Britain’s acting leader Dominic Raab said it could no longer be “business as usual” with China when the coronavirus pandemic is over, the latest sign of hardening attitudes toward Beijing as the crisis drags on.
“There absolutely needs to be a very, very deep dive after the event and review of the lessons, including of the outbreak of the virus,” the foreign secretary said at a press conference in London on Thursday. “I don’t think we can flinch from that at all.”
Raab, who is standing in for Boris Johnson as the prime minister recovers from Covid-19, said Britain has seen good cooperation from China, both in terms of the repatriation of its nationals from Wuhan and in terms of medical supplies during the pandemic. But he said there were “hard questions” to be answered about how it started.
“There’s no doubt we can’t have business as usual after this crisis,” Raab said. “We’ll have to ask the hard questions about how it came about and how it could have been stopped earlier.”
Just as in the US Republican Party, a growing number of senior members of Johnson’s ruling Conservatives have called for a reset of relations with China because of its handling of the pandemic.
William Hague, a former Tory leader and foreign secretary who now sits in the House of Lords, said on Wednesday that Britain cannot be dependent on China as it has showed it does not “play by our rules”.
The British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee has warned that an orchestrated disinformation campaign by China is “costing British lives” in the fight against coronavirus.
In the report, lawmakers said China sought to “obfuscate” what was really happening when the outbreak began, when it should have played a key role in collecting data on its spread.
China has said there is no evidence the outbreak started there. The Chinese embassy in London said “there has been no scientific or medical conclusion” about the origin of Covid-19 and that tracing work is still ongoing.
“The World Health Organisation has made repeated statements that what the world is experiencing now is a global phenomenon, the source is undetermined, the focus should be on containment and any stigmatizing language referring to certain places must be avoided,” the embassy said in a statement on Monday.
Speaking at the daily press conference in Downing Street to discuss the government’s response to the pandemic, Raab said “the one thing the coronavirus has taught us is the value, and the importance, of international cooperation”.
France’s Macron meanwhile said there were grey areas in China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and that things “happened that we don’t know about”, speaking in an interview with the Financial Times published on Thursday.
“Let’s not be so naive as to say it’s been much better at handling this,” he said of China’s management of the outbreak.
“We don’t know. There are clearly things that have happened that we don’t know about.”
Embrace what you don’t know, especially in the beginning, because what you don’t know can become your greatest asset. It ensures that you will absolutely be doing things different from everybody else.