The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has accused China of engaging in “one of the worst cover-ups in human history” in the country’s handling the now global coronavirus pandemic that originated in Wuhan.
Representative Michael McCaul made the remarks in an interview with Axios on Tuesday just after China moved to strip the press passes of American reporters at the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and Washington Post.
“If they expel our journalists, if that’s their answer, I worry we will never get to the bottom of this,” the Texas Republican said. “But at the end of the day, we will be pointing the finger at China.”
Journalists from the three outlets whose press credentials are set to expire in 2020 will be required to return their press passes within ten days rather than having them renewed.
All three newspapers strongly condemned the move as an attack on free speech. The Washington Post said it is not yet sure whether China’s order will affect all those they have in the area.
“This came out of Wuhan, China is responsible for that, and they don’t like to hear that so their response is to expel our journalists,” McCaul said. “We want the truth to come out about this. I do worry — for two months they tried to cover it up, which made this situation worse.”
China has lashed out at the U.S. over accusations that it attempted to hide the extent of the spread of the virus and even attempted to pin blame for the virus on the U.S. And a Chinese diplomat has even promoted a conspiracy theory that the U.S. military brought the virus to China.
Local and national officials issued a gag order to labs in Wuhan in December after they identified a new viral pneumonia, ordering them to halt tests, destroy samples, and conceal the news, the Times of London reported.
Wuhan officials in early January also deliberately declined to inform a health team from Beijing as well as the public that the new coronavirus was highly contagious and could be spread from person to person.
“I just don’t think they can get away with it this time,” McCaul continued, saying “unsanitary practices” in China are to blame and calling on the World Health Organization should hold the communist country responsible. “They are the cause of a global pandemic.”
The “ultimate impact” of the crisis will be that U.S. businesses reconsider their dependence on China, McCaul predicted.