Mr Raab said the UK will want an international “deep dive” investigation into the causes of the pandemic and the reason why it was not stopped earlier.
He was speaking amid growing calls from Conservatives for a reset of the UK’s relationship with Beijing, with former Tory leader William Hague saying Britain needs to take a “tougher” line on issues like the involvement of Huawei in 5G telecoms networks in order to avoid becoming strategically dependent on the communist state.
Mr Raab’s comments came after a telephone conference with G7 leaders including US president Donald Trump, who has directly accused China of lying about the death toll from coronavirus and even repeated an unconfirmed story suggesting the disease may have originated in a Chinese laboratory.
“We will have to ask the hard questions about how it come about and why it couldn’t have been stopped earlier.”
Beijing has faced international criticism over the slow response to the initial cases of coronavirus in the city of Wuhan at the end of last year, after police detained doctor Li Wenliang for “spreading false rumours” when he first tried to raise the alert. Critics have blamed wet markets where Chinese consumers buy live animals for enabling the crossover of the bacteria from wild populations.
And doubts have been raised over the transparency shown by Chinese authorities on death rates and the geographical spread of the disease.
Mr Raab, who is standing in for Boris Johnson while the prime minister recuperates from a bout of coronavirus, said the UK has had good cooperation with China in relation to the return of UK nationals from Wuhan and the procurement of equipment.
But he said: “I think there absolutely needs to be a very, very deep dive after-the-event review of the lessons – including of the outbreak of the virus – and I don’t think we can flinch from that at all, it needs to be driven by the science.”
He declined to speculate on the outcome of any review, saying: “We will look very carefully with all our the other international partners, and the World Health Organisation and other international organisations as to how this outbreak happened and what can be done to prevent it happening in the future.
“Until we get those answers, we can’t really track a way forward.”