Nicholas Burns, President Joe Biden's nominee for ambassador to China, appears to have changed his tune on the back-and-forth between Washington and Beijing regarding the novel coronavirus, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the U.S. ''needs to investigate'' and that the Chinese ''need to answer questions,'' the Washington Examiner reports.
Burns, a retired career diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, used his confirmation hearing to stress that China poses ''the greatest threat to the security of our country and the democratic world'' in the 21st century.
He also said the U.S. ''cannot trust China on Taiwan'' and that the most important thing the U.S. could do ''is to deepen our security cooperation, to expand our arms provisions to Taiwan.
''Our responsibility is to make Taiwan a tough nut to crack.''
On COVID-19, he said, ''we don't know how this virus originated for sure, there are multiple theories, and the Chinese need to answer questions,'' a far cry from comments he made in 2020 when he said it was ''racist'' for then-President Donald Trump to refer to COVID-19 as the ''Wuhan virus.''
''China owes it to the world to be more transparent about COVID-19. But Trump asserting the virus came from a Chinese government lab+threatening to sue for reparations is feckless and reckless without evidence,'' Burns tweeted on May 1, 2020. ''Passing the buck?''
''Obviously, there's a cover-up here for 18 months,'' said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. ''How did you know? We still don't know. How were you so positive this wasn't a lab leak? And have you changed your mind? Have you seen other evidence that would open your mind?''
''We need to investigate, we don't know how this virus originated for sure, there are multiple theories, and the Chinese need to answer the questions,'' Burns said.
''The problem here is with China. The Chinese government withheld information from their own people and the rest of the world in December 2020. ... They deserve to be criticized... And they have been stonewalling the rest of us around the world.''
''As President Biden has said, we need to push the Chinese to come clean about what happened,'' he also said.
In 2020, Burns said: ''Right now, we're all witnessing a war of words. The Chinese have made a preposterous, untrue, and shameful assertion. … They say that the crisis began because the U.S. Army planted a weapon, a virus in the city of Wuhan.
There is no basis for this … At the same time, President Trump personally calls this the 'Chinese virus' or the 'Wuhan virus.' We all know that's wrong. We all know it's racist. We all know it's not true. The virus doesn't know boundaries.''
Johnson responded: ''Are you still so certain that lab leak is off the table? ... You said, 'We all know that's not true.' Have you changed your thinking on that?''
Burns replied: ''I believe that that quote from the Kennedy School event [at Harvard] was directed to President Trump's use of the term 'Wuhan virus,' which I did not think would be effective with the Chinese government or Chinese people or people around the world.
''It had nothing to do with the origins of the crisis, of the pandemic, and my position has been all along and continues this day — we need to investigate.''
Burns added: ''I have never been a proponent of either one of these two options, but I think, as President Biden has said, we need to push the Chinese to come clean about what happened.''
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