China calls top US diplomat's comments in Israel 'absurd'

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China was not being forthcoming about the coronavirus and critiqued Israel-China ties in Jerusalem this week.

al-monitor US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) after traveling abroad for the first time amid the coronavirus pandemic in West Jerusalem, May 13, 2020. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

May 15, 2020

China criticized US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today, saying the US top diplomat’s comments on the coronavirus and China-Israel relations while in Israel this week were “absurd.”

Pompeo met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Pompeo’s visit sought to forge ties with Israel's incoming unity government between Netanyahu and his former rival Benny Gantz. The visit also came amid US concern that a Chinese company will win the rights to build the largest water desalination plant in the world off the coast of Israel.

In Wednesday’s joint press conference, Netanyahu and Pompeo surprisingly steered clear of Israel’s plans to annex parts of the Palestinian territory the West Bank, which they were expected to address.

Pompeo did talk about China, however, saying to Netanyahu, “You’re a great partner, you share information, unlike other countries that obfuscate and try to hide that information — and we’ll talk about that country too.”

This was widely seen as a reference to the US belief that China is not being forthcoming about the coronavirus, which originated in China’s Wuhan province late last year.

China took Pompeo’s comments in this context as criticism, and rebuked them today.

In a statement released by Beijing’s embassy in Israel that aimed to “set the record straight,” China said that the virus that causes COVID-19 did not necessarily come from China.

“Scientists still haven’t identified the origin of COVID-19,” the statement read. “Historically, the place that first reported a case was often not its origin. Both the Spanish flu and AIDS illustrate this point.”

China also denied covering up the extent of the outbreak, noting, "The United States is the epicenter of the pandemic.”

The embassy also addressed its relationship with Israel, downplaying its significance and saying it does not merit “security concerns,” which Pompeo said. “By the end of 2018, China’s investment in Israel only accounts for 0.4% of China’s investment across the world and 3% of the foreign investment flown into Israel,” the statement read.

The statement ended with a plea to maintain warm relations between China and its “Jewish friends.”

“We trust that the Jewish friends are not only able to defeat the coronavirus but also the 'political virus,' and choose the course of action that best serves its interests,” it read.

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