The Chinese government’s refusal to participate in a World Health Organization investigation into the source of COVID-19 has added to the nation’s sinking global reputation, which is now the worst it’s been since the Tiananmen Square massacre more than three decades ago, Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said.
“China’s communist party’s standing in the world today is as low as it’s been since Tiananmen Square. That’s a fact,” he told Fort Lauderdale law firm CEO Ed Pozzuoli, a former chairman of the Broward Republican Party whom Rubio appointed to the Southern District Judicial Advisory Commission in April.
“They don’t want scrutiny of what they do at that lab and how they reacted thereafter, so this is par for the course,” Rubio continued. “They are not going to be transparent, and their lack of transparency in the early days allowed this thing to spread globally and has caused trillions of dollars in economic damage, not to mention the death of a lot of people around the world and in this country.”
China last week rejected a WHO plan for the second phase of an investigation into the virus’s origin that takes into consideration the hypothesis that it escaped from a lab — a theory that has gained credence over the last year, including from President Joe Biden‘s administration.
Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China’s National Health Commission, said he was “rather taken aback” at the inclusion of the theory, adding: “It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan.”
While the Biden administration responded that it was “deeply disappointed” at China’s “irresponsible and, frankly, dangerous” decision, Rubio said it’s just history repeating itself, citing the 1989 mass killing of pro-democracy activists in the center of Beijing and the decadeslong coverup that followed.
“For the communist party, it’s shameful. It’s humiliating,” he said before again comparing China’s handling of the outbreak to the Soviet Union’s 1986 handling of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. “I don’t think they’ll ever cooperate, because frankly it’s quite possible the communist party itself doesn’t entirely know what the cause was, and they don’t want to know. They want the world to accept the version that this is just a virus, it’s present everywhere (and) could have started anywhere.”
As for where this leaves China’s and the United States, Rubio, who faces Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings in his reelection bid next year, said the two countries’ relationship “continues to be one of adversarial competition.”
“We are geopolitical competitors, economic and technological competitors, and we have some friction points, (including our) commitment to Taiwan, that we’re going to defend them if they come under attack. China wants to force them to become part of the mainland,” he said. “They want to overtake us on the global stage. They want to become the dominant world power — military, economic, diplomatic, everything — and to do that they have to displace us.
“So, they seek to replace the United States, and they see it as a zero-sum game. In order for them to get better, we have to get worse, so it leaves us sort of waking up to that reality and having to take care of business here at home, to make sure we can meet that challenge.”
Rubio is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In June, he issued a statement lambasting the Chinese government on the 32nd anniversary of the communist party’s crackdown against protesters in Tiananmen Square.
“Yet, the Chinese people and the world are facing an aggressive Chinese Communist regime that is increasing its repression domestically, committing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, crushing Hong Kong’s long-cherished freedoms and autonomy, as well as exporting its model of authoritarianism globally,” the statement said. “As we pay tribute to the courageous individuals who took to the streets to press for reforms in China and those who lost loved ones, the United States and the rest of the free world must honor the spirit of Tiananmen by continuing to expose the ongoing egregious human rights violations at the hands of the (Chinese communist party) and hold them accountable.”
Later that month, he introduced the COVID Act of 2021 to authorize sanctions and other restrictions against the Chinese government if it doesn’t allow for a “transparent international forensic investigation of suspected laboratories in Wuhan” to be conducted within 90 days of the law’s enactment.