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Top U.S. diplomat calls for China transparency on COVID crisis

Antony Blinken talks to Wang Yi about lack of data regarding virus's surge

Outside a hospital's fever clinic in Beijing: The U.S. secretary of state says he is hoping to see China get its runaway COVID outbreak "under control."   © Reuters

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) -- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday called on China for transparency over the current coronavirus pandemic situation in the Asian country during a phone call with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, the U.S. government said.

The conversation took place amid concerns over the lack of data coming out of China despite apparently facing a surge of infections since the government drastically eased its stringent "zero-COVID" policy earlier this month.

At a news conference held before the announcement of the phone call, Blinken said he is hoping to see China get the outbreak "under control," while offering to support Beijing in its efforts to contain the virus as the largest donor of COVID-19 vaccines.

To date, Beijing has not asked for such help, but the United States is "fully prepared to provide assistance to anyone who asks for it if they think it's useful," he added.

The two "discussed the current COVID-19 situation, and the secretary underscored the importance of transparency for the international community," the U.S. State Department said in a news release.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry statement released after the talks did not mention the COVID-19 situation in the country, but Mao Ning, a ministry spokeswoman, suggested Friday that Beijing will not seek help from overseas, saying, "China's COVID situation is on the whole predictable and under control."

"We have seen rising vaccination rate, strengthened treatment capacity and expanded production capacity of medical supplies, which, at the moment, are generally in adequate supply," she said at a news conference in Beijing.

Mao also said China has always shared its information responsibly with the World Health Organization and the international community and that Beijing stands ready to work with other countries to tackle COVID-19 more effectively.

The exchanges between Blinken and Wang were in line with Washington's desire to maintain open lines of communication and "responsibly manage" the bilateral relationship despite tensions over issues including Taiwan, trade and technology.

During the talks, Wang warned the United States against engaging in a policy of "containment" with China while seeking dialogue, saying such behavior would constitute "unilateral bullying," according to the statement.

Wang said Beijing will "continue to resolutely defend its sovereignty, security and development interests" and urged Washington not to challenge China's "red line," in reference to Taiwan, a self-ruled democratic island the mainland regards as its territory.

The minister also expressed hope for an improvement in bilateral ties, saying, "The new year should have a new atmosphere. The people of both countries and the world generally hope that Sino-U.S. relations will stop deteriorating and recover."

Blinken is scheduled to visit China early next year. His trip was agreed upon during the November summit talks in Bali, Indonesia, between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

The U.S. secretary also raised his concerns about Russia's war against Ukraine, the department said, amid concerns about closer ties between Beijing and Moscow.

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