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Southeast Asia's wildlife markets need to close, US says

Pompeo warns of link to diseases, echoing push by Australia to G-20

A wet market in Vientiane: The coronavirus pandemic has sparked fresh criticism of exotic eating habits. (Photo by Marimi Kishimoto)

BANGKOK -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to shut down markets that sell wild animals for food, like the one in the Chinese city of Wuhan where the new coronavirus is thought to have originated.

The U.S. has urged China "to permanently close its wildlife wet markets," and "I call on ASEAN governments to do the same," Pompeo said, according to a statement ahead of his teleconference Thursday with the foreign ministers from 10-nation bloc.

Pompeo cited the risk of animal-borne diseases in his appeal. The coronavirus pandemic has strengthened the international backlash against wildlife markets, which critics also say traffic endangered species. 

Australian Agriculture Minister David Littleproud on Thursday issued his own call for closing such markets to the Group of 20, which includes China, citing risks to public health and the agricultural industry.

During Thursday's teleconference, Pompeo and the Southeast Asian foreign ministers discussed ways to coordinate their coronavirus response. The secretary announced the U.S.-ASEAN Health Futures initiative, in which the two sides will work together on research and on training Southeast Asian health care professionals.

"The United States continues to provide generous support to ASEAN nations to assist them to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic," Pompeo said, according to a statement.

The U.S. and Chinese governments have each deployed international aid as they seek to shape the global narrative on the pandemic. China has been sending masks, protective gowns and medical teams to Southeast Asia, which is a key part of Beijing's Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative.

Pompeo also raised alarms over Beijing's expansionism in the South China Sea.

"Even as we fight the outbreak, we must remember that the long-term threats to our shared security have not disappeared," Pompeo said. A Chinese vessel sank a Vietnamese fishing boat in early April, and the secretary said that Washington opposes "China's bullying."

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