Asked If He Would Press Xi Personally to Open Up to Virus Origin Investigators, Biden Deflects

By Patrick Goodenough | June 16, 2021 | 8:18pm EDT
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in 2012. (Photo by Tim Rue/Corbis via Getty Images)
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in 2012. (Photo by Tim Rue/Corbis via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – President Biden was asked Wednesday whether, given how much time he says he has spent in the past with Chinese President Xi Jinping, he would consider calling him up – “old friend to old friend” – and urge him to cooperate in the coronavirus origin investigation.

Biden, who was taking reporters’ questions after the U.S.-Russia summit in Geneva, disputed the characterization of Xi as an “old friend,” but did not otherwise answer the question.

The reporter then asked the president what would happen next with regard to calls by him and other world leaders for China to cooperate in the coronavirus origin investigation, since China is resisting.

“You’ve said that you were going to press China,” he noted. “You signed on to the G7 communiqué that said you – the G7 were calling on China to open up to let the investigators in. But China basically says they don’t want to be interfered with anymore.  So, what happens now?”

Biden in his reply argued that if China continues to refuse to cooperate in the coronavirus origin investigation, it will affect its international standing.

“China is trying very hard to project itself as a responsible and – and a very, very forthcoming nation, that they are trying very hard to talk about how they're taking and helping the world in terms of COVID-19 and vaccines,” he said.

Biden said people around the world will observe China’s stance on the outbreak origin probe, and ask whether it was “really, actually, trying to get to the bottom of this.”

“Certain things you don’t have to explain to the people of the world,” he said. “They see the results.”

 

The G7 summit in England last week called for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened phase 2 COVID-19 origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China.”

A joint statement issued at Biden’s meeting with European Union leaders in Brussels earlier this week called “for progress on a transparent, evidence-based, and expert-led WHO-convened phase 2 study on the origins of COVID-19, that is free from interference.”

Beijing has repeatedly fended off calls for further investigation inside China. It says it cooperated fully with an earlier (“phase 1”) study by a World Health Organization-convened team of international and Chinese experts, and that any further work should be carried out elsewhere.

But the report by that joint team came under critical scrutiny, particularly its assessment that it was “extremely unlikely” that the outbreak could have been linked to an accidental leak from a laboratory in Wuhan, a hypothesis which it said did not merit further investigation. (The team in contrast did not rule out China’s favored theory – that transmission could have occurred through frozen food products.)

Biden last month instructed the intelligence community to investigate the origins of the outbreak, focusing on both the natural and lab-leak hypotheses, and report back to him in 90 days.

At the Geneva press conference, Biden gave no indication of what steps he or G7 colleagues could take to “press” a recalcitrant Beijing.

After opining on how China’s stance would affect its international image, he focused instead on what could be done in preparation for and response to future disease outbreaks.

“One thing we did discuss, as I told you, in the E.U. and at the G7 and with NATO: What we should be doing and what I’m going to make an effort to do is rally the world to work on what is going to be the physical mechanism available to detect, early on, the next pandemic and have a mechanism by which we can respond to it and respond to it early. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. And we need to do that.”

The Chinese government, whose handling of the outbreak in its earlier stages was widely criticized, is highly sensitive about the “lab-leak” claims. Foreign ministry officials frequently deflect questions on the issue by challenging the United States to open up its bio-labs to WHO scrutiny.

Biden has spoken about how much time he spent with Xi, referring to meetings and travel together when both men were vice presidents.

“I’ve spent more time in private meetings with Xi Jinping than any world leader,” he told a Council on Foreign Relations event in 2018. At the Munich security conference in 2013 Biden said he and Xi “traveled to each other’s countries, spent literally scores of hours together.”

The full exchange in Geneva follows:

REPORTER: In the spirit, Mr. President, of you saying that there is no substitute for face-to-face dialogue, and also with what you said at NATO that the biggest problems right now are Russia and China – you’ve spoken many times about how you have spent perhaps more time with President Xi than any other world leader. 

So is there going to become a time where you might call him, old friend to old friend, and ask him to open up China to the World Health Organization investigators who are trying to get to the bottom of COVID-19?

BIDEN:  Let’s get something straight.  We know each other well; we’re not old friends. It’s just pure business.

REPORTER:   So, I guess, my question would be that you’ve said that you were going to press China.  You signed on to the G7 communiqué that said you – the G7 were calling on China to open up to let the investigators in. But China basically says they don’t want to be interfered with anymore.  So, what happens now?

BIDEN: The impact – the world’s attitude toward China as it develops. China is trying very hard to project itself as a responsible and – and a very, very forthcoming nation; that they are trying very hard to talk about how they're taking and helping the world in terms of COVID-19 and vaccines.  And they’re trying very hard.

Look, certain things you don't have to explain to the people of the world.  They see the results. Is China really actually trying to get to the bottom of this? 

One thing we did discuss, as I told you, in the EU and at the G7 and with NATO: What we should be doing and what I’m going to make an effort to do is rally the world to work on what is going to be the physical mechanism available to detect, early on, the next pandemic and have a mechanism by which we can respond to it and respond to it early. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. And we need to do that.

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