Chinese official insists COVID lab leak theory ‘absurd’ during Blinken call

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A senior Chinese diplomat told Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday that the theory that COVID-19 had leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan was an “absurd story,” state media in the country reported.

Yang Jiechi, head of the Beijing Central Foreign Affairs Commission, also told Blinken that the United States should approach the issues surrounding the island nation of Taiwan “carefully and appropriately,” according to CCTV.

Blinken, meanwhile, “stressed the importance of cooperation and transparency regarding the origin of the virus, including the need for phase 2 studies led by WHO experts in China,” said a press release from the State Department.

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The statement added that Blinken and Yang discussed other contentious issues between the United States and China, including “the deterioration of democratic standards in Hong Kong and the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity against majority Uyghurs. Muslim and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang. “

Blinken called on China to “end its pressure campaign against Taiwan” and release American and Canadian citizens who have been “wrongly detained,” the statement said.

Another topic brought up by Blinken and Yang, according to the State Department, was the need for the United States and China to “work together for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The Secretary of State accompanied President Biden to this week’s G7 summit in Cornwall, England, where the question of how to run China is expected to occupy a large part of the agenda.

Washington-Beijing relations are near their lowest point in half a century amid trade tensions, China’s military ambitions in the South China Sea and Beijing’s lack of transparency on the origin of the pandemic .

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The theory that the virus accidentally leaked from a lab that researched bat coronaviruses gained traction after the Wall Street Journal revealed last month that a U.S. intelligence report found three Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers requested hospital treatment for an unidentified illness in November 2019, when researchers said the virus was spreading in the city of 11 million people.

The Journal reported earlier this week that a large US government lab reported in May 2020 that the “lab leak” theory was plausible and should be investigated further.

Yang, however, suggested that Washington was simply engaging in politics.

“We urge the United States to respect the facts and the science, refrain from politicizing the issue… and focus on international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Biden recently updated an executive order banning U.S. investment in companies linked to the Chinese military and put in place measures aimed at China that strengthen U.S. supply chains. Its trade representative, Katherine Tai, had a call with Taiwanese officials, the Pentagon concluded a review of Chinese policy, and the Senate passed a broad set of laws focused on China.

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