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Lawmakers push back on Chinese efforts to ‘interfere’ in COVID-19 investigation

House lawmakers investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday called for the Chinese government to make scientists and military officials available to testify in Washington, pushing back on what they said are efforts by China’s embassy to interfere in their probe.

The request was made in a letter exclusively obtained by The Hill. The letter was sent by the chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic to China’s Ambassador to the U.S. Qin Gang.

Chairman Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) criticized the embassy as seeking to “interfere” in the investigation in a letter to committee members sent April 14 by Li Xiang, a counselor with China’s embassy.

Li’s letter expressed Beijing’s opposition to a House hearing that took place on April 18 that focused on the work of the intelligence community in seeking to determine the origins of COVID-19.

In the April 14 email to Oversight subcommittee members, Li wrote that the Chinese embassy was “reaching out to express our grave concern regarding the COVID-19 Origins hearing to be chaired by Congressman Wenstrup on next Tuesday. … We firmly oppose it.”

Li’s email followed other messages sent by China to House lawmakers making various complaints, including about Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) meeting with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen in California earlier this month. China also criticized lawmakers that traveled to Taiwan with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas). 

Wenstrup, in his letter, said China’s “interference is unacceptable and will not impede the Select Subcommittee’s efforts. We encourage you to cease and, instead, cooperate with the numerous international investigations into the origins of COVID-19.”

He also said China should make at least five Chinese officials connected to the state’s health administration, military and the Wuhan Institute of Virology available to the probe.

“Continued stonewalling by China will not only harm the globe’s ability to predict, prepare, protect and prevent the next pandemic but will also — as your staff so eloquently said — fail to promote ‘international solidarity,’” Wenstrup’s letter read.

The committee has asked to hear from include Dr. George Gao, former director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Shi Zhengli, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Wuhan Institute of Virology; Dr. Ben Hu, a researcher with the Wuhan Institute of Virology; and Dr. Chen Wei, Major General of the People’s Liberation Army.

The committee letter brought up the unknown whereabouts of Huang Yanling, a woman who reportedly was a Wuhan Institute of Virology researcher and suspected “patient zero” for the virus. The National Institutes of Health, in a July 2020 letter, raised concern over Huang’s whereabouts.

Chinese officials have stridently rejected the proposition that the COVID-19 pandemic, which was first identified in late 2019 in the Chinese southern city of Wuhan, could have leaked from a laboratory studying coronavirus diseases in the city.

The U.S. intelligence community, in a declassified assessment made public in 2021, said that agencies view two hypotheses as plausible, that the virus emerged as a laboratory-associated incident or natural exposure to an infected animal. Government agencies do not have a large degree of confidence in either finding.  

Tags Brad Wenstrup China Coronavirus COVID-19 Kevin McCarthy Michael McCaul Tsai Ing-Wen Wuhan

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