China's Communist Party has been "too deceitful" for the United States to automatically take its word about the spreading coronavirus, and questions must be asked about the government's "super laboratory" located in Wuhan, ground zero for the virus' beginning, Sen. Tom Cotton said Tuesday.
"There were reports that it started in the food market, and we now know that we need to get to the bottom of it and we do need to ask questions," the Arkansas Republican told CNBC's "Squawk Box."
On Sunday, Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States, did not deny that the deadly virus came from his country's biological warfare program, but instead told CBS News' "Face the Nation" that there has been talk that the virus could have come from a U.S. military lab.
His comments came after he was asked about Cotton's suggestion that the virus came from the Chinese program.
"It's very dangerous to stir up suspicion, rumors, and spread them among the people," said Cui. "For one thing, this will create panic. Another thing that it will [do is] fend up racial discrimination, xenophobia, all these things, that will really harm our joint efforts to combat the virus."
Cotton responded Tuesday that what really spreads fear is if China is lying about the origins of the illness and about the number of people who have it. He noted that Cui did not deny the reports.
"In the terms of the claims of racism, the Chinese people are the first and the worst victims of the Chinese Communist Party," said Cotton. "We should all hold them in our prayers and hope that we get a vaccine because they're the people most harmed by the Chinese government's incompetence and duplicity."
There have been comments from researchers commending the Chinese government's cooperation, Cotton was told, but he said they are "grading on a very steep curve" considering China's history with SARS.
"I can promise you that the Chinese government is being far from cooperative with the United States and other world-leading country scientists to try to get to the bottom of this," said Cotton. "If they wanted to get to the bottom of it they would admit western scientists into Wuhan to get to the bottom of it and get a vaccine as quickly as possible for our people and the world."
Meanwhile, Cotton said he thinks the targeted U.S. travel ban was a crucial central step to minimize risks to the United States. But still, as the first cases of the coronavirus appeared in early December, it could have been incubating in mid-November, he added.
"A million-and-a-half people flew from China into the United States in that period of time," said Cotton. "That's why we're taking such an aggressive posture for trying to identify people that might have coronavirus and people they have come into contact as well as pushing out testing kits to all 50 states. It's also essential that we work with our partners around the world and the World Health Organization that err on the side of caution. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
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