Top China diplomat scolds Blinken on virus origins probe, Afghanistan

Bloomberg News

A senior Chinese diplomat called on the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to work with the Taliban government and stop pressuring Beijing over the virus origin probe in order to improve ties between the world’s biggest economies.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday urged the U.S. to work with the international community to provide economic assistance to the new Afghan government, and stressed the importance of both sides actively guiding the Taliban as the American military prepares to withdraw after two decades. Wang added that the war had failed to accomplish its goal of rooting out terrorism in the South Asian nation, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The U.S. confirmed the phone call, with State Department spokesman Ned Price saying the diplomats discussed “the importance of the international community holding the Taliban accountable for the public commitments they have made regarding the safe passage and freedom to travel for Afghans and foreign nationals.”

Wang added that China opposed the U.S. intelligence community’s inquiry into the source of COVID-19, the virus that caused the worst pandemic in more than a century. He accused the U.S. of turning the coronavirus into a political issue,  the Xinhua report said.

The U.S. released an unclassified summary of its inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus last week, and afterward President Biden was critical of China for stonewalling the U.S. probe. “The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them,” he said in a statement.

Zeng Yixin, vice head of the National Health Commission, said Sunday the U.S. was using the subject to shift blame for its handling of the pandemic. He reiterated that China supports virus-tracing work based on open, scientific and cooperative principles.

The call underscored lingering tensions between Washington and Beijing, after a trade war that erupted during the Trump administration and spilled into a range of other areas, including the tech industry and visas for students and journalists. Diplomatic talks in Tianjin last month were contentious, as was a meeting that involved Wang and Blinken in Alaska in March.

Still, the world’s two largest economies have not ruled out a meeting between Xi Jinping and Biden, possibly at a Group of 20 summit in October.

The U.S. has said it will withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by Tuesday. The chaotic ending to the war was made worse last week when a terrorist attack at Kabul airport killed at least 88 people, including 13 U.S. service members.

China has embraced the Taliban’s return to rule in Afghanistan, a diplomatic approach that could allow it to tap into the nation’s vast mineral resources and give Beijing a target for expanding its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.