The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said on Thursday (Aug 27) it was unclear whether the coronavirus had first originated in China, casting doubt on the views of health experts and foreign governments.
Speaking during a visit to Norway, Wang said that, while China was the first country to report the existence of the virus to the World Health Organisation, “it does not mean that the virus originated in China”.
“Actually, for the past months, we have seen reports … showing that the virus emerged in different parts of the world, and may have emerged earlier than in China,” Wang told reporters, speaking through an interpreter.
Health authorities in the Chinese city of Wuhan reported the first case of what turned out to be the new coronavirus in December, and the first known death linked to the virus in early January.
“Where did the virus first start and how it started … should be left to scientists and medical experts … It should not politicised or stigmatised,” said Wang, in an apparent rebuke of US President Donald Trump, who has been criticised for describing the coronavirus as the “China virus”.
“Who is patient zero? It is still unknown,” said Wang, who was visiting Norway after visiting the Netherlands and Italy earlier this week in the first visit to Norway by a Chinese foreign minister since 2006.
Norway, a close US ally and NATO member, will be a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2011 and 2022. China is one of the five permanent members on the council.
Wang Yi tells European Union not to get caught up in ‘new Cold War’
As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi began his first European post-pandemic tour in Italy on Tuesday, he made one key message clear: Do not get dragged into whatever “new Cold War” the US tries to promote.
But Wang also began his trip in Rome with a stern warning about Hong Kong from his Italian counterpart, Luigi Di Maio, who said that China ought to respect its speech freedoms – signalling the European Union’s continued disapproval of the national security law Beijing imposed on the city.
Wang’s attempt at a charm offensive comes while Europe grows wary of China after the coronavirus and Beijing’s moves on Hong Kong. It also follows three recent European trips during the pandemic by high-level US officials – two by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and one by National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien – who tried to build a transatlantic alliance against China.
“On the so-called new Cold War … China has no intention in launching any new Cold War. We are resolutely opposed to any promotion of a new Cold War,” Wang said.
Without mentioning the United States by name, he added, “This is for one’s self-interest. This is to hold all countries in the world hostage.”
China’s diplomatic visit to The Netherlands won’t be as drama-free as it hoped
The last week of August is not the best time to visit Europe for anything other than empty tourist attractions.
And yet that’s when China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, decided to plan his first diplomatic visit to the continent since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The timing of the trip—which will take him to Italy, France, Germany, The Netherlands, and Norway—may not be a coincidence. Unnamed officials told the South China Morning Post that details of Wang’s meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron were being kept under wraps in order to avoid protests.
But when Wang visits The Netherlands tomorrow (Aug. 26), he will be hard-pressed to avoid disruptions. Quartz has learned that Martijn van Helvert, a Christian Democrat member of the Dutch parliament, submitted a proposal (link in Dutch) to the House of Representatives’ foreign affairs committee to invite Wang for a closed-door meeting.
Parliaments across Europe have increasingly been at the forefront of an ideological and political battle with China as they seek to shape their countries’ policies toward one of the world’s superpowers. Van Helvert and his colleague Henk Krol, head of the center-right Party for the Future, are co-chairs of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), an activist group of MPs whose stated goal is to “help craft a proactive and strategic approach” to China.