President Biden did not explicitly discuss the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic with Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday evening, but senior administration officials said he maintained the importance of “transparency” in global health matters, while focusing on “broader health security issues” in an effort to bring “an end” to the pandemic.
Biden and Xi participated in a virtual meeting Monday evening — their third engagement since Biden took office in January.
A senior administration official said that the two leaders discussed COVID-19, specifically on the “importance of addressing and bringing an end to the current pandemic.”
The official said Biden and Xi also discussed the role of vaccines in doing so.
“Obviously, the president made quite clear that the U.S. approach of donating vaccines and underscored the importance, especially of other countries with large supplies, to do the same,” the official said.
The official added that the two also discussed the “importance of preventing future pandemics,” as well as “the important role that transparency plays in addressing global health issues.”
The Biden administration, in recent months, has focused on China’s lack of transparency with regard to the International investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the meeting, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic is a “remaining concern” for Biden, and said that the president was “certainly not going to hold back on areas where he has concern.”
In August, the Biden administration released its findings from a 90-day intelligence community investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, but said it was unable to definitively conclude where the virus originated from.
“The IC assesses that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, probably emerged and infected humans through an initial small-scale exposure that occurred no later than November 2019 with the first known cluster of COVID-19 cases arising in Wuhan, China in December 2019,” the report’s summary states.
The summary added: “We judge the virus was not developed as a biological weapon. Most agencies also assess with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 probably was not genetically engineered; however, two agencies believe there was not sufficient evidence to make an assessment either way. Finally, the IC assesses China’s officials did not have foreknowledge of the virus before the initial outbreak of COVID-19 emerged.”
The report stated that China would need to fully cooperate with the investigation in order to definitively conclude where the virus originated.
“China’s cooperation most likely would be needed to reach a conclusive assessment of the origins of COVID-19,” the report stated. “Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States. These actions reflect, in part, China’s government’s own uncertainty about where an investigation could lead as well as its frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.”
The report said that investigators were split between two different theories. The first theory is that natural exposure to an infected animal started the pandemic and the second is that a “laboratory-associated incident” was the cause.
Both of those theories were considered “plausible” by all agencies involved in the investigation, according to the report.
In a statement in August, Biden said that China had obstructed efforts to investigate the virus “from the beginning.”
“The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them,” he said. “Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world.”
Meanwhile, Beijing is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in February — which human rights activists and congressional Republicans have called for a boycott of, amid international criticism of China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the northwest region of Xinjiang, its crackdown on protesters in Hong Kong and its policies toward Tibet and Taiwan.
An administration official, though, said the Olympics “did not come up” on the call.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.