WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the coronavirus statistics China was reporting seemed “a little bit on the light side,” while his national security adviser said Washington had no way of knowing if Beijing’s figures were accurate.
The comments came after a senior Republican lawmaker cast doubt on Beijing’s data and Bloomberg News said a classified U.S. intelligence report had concluded that China had under-reported the total cases and deaths it had suffered.
The coronavirus outbreak began in China in late 2019 but Beijing has reported fewer cases and deaths than in the United States, which now has the world’s largest outbreak, with 214,000 confirmed cases and 4,800 deaths. [L1N2BP1DH]
Trump told a daily briefing by his coronavirus task force that he had not received an intelligence report on China’s data, but added:
“The numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side - and I am being nice when I say that - relative to what we witnessed and what was reported.”
Trump said he had discussed how China had dealt with the coronavirus outbreak in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Friday, but “not so much the numbers”.
Trump, who has toned down his criticism of China’s handling of the virus outbreak since the call, also said the U.S. relationship with China was “very good” and both sides wanted to maintain a multi-billion dollar trade deal reached earlier this year.
“As to whether or not their numbers are accurate,” he added, “I am not an accountant from China.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated during a daily briefing in Beijing on Thursday that China has been open and transparent about the coronavirus epidemic in the country and sharply criticised U.S. officials who cast doubt on China’s disclosures.
“These comments by those U.S. politicians are just shameless and morally repulsive,” she said. “They should abandon such politicising of public health issues. This is just immoral and inhuman – and will be denounced by people all around the world.”
Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told the same briefing Washington was “just not (in) the position to confirm any of the numbers that are coming out of China.”
“There’s lots of public reporting on whether the numbers are too low,” he said. “You got access to those reports that are coming out of Chinese social media...we just have no way to confirm any of those numbers.
Earlier, Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused Beijing of hiding the true number of those impacted. He said he had called for the State Department to investigate Beijing’s “initial cover up and subsequent actions regarding this pandemic.”
The Bloomberg report cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying that a classified report, received by the White House last week, concluded that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths was intentionally incomplete.
China reported dwindling new infections on Wednesday and for the first time disclosed the number of cases of people who have the highly contagious disease but do not show symptoms.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom; additional reporting by Tom Daily in Beijing; Editing by Kim Coghill and Jacqueline Wong