Top Chinese Official Says U.S. Is Using Coronavirus to 'Stigmatize' China

A top Chinese government official criticized President Donald Trump and the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying that American criticism of China over the outbreak is intended to "stigmatize" the Asian nation.

Chinese Executive Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng sat down with NBC News for a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday. During the interview, Le pushed back against U.S. government efforts to blame China's government for the pandemic, arguing that the U.S. response was inadequate and caused the crisis to worsen unnecessarily.

"Some political figures are politicizing this COVID-19. They're using this virus to stigmatize China. This is not something we are willing to see," Le said.

"On January 23 when Wuhan went under lockdown, the United States reported only one confirmed case, but on March 13 when President Trump announced a national emergency, the United States reported over 1,600 confirmed cases," Le added. The novel coronavirus was first identified in the city of Wuhan.

"In this interval of 50 days, what was the U.S. government doing? Where have those 50 days gone?" Le asked.

Xi Jinping and Donald Trump
Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump attend a welcoming ceremony on November 9, 2017, in Beijing. Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty

A senior Trump administration official told Newsweek that Le's comments were just the latest "effort to sow confusion and deflect responsibility for Chinese officials' responsibility for this pandemic that has caused so much death and suffering around the world."

"The facts are that from the time of the virus' outbreak from Wuhan, the United States offered to work with China to understand and contain the virus. This included sending medical supplies to China and offering to send our top experts to Wuhan, an offer that was not accepted by Chinese authorities," the official said.

"Additional actions by Chinese Communist Party officials to censor reporting, destroy virus samples, punish the doctors and journalists who sounded the alarm, and disseminate disinformation cost the world valuable time," they added.

A State Department spokesman referred Newsweek to remarks made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a Wednesday morning press briefing.

"Suffice it to say, when countries engage in disinformation, it creates risk. The Chinese Communist Party tells us they want to be our partner, they want to be transparent," Pompeo said at the briefing. "We need partners we can rely on."

Pompeo added: "We still haven't gained access, the world hasn't gained access to the [Wuhan Institute of Virology] there. We don't know precisely where this virus originated from."

The secretary of state's Wednesday remarks echoed a tweet he posted on Monday.

"The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] needs to be transparent as the world seeks answers to #COVID19 and its origins. We don't know the history. We haven't been able to get our team on the ground to do the work that it needs to do. #China has a responsibility to cooperate," Pompeo wrote.

U.S. officials and lawmakers have criticized China for initially covering up the outbreak in Wuhan. The Chinese government has also faced criticism within and outside of China for its early lack of transparency about the virus. Additionally, critics have said that China is covering up the extent of its outbreak while also suppressing research into its origins.

There has been significant speculation that the coronavirus leaked from a scientific lab in Wuhan. Intelligence officials and analysts have said this was possible, particularly as it is known that labs in the Chinese city were conducting research on bat viruses. The coronavirus is believed to have originated in a bat.

But there is no conclusive evidence, and many scientists believe the virus could have jumped from the animal word to humans through a more natural route. Scientists have rejected the possibility that the virus was manufactured in a lab and then intentionally released.

China was the pandemic's original epicenter, which has now shifted to the U.S. As of Wednesday morning, more than 1.01 million people were confirmed to have the coronavirus within the U.S., representing nearly a third of all the infections around the world. Nearly 60,000 people have died in the U.S., while about 116,000 have recovered.

As the U.S. government has attempted to blame China for the outbreak, the Asian nation has dismissed this criticism as largely political.

"It is the urgent political need of the Republican-led government to pass the buck to China for its own failure to contain the outbreak, so as to win the upcoming election," an editorial in the Global Times, a daily newspaper published by the CCP, said.

But public opinion polling shows that Americans broadly view China as a threat. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that about nine in 10 Americans see China's global power and influence as a threat to the U.S., while 62 percent classify this as a "major" threat.

Although a higher percentage of Republicans (72 percent) have an "unfavorable" view of China, most Democrats (62 percent) do as well, according to the polling data.

04/29/20, 4:46 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional comments from a senior Trump administration official.