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International relations

Pompeo urges China to be fully transparent on coronavirus

Secretary conveys message to top diplomat Yang Jiechi in phone call

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens to China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi speak at a joint news conference at the U.S. Department of State in Washington in November 2018.   © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday pressed China's top diplomat on the need for full transparency and information sharing as Washington ramped up its pressure on Beijing over the coronavirus outbreak.

Tensions have increased again between the world's top two economies over the global pandemic, which has now infected more than 2 million people, as President Donald Trump has pulled U.S. funding for the World Health Organization (WHO), accusing it of being "China-centric."

Pompeo has also said the United Nations organization had failed to deliver on its promises. He has repeatedly accused Beijing of covering up the scale of the outbreak in the early days and not sharing accurate data.

China insists it has been transparent and has sharply criticized U.S. officials who cast doubt on that. A senior Trump administration official last week said lives could be saved globally if China allowed the United States to work directly with laboratories in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began.

On Wednesday, Pompeo conveyed the U.S. position to his counterpart, Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat. "The Secretary stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks," a State Department readout on the call said.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that Yang told Pompeo it was crucial for Washington and Beijing to properly manage their relations during the outbreak and that he hoped the United States would meet China halfway, focus on cooperation and help to promote their relationship.

Pompeo also told Yang about the "high importance" Washington attached to China's facilitation of medical supply exports to meet critical demand in the United States. The United States is heavily reliant on Chinese-produced medical supplies, something that has been highlighted in the current pandemic.

The U.S.-China Business Council trade lobby group said new Chinese rules in response to European criticism of the quality of medical supplies from China had had the unintended consequence of curtailing exports of personal protective equipment U.S. firms procured there.

However, the group's senior vice president Jake Parker said the Chinese government had moved to address this issue in recent days and "this now seems to be moving in the right direction."

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio said in an opinion article last month that in 2018 the United States imported more than $12.7 billion worth of pharmaceuticals and antibiotics, medical devices and food products from China, not including organic chemicals used to create pharmaceutical products.

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