U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Chinese counterpart that it was important for Beijing to be transparent about a growing COVID-19 outbreak, as questions mount about whether Chinese officials are trying to downplay the number of deaths.
In a call with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Blinken “discussed the current COVID-19 situation, and the secretary underscored the importance of transparency for the international community,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Thursday night in Washington.
A statement from China’s Foreign Ministry on the call didn’t mention COVID, saying the two sides discussed issues related to Ukraine and Taiwan.
China is grappling with mounting COVID cases after moving quickly to dismantle President Xi Jinping’s zero-tolerance policy. That followed a rare burst of unrest from citizens objecting to the pandemic restrictions as well as indicators showing a worsening economic outlook.
The State Department expressed worries earlier this week that a runaway outbreak in China could have global implications by spawning new virus variants.
China has only declared a handful of deaths since it started lifting some of the world’s strictest pandemic-era restrictions, which have included citywide lockdowns and mandatory quarantining and isolation. The country may actually be seeing upward of 5,000 deaths per day, according to London-based research firm Airfinity Ltd.
Overall U.S.-China relations remain tense even after Xi and President Joe Biden agreed to restart dialogue in a number of areas during a November meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Bali, Indonesia. Since then, the Biden administration has continued to hit China with export restrictions on advanced semiconductors and chip-making equipment.
Earlier on Thursday, Blinken said in a briefing the U.S. was prepared to help China with vaccines to help address its burgeoning outbreak, but noted that the government in Beijing so far hasn’t asked for assistance.
“We want to see China get this outbreak under control,” he said.
Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said in a statement the nation’s vaccine stock “can generally meet demand” and boosters were being rolled out. He added that officials dealing with COVID in China would remain in communication with U.S. counterparts.
“China is ready to continue working with the international communityto meet the Covid challenge, better protect people’s lives and health,revitalize world economic growth, and build aglobal community of health for all,” Liu said.
Blinken, who met Xi alongside Biden last month, is scheduled to visit Beijing early in 2023 to follow up on the summit as part of the highest-level US trip there since former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went in 2018.
On Thursday, he also expressed concern to Wang about Russia’s war in Ukraine and the need to keep open lines of communication between U.S. and Chinese officials, the U.S. statement said.
(Bloomberg staff writer Courtney McBride contributed to this story.)