A paramilitary police officer in Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate in late January. (Photo by Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)
(CNSNews.com) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s evident reluctance to discuss punishing China over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak continued to draw criticism on Monday, with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) saying he did not believe Americans who have paid a heavy price as a result of the pandemic “want to simply turn the page and let bygones be bygones.”
Hours before the World Health Organization was due to release a report on a joint international-Chinese expert study of the origins of the outbreak, Cotton was asked about Blinken’s stance.
In a CNN interview broadcast on Sunday, Blinken was asked whether China should be “punished” for misleading the world but, while offering some criticism of China, said “our focus needs to be on building a stronger system for the future.”
Cotton, an outspoken critic in Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), said it “needs to pay.”
“Tens of millions of Americans have had their lives upended over the last year,” he told Fox News. “They’ve lost jobs, their businesses have closed, they’ve lost loved ones. I don’t think those Americans want to simply turn the page and let bygones be bygones.”
“We need to get to the bottom of what happened in Wuhan, and how the Chinese communists unleashed this plague on the world and we need to hold them accountable,” he said.
Cotton added that the U.S. should hold Beijing accountable both directly, through legislation he has introduced to allow civil lawsuits in the U.S. against the CCP, “but also indirectly, by standing up to their aggression against our country and our allies, or their efforts to steal our jobs or steal our property.”
“We shouldn’t just turn the page, the way the Biden administration wants to do,” he said. “We should hold them to account.”
The report being released by the WHO on Tuesday underlines what the origin-tracing team said when it concluded its mission to Wuhan in early February – that the coronavirus causing COVID-19 was most likely transmitted from bats to humans via an animal intermediary, and that a leak from a Wuhan laboratory is too unlikely a scenario to warrant further investigation.
More than a year ago, Cotton was among those raising questions about a possible link to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, China’s specialist lab for studying bat coronaviruses.
He stressed on Monday that he had not suggested a deliberate action on the part of the Chinese authorities.
“To be precise, last year I didn’t say that the Chinese communists had created this virus or invented it,” he said. “I said that they have a long and documented history of sloppy laboratory practices. Our diplomats went to this lab in 2018 and expressed their concerns in cables back to Washington D.C.”
“I still believe that all of the best evidence that we have – circumstantial to be sure – but still the best evidence suggests that this virus originated from an accidental breach in those Wuhan labs.”
‘Nothing to see here’
Cotton agreed that the fact the CCP was punishing whistleblowers should have provided the most obvious clue that there was a cover-up going on, and that the virus, “although it may have come from an animal, most likely came from an accidental breach in those laboratories.”
Cotton expressed little confidence in the WHO-China study into the outbreak origin.
“They basically went to Wuhan, were put in a conference room, given some coffee and doughnuts and a few PowerPoint slides,” he said. “Chinese communists told them, ‘nothing to see here’ so they walked away and said, ‘nope, there’s nothing to see here.’”
In Blinken’s earlier interview, CNN’s Dana Bash asked him whether China should be “punished” for misleading the world, given the pandemic’s enormous impact.
“You said at your confirmation hearing, Mr. Secretary, that you believe the Chinese government misled the world about coronavirus,” she said. “Given that, and the millions of people of course who have died around the world, should China be punished for that?”
“You know, I think the – the issue for us is to make sure that we do everything possible to prevent another pandemic, even as we’re working through this one, or at the very least to make sure that we can mitigate in much more effective ways any damage done if something happens in the future,” he replied.
Blinken spoke of the importance of a global health system, including the WHO, that features transparency and information sharing, and “access for international experts at the start of something like this. “
“And that’s where I think China, like every other country, has real obligations that it needs to make good on,” he said. “So, I think what we need to be focused on is making sure we’re protecting ourselves and protecting the world going forward. And that’s going to require a lot of reform. And it’s going to require China to do things that it hasn’t done in the past.”
Bash followed up, “That sounded like a ‘no’ when it comes to repercussions for what happened in the past, and maybe even that is happening currently, which is the damage that is being done around the world because of this pandemic. No repercussions? No punishment?”
“We do need to have both accountability for the past,” Blinken said, “but I think our focus needs to be on building a stronger system for the future.”