Pompeo: China Still Not Cooperating on COVID-19

Larry O’Connor, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was quite candid in his condemnation of the Chinese Communist Party yesterday, railing against their ongoing lack of transparency and cooperation.

In an exclusive interview with me on WMAL radio in Washington, D.C., Pompeo revealed that despite constant and early requests, the government in Beijing has still refused to turn over a sample of the virus first discovered in the Hubei province capital.

O’CONNOR: You mentioned Wuhan. Let’s talk about that for a moment. Can you confirm this report that there was a scientific diplomatic investigation of a laboratory there that raised some red flags about their protocols and concerns up to two years ago?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I can’t say much other than this: We are constantly trying to evaluate all across the world, including in China, when countries have high-level facilities where they’re doing virus research or pathogen research, that it’s being done in a safe and secure way. There are many of those kinds of labs inside of China, and we have been concerned that they didn’t have the skillset, the capabilities, the processes and protocols that were adequate to protect the world from potential escape.

And we have high expectations for those facilities we have here in the United States. We hold ourselves to very high standards. We have expectations that the World Health Organization and other global health institutions will ensure that other countries have those same standards, because as you can see, when a virus escapes into the wild, it can have global implications that extend far beyond any one country’s boundary.

O’CONNOR: It’s been well documented that the State Department very early on, the first week of January, started putting out alerts, precautions about this mysterious virus in this Wuhan region of China. How soon were there official requests to the Government of China for information about this virus or perhaps a sample of the virus so that we could do research?

And a secondary question to that: Are those requests made directly to the Chinese Government or through the World Health Organization?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Those are great requests. Let me try and – really, three questions. They’re all important.

First, as soon as we came to have a concern about this, you’ll recall that the first cases of this were known by the Chinese Government in – maybe as early as November, but certainly by mid-December, and they were slow to identify this for anyone in the world, including the World Health Organization.

Once the United States came to understand what was potentially taking place there, we immediately turned both to the World Health Organization and to the Chinese Government directly, not just through the State Department but through our health and technical experts as well, and asked for access, for understanding, for transparency.

Frankly, Larry, we are still trying to get an actual sample of the virus. They have given us the breakdown of it.

O’CONNOR: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. This long down the road and we still have not gotten a sample of the virus from the place where it originated?

SECRETARY POMPEO: There are still many unanswered questions about how this came to be. And Larry, your point’s exactly right, this far down the road. This issue of transparency is important not only as a historical matter to understand what happened back in November and December and January, but it’s important even today. We still need transparency. As you know, this is still impacting lots of lives here in the United States and, frankly, around the world.

We still need every country to be transparent, to share their data, to share all of this information so the world’s best epidemiologists and scientists and laboratory experts can begin to develop therapeutics and a vaccine that ultimately gets us to a place where people are less at risk. The President is very focused on getting this economy back going, and it is important that we have transparency about the virus to enable us to do that.

Pompeo also discussed President Trump’s decision to withhold funding for the World Health Organization and hinted that perhaps future international health issues could better be managed outside the current WHO regime.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Larry, as you said, we stopped funding this with American taxpayer dollars. We’re going to conduct a thorough review. It’s important for everybody to remember this isn’t the first time that the World Health Organization has failed in its mission to help the world stay safe. You’ll recall the SARS challenge that the world faced previously. Here too, the World Health Organization didn’t get this information right at the beginning. They talked about how China was being transparent when it was blatantly clear that they were not being.

So we’ve done reforms there before. That clearly has been insufficient to ensure that the WHO can perform its primary function. So we are looking at how else we might do this. The American people are generous. We provide health for – global health safety all around the world like no other country in the world. It benefits those people. It also helps keep us safe when pandemics don’t come from other places. But there is no country as generous as us, and we have an obligation – the President and I and all the leaders in the United States – to make sure that those dollars are spent with institutions and on projects that actually deliver the outcomes that they’re intended to deliver.

O’CONNOR: It sounds like – and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, so please stop me, and I know you will. It sounds like you can see a time where the role the World Health Organization plays right now may be supplanted by another organization. Is that what you’re saying? Or do you see the systemic problems at WHO so challenging that maybe it’s time to move on to a new paradigm?

SECRETARY POMPEO: We’re going to take a look at exactly that issue. The question is: Does the current structure fit for purpose? Can it deliver the outcomes that the world needs and that are justified, given the enormous investment that the American people have made?

We’ve done this before. When we see institutions – the President has been clear – we pulled out of another UN organization when we could see that our money wasn’t going towards its purpose. We are clear. If the institution works and functions, the United States will always lead and be part of it. When it’s not delivering, when in fact it’s failing to get the outcomes that are desired, we’re going to work with partners around the world to deliver a structure, a form, a governance model, that will actually deliver on the intended purposes. That’s so important.

Listen to the entire interview right here and read the transcript here.