SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning, everyone. It’s been 128 days since Chinese doctor Ai Fen – the director of the Wuhan Central Hospital’s emergency unit – shared information on the internet about a patient with a SARS-like virus. Her colleague, Dr. Li Wenliang, shared Dr. Ai’s report online with medical colleagues.
The next day, December 31st, regional health officials in Wuhan indicated they were treating dozens of patients with an unknown viral pneumonia. And within days, Chinese officials detained Dr. Li and seven others for “spreading false statements on the internet.”
China saw then that it had an emerging public health crisis on its hands. They knew. China could have prevented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. China could have spared the world a descent into global economic malaise. They had a choice.
But instead, instead China covered up the outbreak in Wuhan. Its National Health Commission ordered virus samples destroyed on January 3rd. China “disappeared” brave Chinese citizens who raised alarms. It deployed its propaganda organs to denounce those who politely called for simple transparency.
And that brings us to today, 120 days on. China is still refusing to share the information we need to keep people safe, such as viral isolates, clinical specimens, and details about the many COVID-19 patients in December 2019, not to mention “patient zero.”
Our truth-telling and calls for transparency aren’t about politics. It’s not about bullying. It’s not about blame. It’s about the ongoing need to save American lives. This is an ongoing threat today. Ask medical professionals in New York City. I think they’ll agree with that.
We need countries to share reliable data in a timely way – now, and the next time that a calamity like this hits. We need reliable partners.
As a result of China’s choices, countries are starting to understand the risk of doing business with the Chinese Communist Party and taking action to protect their people. A few examples. In recent weeks, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, and France have demarched the Chinese Communist Party ambassadors for a whole host of lies and misdeeds.
Spain has returned defective test kits made in China. That country, the Czech Republic, other nations have received shoddy PPE, as well. The Australians and the Swedes have called for an independent review into the outbreak. And my friend Dominic Raab has said that the United Kingdom can’t go back to, quote, “business as usual,” end of quote, with Beijing. Even the EU’s foreign affairs chief admitted that Brussels has been, quote, “a little naive,” end of quote, about China.
I’m heartened by this newfound realism. The free nations of the world are starting to understand that China doesn’t share those democratic values that we hold dear, or their economic interests, and that this matters to the entire world.
There’s no true “win-win” with a communist regime, unless you get to the fair terms that President Trump has talked about and the reciprocity that President Trump did in the phase one trade deal. Now countries have a chance to further insist on what’s right for their people.
Today I want to call upon all nations, including those in Europe, to support Taiwan’s participation as an observer at the World Health Assembly and in other relevant United Nations venues. I also call upon WHO Director-General Tedros to invite Taiwan to observe this month’s WHA, as he has the power to do, and as his predecessors have done on multiple occasions.
A couple of quick items, and then I’ll take a handful of questions. First, I mentioned Hong Kong last week. Right now we are delaying our report to Congress that will assess Hong Kong’s autonomy, to allow us to account for any additional actions that Beijing may be contemplating in the run-up to the National People’s Congress that would further undermine the people of Hong Kong’s autonomy as promised by China when they entered the agreement with the people of Hong Kong.
QUESTION: On China, what do you mean when you say there is enormous amount of evidence that the virus is from the Wuhan lab? The reason I ask is because Army General Mark Milley said yesterday that we don’t know if the virus emerged from the Wuhan lab. Separately, when the COVID-19 was gaining momentum in January and early February, did Chinese officials reassure American officials that it was under control and would be resolved on its own, maybe because of the warming weather? Do you feel they misled you? Is the administration pondering punitive measures on China? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ll take the questions in sequence. So I saw General Milley’s statements. Entirely consistent with what I think everyone in the administration has said, including President Trump. The Intelligence Community is still figuring out precisely where this virus began. Here’s how this could get solved really quickly: The Chinese Community Party could do what they’re committed to do under their obligations to the World Health Organization, to be transparent, to be open, to do the simple things that nations all around the world do to make sure that pandemics like this don’t get out of control, and in fact, importantly, stay out of control. I mentioned the number of days. This is an ongoing challenge. We still don’t have the samples that we need. We still don’t have the access. We collectively, the world, don’t have the samples. It’s not even just that in the moment they couldn’t do the right thing; they continue to be opaque and they continue to deny access for this important information that our researchers, our epidemiologists need.
And importantly, this could happen again. This – these are the kinds of risks. This is why – this is why when I see people say, well, America is bullying the Chinese – we’re demanding of them only what we demand of every nation, right. Be transparent. Be open. Be a reliable partner. The very things they say – the Chinese say they want to cooperate. Great. Cooperation is about action. It’s about opening up. It’s about sharing this information.
So the details of where patient zero, where this began, are things that are knowledge that’s in the possession of only the Chinese Communist Party. They’re the ones that can help unlock that. If they need technical assistance, we’re happy to provide that assistance to them. We do need – the world needs answers to these questions for not only the current moment but so that we can make sure that we reduce the risk that something like this could ever happen again with thousands and thousands of lives lost and enormous economic cost to the entire world.
As for the details, I think we’ve – the administration has laid out a timeline of what we’ve seen. It is pretty clear that at the front end of this the Chinese Communist Party misled the world. That is, they knew more and they didn’t share that, and they had an obligation to do so under the International Health Regulations that they are required to adhere to under World Health obligation– World Health Organization’s rules set. They didn’t do that. The World Health Organization also failed to do that. And it’s not only that they didn’t enforce, but the World Health Organization needs to still demand that there be an investigation. Dr. Tedros needs to be just as concerned as the United States and Australia and other countries are that we still don’t have access to the answers we need.
These are important issues that are ongoing, real issues, and we need to get them resolved.