WASHINGTON – China’s ambassador to Washington called for an end to the “blame game” over the coronavirus, in the country’s most high-profile response since US President Donald Trump escalated his criticism of Beijing.
Ambassador Cui Tiankai said in a column published in the Washington Post that allegations blaming China for the outbreak’s spread risked “decoupling” the world’s two largest economies.
Increased suspicions also threatened to hurt US-China cooperation to fight the disease and restart the global economy.
“It is time to end the blame game,” Mr Cui said. “It is time to focus on the disease and rebuild trust between our two countries.”
Mr Trump and his top aides have increasingly faulted China for the coronavirus’s deadly expansion across the US and around the world. The pathogen has killed more Americans than the Vietnam War, pushed the US economy toward recession and clouded Mr Trump’s re-election prospects.
While Mr Trump has accused China of a cover-up and trying to hurt him politically, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has gone further, claiming there is “enormous evidence” that the virus escaped from a high-security virology laboratory near the first known outbreak in Wuhan.
Mr Pompeo has advanced the theory despite Chinese denials and a lack of consensus among US intelligence agencies examining the virus’s origins.
Although Mr Cui made no mention of the lab claim, he denounced “conspiracy theories” about China’s geopolitical intentions. He also rejected calls for China to pay reparations for the damage wrought by the virus, saying similar responsibility wasn’t laid on countries where H1N1 or AIDS originated.
“There is no denying that the first known case of Covid-19 was reported in Wuhan,” Mr Cui said. “But this means only that Wuhan was the first victim of the virus. To ask a victim for compensation is simply ridiculous.”
Mr Cui has been seeking to ratchet down tensions with the US which have steadily escalated since he became ambassador in 2013.
In March, Mr Cui criticised a foreign ministry spokesman’s tweets about whether the virus was introduced to Wuhan by US Army athletes. Last month, he urged cooperation in a similar column published in the New York Times.
Mr Cui’s latest op-ed closed with a reference to the Republican Party’s first president, Abraham Lincoln, who Mr Trump has been invoking as his re-election campaign heats up.
“As President Abraham Lincoln called for ‘the better angels’ in his inauguration speech, I hope that the wisdom of preceding generations will guide us to choose the right side of history and work for our shared future together,” Mr Cui said.