Psaki defensive when asked about Biden-Xi talk on COVID origins

Psaki defensive when asked about Biden-Xi talk on COVID origins

White House press secretary Jen Psaki bristled Wednesday when asked about President Biden’s claim that he pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping to be transparent about the origins of COVID-19 — growing flustered at what she interpreted as a suggestion he was lying about doing so.

Biden said at a press conference last week that he urged Xi to be transparent during a 3 1/2 hour virtual summit with Xi. Biden said his spokespeople gave reporters the opposite impression because they weren’t in the room for parts of the November summit.

“On COVID origins, you guys are talking a lot about sanctions for Russia if they dare to invade Ukraine. What about sanctions for China at any point for misleading the world about the early days of the global pandemic?” Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy asked Psaki at her regular press briefing.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a press briefing at the White House.
Psaki said the US has used sanctions as a tool when concerned about the behavior of other countries.

Psaki deflected, saying, “We have used sanctions as a tool as it relates to our concerns about the behavior of a range of countries, including officials in China, but I have nothing to preview for you at this point.”

“Is it possible down the line though that … sanctions would be considered or some other form of punishment for their actions in the earliest days of the pandemic?” Doocy followed up.

“We strongly believe and the president has been clear and directly clear about the importance of them being transparent and providing data and information related to the origins of the pandemic, but I don’t have anything to predict for you in terms of additional actions,” Psaki replied.

President Joe Biden listens to reporter's questions during a meeting.
Biden said last week that he did “raise the question of transparency” with China about COVID origins.

Doocy then asked about the White House’s changing description of Biden’s communications with Xi. The issue of coronavirus origins was conspicuously missing from a White House readout in November of the Biden-Xi summit and Psaki told reporters afterward that Biden pushed for “transparency” more generally, giving a clear impression that he didn’t ask Xi to get to the bottom of the origins of the pandemic — a characterization she didn’t correct.

“The president said for months that he had not spoken directly to Xi about the COVID origins investigation. Now he says he did talk to Xi about it, but nobody else was there. If the president had that conversation, did it work? And is Xi now playing ball?” Doocy asked.

Psaki fired back: “What are you getting at there? Are you suggesting the president wasn’t being honest about his own conversation with Xi?”

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the New Year gathering.
Biden emphasized that he told Xi that he had an obligation to disclose any information on what exactly the origin of the virus was.

“No, but the story did change,” Doocy said. “For months, he was asked about it and he said that he had not directly asked him about the COVID origins investigation.”

“We don’t share every detail of every diplomatic conversation, you know that,” Psaki replied curtly. “The president answered a direct question just a week ago … and provided that information.”

The US intelligence community said in August that it’s possible the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, calling the theory one of two “plausible” explanations along with natural transmission from animals. With the exception of a written statement attributed to him in August, Biden said almost nothing publicly about the subject until last week.

Security personnel gather near the entrance to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The US intelligence community raised the possibility that COVID leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Biden smiled and walked away in December when The Post asked him on the White House lawn why he hadn’t done more to get transparency from China.

Last week, The Post asked Biden at his second solo White House press conference why he didn’t push Xi for transparency during the November summit and whether “that has anything to do with your son’s involvement in an investment firm controlled by Chinese state-owned entities.”

“The answer is, that we did — I did raise the question of transparency,” Biden replied, giving a starkly different answer than his own press team and side-stepping his son Hunter’s business interests in China.

Shi Zhengli works with other researchers in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The Intercept published documents that revealed that US health officials indirectly funded “gain of function” research at the Wuhan lab that sought to better understand viruses by manipulating them.

“I spent a lot of time with him and he — the fact is they’re just not, they’re just not being transparent,” Biden said.

The Post pressed, “transparency on the coronavirus origins?”

“Yes,” the president said.

“And you did during the virtual summit?” The Post continued.

“Yeah,” Biden said.

“Is there a reason your press staff was unaware of that? And what did you say to the Chinese president?” The Post further pressed.

“They weren’t with me the entire time,” Biden said. “I made it clear [to Xi] that I thought that China had an obligation to be more forthcoming on exactly what the source of the virus was and where it came from.”

USA Board Chair Hunter Biden introduces his father Vice President Joe Biden during the World Food Program.
Hunter Biden divested a 10 percent stake in an investment fund controlled by Chinese state-owned entities, according to his lawyer.

First son Hunter Biden’s attorney Chris Clark said less than a week after Biden’s November summit with Xi that he divested a 10 percent stake in an investment fund controlled by Chinese state-owned entities. Hunter Biden and the White House provided no further details. That firm, BHR Partners, was registered 12 days after Hunter joined Vice President Biden aboard Air Force Two for a 2013 trip to Beijing.

Documents published in September by The Intercept revealed that US health officials indirectly funded “gain of function” research at the Wuhan lab that sought to better understand viruses by manipulating them — including modifying three bat coronaviruses distinct from COVID-19 and discovering they became much more infectious among “humanized” mice when human-type receptors were added to them. 

Psaki said in August that Biden does not support former President Donald Trump’s demand that China pay $10 trillion in reparations for allowing the virus to spread by concealing early data about the outbreak.

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