WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized China’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in an interview on “Meet the Press” Sunday, arguing that the country’s “failure” to cooperate in the early stages of the virus led to the situation getting “out of hand.”
“I think China knows that in the early stages of Covid, it didn’t do what it needed to do, which was to, in real time, give access to international experts, in real time to share information, in real time to provide real transparency,” he said.
“One result of that failure,” he added, is that the virus “got out of hand faster and with, I think, much more egregious results than it might otherwise.”
Blinken said the pandemic has underscored the need for a global approach, with a “stronger global health security system” to either prevent future pandemics or to mitigate them.
“That means making a real commitment to transparency — to information-sharing, to access for experts. It means strengthening the World Health Organization, and reforming it so it can do that. And China has to play a part in that,” he said.
The initial Covid-19 cases have been linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China, but scientists still don’t fully understand the the origins of the virus. The World Health Organization said in a March report the virus probably started in bats, and that it’s “extremely unlikely” the virus came from a laboratory leak.
While the Trump administration had been harshly critical of China’s response to the pandemic, Blinken’s argument for a global effort contrasts from the previous administration’s approach. Oftentimes calling the virus the “China virus,” former President Donald Trump moved to withdraw from the World Health Organization in the middle of 2020, arguing that the body was too “China-centric,” but the Biden administration reversed that move before it could take effect.
As the U.S. and other developed countries ramp up their Covid-19 vaccinations, Blinken also said that America has a “significant responsibility” and will be a “world leader on helping sure that the entire world gets vaccinated.”
“Unless and until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, it’s still going to be a problem for us. Because as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating, and then it could be coming back to hit us,” he said.
Blinken’s commentary on China didn’t end at the virus. He also warned the country in regards to Taiwan, which has long been pressured by its Chinese neighbor. When asked about the U.S. posture on tensions there, Blinken said that it would “be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force,” and added that “we have a serious commitment to Taiwan being able to defend itself.”
He also addressed questions about the idea of boycotting the 2022 Winter Olympics in China over human rights concerns, saying America wasn’t “there yet” and that the discussion wasn’t a focus right now. “This is a year or so before the Olympics. We’re not focused on a boycott,” he said. “What we are focused on is talking, consulting closely with our allies and partners, listening to them, listening to concerns.”
But Blinken reiterated his belief that China’s treatments of the Uyghur minority amounts to an attempted genocide, even as he admitted there needs to be a careful balance.
“We need to be able to bring the world together in speaking with one voice in condemning what has taken place and what continues to take place. We need to take actually concrete actions to make sure, for example, that none of our companies are providing China with things that they can use to repress populations, including the Uyghur population,” he said.
“But we also have to make sure that we are dealing with all of our interests. And what is the best way to effectively advance our interests and our values? And when it comes to China, we have to be able to deal with China on areas where those interests are implicated and require working with China, even as we stand resolutely against egregious violations of human rights or in this case, acts of genocide.”