Mar 18, 2020 - World

China's coronavirus cover-up was among worst in history, congressman says

The U.S. and Chinese delegations, face-to-face, at the G20. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has accused China of carrying out "one of the worst cover-ups in human history" over the novel coronavirus outbreak and inflicting a pandemic and economic calamity on the world.

Why it matters: Rep. Michael McCaul's rhetoric is characteristic of the growing hawkishness toward China among many in Washington, D.C. even, or especially, amid a crisis that is battering both countries.

Driving the news: McCaul spoke with Axios shortly after China revoked credentials from reporters at five U.S. media outlets.

  • "If they expel our journalists, if that's their answer, I worry we will never get to the bottom of this," McCaul said. "But at the end of the day, we will be pointing the finger at China."

Between the lines: China has been criticized in Washington and beyond for prioritizing the containment of information, rather than of the virus itself, when it emerged in Wuhan.

  • It has also been praised for the "war" it belatedly waged on the virus, with Beijing claiming its decisive action "bought the world time."
  • Increasingly confident it's beyond the worst, China is attempting to play a global leadership role. European politicians, including in Serbia and Italy, have praised China for offering help when the EU could or would not.

The big picture: President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other prominent officials have drawn China's ire by referring to COVID-19 as the "Chinese virus" or "Wuhan virus."

  • Communist Party officials are simultaneously engaged in a disinformation campaign, questioning the origins of the virus and even claiming it may have been spread by the U.S. military.

That back-and-forth has merged with another, over access for journalists from both countries.

What they're saying: "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 told Axios. "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."

  • McCaul claimed "unsanitary practices" in China — in the case of COVID-19 at a wet market in Wuhan — had been responsible for several viruses that spread beyond China's borders.
  • "I just don't think they can get away with it this time. I think the World Health Organization should play a role here in — instead of applauding China for their efforts — really holding them responsible for what they've done. They are the cause of a global pandemic."
  • McCaul also said he suspected that China had massively underreported the death toll there.

His bottom line: McCaul said the crisis presented the U.S. and American businesses with an opportunity to re-examine their dependence on China. "That's going to be the ultimate impact of this whole crisis," he said.

Go deeper: Beijing's coronavirus propaganda blitz goes global

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The debate over U.S. restrictions on Chinese journalists

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Trump administration this week announced unprecedented restrictions on Chinese journalists in the U.S. in an effort to pressure Beijing to ease its own restrictions on foreign journalists in China.

The big picture: The U.S. approach of late to dealing with Beijing is focused on reciprocity but analysts are split on whether the tactic will have the intended effect.

Go deeperArrowMar 4, 2020 - World

China bans journalists from 3 major U.S. newspapers

Xi Jinping. Photo: Noel Celis - Pool/Getty Images

The Chinese government announced Tuesday that it will revoke press credentials for American journalists who work for the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and whose credentials were set to expire in 2020, retaliating for state media restrictions by the Trump administration.

Why it matters: It's an escalation of a media war — in the midst of a global pandemic — that will result in U.S. journalists effectively being expelled from China. The journalists will not be permitted to work in Hong Kong or Macao, which is typically what blacklisted journalists have done in the past.

Go deeperArrowMar 17, 2020 - World

Timeline: The early days of China's coronavirus outbreak and cover-up

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios Photos: Stringer/Getty Images, Feature China/Barcroft Media via Getty Images, Peng/Xinhua via Getty via Getty Images

Axios has compiled a timeline of the earliest weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in China, highlighting when the cover-up started and ended — and showing how, during that time, the virus already started spreading around the world, including to the United States.

Why it matters: A study published in March indicated that if Chinese authorities had acted three weeks earlier than they did, the number of coronavirus cases could have been reduced by 95% and its geographic spread limited.

Go deeperArrowMar 18, 2020 - World