By David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sharpened on Thursday his criticism of China's handling of a coronavirus pandemic, saying its ruling Communist Party was still denying the world information needed to prevent further cases.
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The remarks, in an interview with the Washington Watch radio program, provoked a riposte from China that Pompeo should cease "politicizing" the epidemic and defaming the country.
Pompeo had repeated previous charges that Beijing's delay in sharing information about the virus had created risks to people worldwide that had "truly put thousands of lives at risk."
"My concern is that this cover-up, this disinformation that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in, is still denying the world the information it needs so that we can prevent further cases or something like this from recurring again," he added.
Pompeo also accused Iran and Russia of waging disinformation campaigns about the virus.
"The disinformation campaign from Russia and Iran as well as China continues," he said. "They're talking about it coming from the U.S. Army and they're saying maybe it began in Italy, all things to deflect responsibility."
Despite his strong criticism of China, Pompeo refrained from referring to the virus as the "Chinese virus" or the "Wuhan virus," labels that have angered Beijing and which he has used repeatedly.
"The time will come for recriminations," he said, but added it was important for the world to know what was really going on.
"This is an ongoing global crisis, and we need to make sure that every country today is being transparent, sharing what's really going on, so that the global community, the global health care, infectious disease community can begin to work on this in a holistic way."
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had been transparent and shared information with the World Health Organization and other countries, including the United States.
"We urge the U.S. to cease politicizing the epidemic, and cease attacking and defaming China," Geng told a daily news conference.
Pompeo, a persistent critic of Beijing and the Communist Party, said "very important decisions" would have to be made in future about how the U.S.-China relationship was structured.
He added that supply-chain challenges faced in the United States were due to companies "operating their supply chains out of China but not here in the United States."
Pompeo did not elaborate, but U.S. officials said last week the White House was preparing an executive order to help relocate medical supply chains from China and elsewhere overseas to the United States amid the pandemic.
The proposed U.S. push has sparked concern in China and elsewhere, although it is unclear when Trump might act.
The United States "should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival," Trump said at a daily briefing of his coronavirus task force.
"Our goal for the future must be to have American medicine for American patients, American supplies for American hospitals…"
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Richard Pullin and Clarence Fernandez)