Pompeo attacks Chinese virus campaign at G7

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday that the Group of Seven powers were united in opposing China’s coronavirus “disinformation,” but European allies emphasised co-operation to fight the global pandemic.

Foreign ministers from the major industrialised democracies spoke about the crisis by video conference, scrapping a meeting scheduled in Pittsburgh, but any hope of showing a common front was eroded by the absence of a joint statement.

Pompeo, a sharp critic of Beijing who has gone on the offensive over what he calls the “Wuhan virus,” said he shared a common view with the top diplomats of the other G7 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

“Every one of the nations that were at that meeting this morning was deeply aware of the disinformation campaign that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in to try to deflect from what has really taken place,” Pompeo said.

He said China “has been and continues to be engaged in” a social media campaign that has included conspiracy theories of US involvement.

“This is crazy talk,” he said.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson infuriated President Donald Trump’s administration by suggesting on Twitter that US troops brought the virus to Wuhan, the metropolis where it was first detected late last year.

A spokesperson from China’s foreign ministry said yesterday that China strongly condemned Pompeo’s comments, including his use of the term “Wuhan virus”.

The virus has killed more than 21,000 people globally, but Beijing appears to have brought it under control and has sent aid overseas. — including 40 tonnes of medical supplies to US ally Italy.

On Wednesday, Pompeo minimised China’s efforts and pointed to a US Air Force cargo plane’s aid delivery to Italy as well as private US charity efforts.

China is “now making small sales of product around the world and claiming that they are now the white hat in what has taken place”, he said.

But he also said the US sought co-operation, including with China.

“We desperately want to work with every country around the world. This is a global pandemic,” he said.

German magazine Der Spiegel, quoting anonymous diplomats, said the joint statement was scuttled by Pompeo’s insistence that it use the term “Wuhan virus”.

France and Germany issued statements on the G7 talks that made no mention of China. Canada said China had been raised in “broader discussions”.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian “underscored the need to combat any attempt to exploit the crisis for political purposes,” a statement said, in likely a veiled response to Pompeo.

France called for the G7 to find ways to assist Africa, warning that both the continent’s health care system and economies were ill-equipped for the global crisis.

Meanwhile, the US ambassador to London has said China endangered the world by suppressing information about the coronavirus outbreak, thus allowing it to spread far beyond the communist republic’s borders.

“First it tried to suppress the news,” Ambassador Woody Johnson wrote in an article for The Times newspaper published yesterday, adding that Beijing had then selectively shared critical information while stonewalling international health authorities. — AFP, Reuters