China says U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has no evidence the novel coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan lab.

Michael Pompeo China

China fired back at U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, saying he has no evidence to back up claims that the virus that causes Covid-19 escaped from a lab in the central city of Wuhan.

The U.S. attacks on China were part of an election year strategy by President Donald Trump’s Republican Party ahead of this year’s election, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday. She pointed to the World Health Organization’s assertion that the virus couldn’t be man-made, and repeated a denial from a top Wuhan laboratory official given to state media last month.

“Mr. Pompeo cannot present any evidence because he does not have any,” Hua told a regular briefing in Beijing. “This matter should be handled by scientists and professionals instead of politicians out of their domestic political needs.”

Pompeo on Sunday claimed there was “enormous evidence” that the virus escaped from the high-security virology laboratory near the first known outbreak. He has advanced the theory despite Chinese denials and a lack of consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies examining the virus’s origins.

China has come under fire over its early handling of the virus, which has pushed the global economy toward recession as spreads around the world. Early sympathy for China’s plight has given way to increased tensions around the world, from the U.S. to Europe to Africa to Australia, fueled in part by aggressive reactions from China’s diplomats.

Some including the Australia and the European Union are seeking investigations into how the previously unknown pathogen made the jump from animals to humans before being discovered in Wuhan last year. Hua said China would support a review about the origins of the virus at an “appropriate time.”

“We will continue supporting the WHO and support looking back and summarizing the experience at an appropriate time to support global health cooperation and so we can better deal with pandemics like this in the future,” Hua said. “What we oppose is the presumption of guilt under the pretext of an investigation, or using the epidemic for political purposes.”

China’s ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, on Tuesday called for an end to the “blame game” over the coronavirus, in the country’s most high-profile response since Trump escalated his criticism of Beijing. Writing in the Washington Post, he said it was “time to focus on the disease and rebuild trust between our two countries.”

Hua spent much of the hour-long briefing Wednesday defending China against U.S. attacks and recounting its efforts to cooperate with other countries and the WHO. She also criticized at Deputy U.S. National Security Matt Pottinger, who warned in remarks in Mandarin this week that China risks a popular backlash if it doesn’t allow more freedom, saying he doesn’t understand the country’s history or what its youth believes.

Responding to Trump’s threat on Sunday to potentially put tariffs on China for its response to the pandemic, Hua said they weren’t a good weapon because they would hurt both economies.

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