China and US diplomats argue about human rights, the origin of the pandemic

BEIJING (AP) – Top US and China diplomats appear to have had another sharply worded exchange, with Beijing saying it had told the US to stop meddling in its internal affairs and accused Washington of looking for it politicize the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior Chinese Foreign Policy Advisor Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Antony Blinken had a phone conversation on Friday that exposed major divisions in a number of contentious areas, including the restriction of freedoms in Hong Kong and the mass incarceration of Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Calls for a more thorough investigation into the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 are particularly sensitive for China, as it is believed that it may have escaped from a laboratory in downtown Wuhan, where the cases first emerged occurred discovered.

Yang said China was “deeply concerned” by what he called the “absurd” stories that the virus escaped from the Wuhan laboratory.

China “strongly opposes any despicable acts that use the epidemic as an excuse to slander and shift the blame on China,” Yang was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency.

“Some people in the United States have made up and circulated absurd stories claiming that the Wuhan lab has leaked, something that China is seriously concerned about,” Yang said. “China urges the United States to respect facts and science, refrain from politicizing the tracing of COVID-19 and focus on international cooperation in combating pandemics.”

The State Department said Blinken “stressed the importance of collaboration and transparency regarding the origin of the virus, including the need for (World Health Organization) phase 2 expert-led studies in China.”

The US and others have accused China of failing to provide the raw data and access to websites that would allow a more thorough study of where the virus came from and how it originally spread.

Equally controversial were Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan and the allegations that China arbitrarily arrested two Canadian citizens in retaliation for the arrest by Canada of an executive at Chinese communications technology giant Huawei who is wanted by US law enforcement agencies.

The US has “made up various lies about Xinjiang in order to sabotage stability and unity in Xinjiang, confusing right and wrong and extremely absurd. China strongly opposes such actions, ”said Yang.

“Hong Kong affairs are purely internal to China,” and those who violate a comprehensive national security law imposed on the former British colony “must be punished,” Yang said.

Blinken, on the other hand, underlined US concerns about the deterioration in democratic norms in Hong Kong and the ongoing “genocide and crimes against humanity of predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang,” the State Department said.

He also called on Beijing to ease pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that China claims as its own territory, in order to be forcibly annexed if necessary.

According to Xinhua, Yang said that Taiwan has China’s “core interests” and that Beijing “is firmly defending its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The tone of the phone call seemed to reflect controversial conversations in March in Alaska, when the sides exchanged sharp and unusually public disagreements on widely differing views of each other and the world at their first face-to-face meeting since President Joe Biden took office.

At that meeting, the US accused the Chinese delegation of “great standing” while Beijing shot back saying there was a “strong smell of gunpowder and drama” that was entirely the fault of the Americans.

Relations between them have deteriorated to their lowest level in decades, and the Biden administration is showing no sign of deviating from the established U.S. hardline against China on trade, technology, human rights, and China’s claim to the South China Sea.

Beijing, meanwhile, has stubbornly resisted attempts to smear its reputation and contain its development.

On Thursday, the ceremonial legislature passed a law to retaliate against sanctions imposed on Chinese politicians and organizations, threatening to refuse entry and freeze Chinese assets of anyone who formulates or implements such measures, potentially adding new pressure on foreign companies who operate in the country.

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