WASHINGTON - The United States renewed its call to "get to the bottom of" the origins of COVID-19, singling out China for bending international organizations to its worldview as the U.S. restores its annual contributions to the World Health Organization.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the U.S. must "out-compete China and defend the international rules-based order," a priority reflected in the State Department's 2022 budget requests.The top U.S. diplomat slammed China's lack of transparency on the origins of the coronavirus as U.S. President Joe Biden ordered a 90-day review and a fresh intelligence report on the origins of COVID-19.
"What we've seen, more than unfortunately, from the PRC (People's Republic of China) since the beginning of this crisis is a failure to meet its basic responsibilities in terms of sharing information and providing access," Blinken said, stopping short of elaborating on what the U.S. would do to pressure China for a full-access investigation.
"WHO is in need of reform," he added, stressing that the U.S. is reengaging in the WHO in hopes to "prevent, detect and mitigate" the next pandemic.
In Geneva, a senior WHO official said the organization cannot force the Beijing government to provide more information on the origins of the coronavirus.
"WHO doesn't have the power to compel anyone in this regard," said Mike Ryan, executive director of the organization's emergencies program, at a press conference on Monday, Reuters reported.
Ryan said the organization will propose necessary studies to take the understanding of COVID-19 origins to the "next level."While not weighing in on the origins of COVID-19, Blinken pointed out there are "two possible and likely scenarios": one is that "it emerged from the laboratory; the other is that it was naturally occurring."
The U.S. is distributing the first 25 million doses of its committed 80 million excess doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Asia, Africa and Latin America, while China is actively pushing Beijing's "vaccine diplomacy," positioning itself as the dominant provider of COVID-19 vaccinations to other countries.
"We are moving out as expeditiously as we possibly can in getting the vaccines out there, including to Taiwan," Blinken said. The U.S. promised to give Taiwan 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
On Sunday, a bipartisan trio of U.S. senators — Democrat Christopher Coons of Delaware, Democrat Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Republican Dan Sullivan of Alaska — visited Taiwan, signaling Washington's support to secure vaccines for the self-ruled democracy as it battles a spike in domestic coronavirus cases.
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In Beijing, Chinese officials pushed back, accusing the U.S. of politicalizing the coronavirus origins investigation.
"Tracing the origin of the virus is a scientific matter that should be studied by scientists worldwide in collaboration, rather than be politicized,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The WHO released the report of the WHO-China joint study of the origins in March. Compiled in line with WHO procedures and following science-based methods, it was an authoritative and scientific report,” Wang said Monday during a briefing.
In late May, Biden instructed U.S. federal agencies to “redouble” efforts to collect and analyze information that “could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion” amid growing speculation that COVID-19 might have leaked from a Chinese laboratory.
U.S. officials have stressed for months that a lack of cooperation from the government in Beijing hinders outside efforts to learn more about the origins of the coronavirus that has killed at least 3.4 million people worldwide, including nearly 600,000 in the United States.
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The United States is proposing $2.8 billion in foreign assistance to advance human rights, fight corruption and strengthen democracies. The State Department has requested $300 million for the National Endowment for Democracy.
Last week, Biden signed an executive order to ban American investments in 59 Chinese companies that undermine the security or democratic values of the U.S. and its allies. The move expands a Trump-era list of Chinese companies blacklisted for their alleged ties to the country's military.
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On Monday, Blinken told American lawmakers that the Biden administration is building more resilient and diversified supply chains, including those of 5G and surveillance technology.
The U.S. is also consulting with allies on a "shared approach" to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing amid calls to boycott the Chinese Communist Party over human rights abuses.
"More on that in weeks to come," Blinken said during the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
China is scheduled to host the next Winter Olympics in February 2022. But the CCP is under international scrutiny over crushing the democratic opposition in Hong Kong and using practices that the U.S. deems genocide against ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, an allegation that China has rejected.
VOA's White House correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this story.