China’s ambassador to the US reaffirmed his opposition to promoting theories that the virus that causes COVID-19 originated in a US military lab, in an unusual break with the country’s foreign ministry.
Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai (崔天凱) said in an interview with Axios on HBO that he stood by his Feb. 9 statement that it would be “crazy” to spread such theories.
Since his original remarks, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly posted statements speculating about a possible US origin for the virus, which was first detected in Wuhan.
“Such speculation will help nobody. It’s very harmful,” Cui said in the interview that aired on Sunday. “Eventually, we must have an answer to where the virus originally came from. But, this is the job for the scientists to do, not for diplomats.”
Cui’s comments represent a sharp public rebuke to ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅), who has publicly questioned whether the virus originated in China and even touted the idea that it may have been introduced by US Army athletes.
Such public differences are rare among Chinese officials who are famous for their ability to stick closely to the Chinese Communist Party’s official line.
Cui is appointed directly by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and holds a vice-ministerial rank in China’s political hierarchy. That makes him two levels senior to Zhao, whose official title is deputy director of the foreign ministry’s Information Department.
Zhao continued to promote the theory on Sunday, retweeting speculation from a Twitter user who goes by the name “the lizard king” that COVID-19 has been around in the US “for a while.”
The user is described as a “fl transplant to the desert,” a “mama” and “not an expert.”
Zhao’s statements have been echoed in official state media in recent days and have provoked anger in Washington.
US President Donald Trump has taken to calling the pathogen the “Chinese virus” and has blamed the US’s outbreak on China’s early failures to control the disease.
Asked by Axios about Zhao’s comments, Cui referred the question back to Zhao and his authority as ambassador to speak on behalf of the Chinese government.
“Maybe you could go and ask him,” Cui said. “I’m here representing my head of the state and my government.”
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