State Department Calls on China to Speed up 'Vital' Coronavirus Equipment Exports

The State Department has warned that new Chinese quality control measures for coronavirus protective equipment could slow down vital exports, hampering the ability of other nations—including the U.S.—to protect medical workers and citizens.

Multiple nations have rejected Chinese medical supplies in recent weeks, complaining that products such as masks and testing kits are faulty or otherwise inadequate. Beijing, still seeking to dodge blame for the coronavirus pandemic, responded by imposing new mandatory customs inspections last week to ensure quality.

But a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Reuters Friday that the new measures risk slowing the arrival of much-needed medical goods in the U.S., where authorities are still battling to "flatten the curve" and bring the pandemic under control.

"We appreciate the efforts to ensure quality control," the spokesperson said. "But we do not want this to serve as an obstacle for the timely export of important supplies."

The spokesperson noted that President Donald Trump's administration has "raised these concerns" with Beijing. "We have requested that China revise its new requirements to allow the expeditious export of vital PPE to the United States."

Countries including the U.K., Spain, the Netherlands, and Turkey—among others—complained that masks and testing kits supplied by Chinese firms were not usable. The New York Times reported last week Chinese customs would now specifically check the quality of medical supplies destined for other nations.

China gave no estimation of how the new measures would affect export speed. The new rules covered medical respirators and surgical masks; medical protective clothing; infrared thermometers; ventilators; surgical caps; medical goggles; medical gloves; medical shoe covers; patient monitors; medical disinfection towels; and medical disinfectants, the Times noted.

The U.S. is heavily dependent on Chinese firms for many key medical products. The fallout from the pandemic has prompted calls in the U.S. and elsewhere for governments to ensure that vital equipment can be manufactured domestically.

For now, though, The Wall Street Journal reported that huge amounts of U.S.-bound medical supplies are sat in warehouses in China while waiting for customs clearance.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Yang Jiechi—China's top diplomat—to underline the "high importance" of Chinese medical supplies to the American COVID-19 response.

Pompeo also stressed the need for "full transparency" over the pandemic to avoid a future repeat of the crisis, according to The South China Morning Post.

Relations between the Trump administration and the Chinese Communist Party have deteriorated as the crisis deepened, with Trump and Pompeo in particular accusing Beijing of failing to warn the world of the severity of the threat. China has also been accused of hiding the true death toll in the central city of Wuhan, where the virus originated.

China, meanwhile, has dismissed the attacks as attempts to shift blame for the Trump administration's sclerotic response to the U.S. outbreak. The U.S. has now recorded the most infections and deaths of any country in the world—662,045 and 28,998, respectively, according to Johns Hopkins University.

China, coronavirus, US, state department, exports, masks
This photo taken on April 16, 2020 shows workers producing face masks at a factory in Shenyang in China's northeastern Liaoning province. STR/AFP via Getty Images/Getty