak but said the priority now is to beat the pandemic.

Asked on Monday if China needed to explain how quickly it made the world aware of the extent of the virus, the U.K.'s defense minister said: "I think it does."

"But I think the time for the post-mortem on this is after we've all got it under control and have come through it and our economies are back to normal," U.K. Defense Minister Ben Wallace told LBC Radio.

"Only by being open and transparent will we learn about it, and China needs to be open and transparent about what it learned, and its shortcomings, but also its successes," Wallace said.

His comments come after a barrage of U.S. criticism against China regarding its handling of the coronavirus outbreak and accusations that it was not transparent when it came to making the world aware.

President Donald Trump has increasingly blamed China, and he repeated that accusation on Sunday, saying he believed that a "mistake" in China was the cause of the pandemic, though he did not present any evidence for the claim.

Speaking during a Fox News virtual town hall, Trump said, "I think they made a horrible mistake and didn't want to admit it."

EU chief backs investigation into coronavirus origin and says China should be involved

In addition, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday there was evidence the disease emerged from a Chinese lab.

That comes days after the top U.S. spy agency said it had determined that the virus was not man-made but was still investigating whether it was caused by "an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan." China has vehemently rejected claims that the virus escaped from a research center in Wuhan.

An Australian newspaper report this weekend claimed that the U.S.-led Five Eyes intelligence alliance — which includes the British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand intelligence services — had said in a dossier that China had deliberately suppressed or destroyed evidence of the coronavirus outbreak in an "assault on international transparency" that cost tens of thousands of lives. CNBC has not seen the Five Eyes dossier and has not been able to independently verify the report.

Asked about the veracity of the report, the U.K.'s defense minister said he would not comment. "Every day I get intelligence bulletins from our agencies around the world. I don't comment on individual bulletins, what I have and haven't seen. That would be wrong," Wallace said.

China has repeatedly denied that it covered up any details about the outbreak. It says the U.S. has blamed it in order to divert attention from its own response to the pandemic. 

In an interview with NBC on Tuesday, Chinese Vice Premier Le Yucheng said: "China has been open, transparent and responsible in its Covid-19 response. We did not cover up anything and did not delay any efforts. We have already publicized the timeline of how we have shared the information on Covid-19."

The number of coronavirus infections continues to rise, with global cases now topping 3.5 million. The virus has caused over 247,000 deaths worldwide. While cases and fatalities continue to decline in Europe and the U.S., Latin America and Africa are seeing a growing number of cases, Reuters said Monday. The Southern Hemisphere is heading toward winter.