On Saturday, the United States praised South Africa for quickly identifying a new COVID strain known as Omicron and sharing this information with the rest of the world—a barely disguised jab at China’s handling of the novel coronavirus’s initial outbreak.
According to the State Department, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, during which they discussed cooperation in the vaccination of people in Africa against the new COVID Omicron virus.
“Secretary Blinken specifically commended South Africa’s scientists for their rapid identification of the Omicron variant, as well as the South African government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the rest of the world,” according to the statement.
The United States has repeatedly criticised China, first under President Donald Trump and more recently under Vice President Joe Biden, for failing to provide information about the origins of the coronavirus, which was first discovered in December 2019 in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading throughout the world. It is now responsible for the deaths of nearly 5.2 million people.
As recently as August of this year, the US intelligence community released a report in which it stated that it had been unable to come to a definitive conclusion on the virus’s origins—animal populations or a research lab were the most likely scenarios—because China had not cooperated with the investigation.
A more transparent handling of the outbreak, the United States claims, could have assisted in halting the spread of the virus. Beijing has also been accused of taking too long before sharing critical information about the outbreak.
Following the release of the US report this summer, Vice President Biden accused Beijing of stonewalling.
“The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement following the release of the unclassified report.
“Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world,” says the United Nations Secretary-General.
The pandemic is just one of many sources of acute tension in relations between the United States and China today, as the two great powers clash over trade, human rights, and the contentious issue of Taiwan, among other issues.