Several Biden administration officials have downplayed the need to push China directly for answers regarding work its scientists were performing at a virology lab near the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan.
Rather, the Biden administration has cited the role of diplomacy in prying loose answers from Chinese officials — even though the same approach has yielded little access to key facilities and data over the past year.
Many administration officials have further claimed transparency regarding China’s knowledge of the pandemic's origins would serve the country’s interests given that it also suffered human and economic losses, reducing the likelihood that Chinese officials would willfully hide anything from the international community. Though critics have noted that China would actually have a deep interest in hiding a lab accident from investigators if that was indeed the source of the virus because the revelation of a lab leak would further suggest a massive cover-up.
“I don’t want to get into hypotheticals going forward in the future about what we would or would not do, but I think I can say with confidence that there is going to be an increasing international demand that countries, including China, meet their responsibilities when it comes to providing information, access, and transparency,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers on Monday when pressed regarding what the United States would do to force China to cooperate in the COVID-19 origin investigation.
Asked more directly on Tuesday if he would maintain levying sanctions on China if its officials continue to block investigators, Blinken refused to answer, only stating his agency would “take a look” at the option.
Although President Joe Biden has asked for a unilateral investigation into the origins of COVID-19 by his intelligence community to be finished in 90 days, administration officials have repeatedly pointed to the World Health Organization as the primary vehicle for digging into the lab leak hypothesis.
Brett Schaefer, senior research fellow for international regulatory affairs at the Heritage Foundation, announced that Biden’s choice at the outset of his presidency to rejoin WHO, from which former President Donald Trump withdrew last year, weakened the ability of U.S. officials to demand an aggressive investigation into the virus's origins.
“It was a rash decision because what it did was it preemptively disarmed the United States in terms of its leverage with the organization,” Schaefer said.
“Essentially what the Biden administration did is, it took pressure off of the World Health Organization to really, thoroughly investigate the origins of COVID-19, and provided China with the excuse to point to this very flawed investigation from the World Health Organization and say, ‘We’ve already looked into the matter,’” he went on.
Schaefer was referring to a much-criticized report the WHO released in March.