WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Thursday repeatedly declined to say if President Biden pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping during a 137-minute phone call to cooperate with international efforts to determine the origins of COVID-19.
Jean-Pierre said that Biden and Xi discussed “health security” in their morning call, but dodged reporter efforts to clarify whether Biden specifically mentioned the origins of the pandemic.
“On the phone today, did President Biden ask President Xi anything about getting to the bottom of the origins of COVID?” Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy asked Jean-Pierre at the daily White House briefing.
“So, on the only origins of COVID — the two presidents did discuss the health security and transparency is a key part of that,” Jean-Pierre replied, side-stepping whether COVID-19 origins were mentioned.
“As we have repeatedly said, the PRC is not living up to scientific and public health norms for data and information sharing,” Jean-Pierre said.
“We have said this before, so that is nothing new. And we are — the international community — we’ve said this needs more data, we need more information, to make a determination on the origins of the pandemic. We continue to work with our partners around the world to press China to fully share information and to cooperate with the World Health Organization. So this has come up many times.”
Doocy followed up, “I know it has come up before. But it came up today?”
“I’m just saying that the two presidents did discuss health security. That did come up,” Jean-Pierre said.
RealClearPolitics reporter Philip Wegmann pressed Jean-Pierre for a more specific answer.
“You said that the two presidents discussed health security — that’s pretty vague. Did President Biden tell Xi to start cooperating in the investigations into the origins of COVID — that killed at least 1 million Americans?” Wegmann asked.
“I’m aware how many how many Americans that COVID killed, I’m very aware of that,” Jean-Pierre said, before noting that Biden just recovered from an infection with the virus and recounting Biden administration efforts to address the pandemic.
“I am just not going to go beyond what I just laid out,” she said.
Wegmann pressed further, saying, “last August, the president said in a statement that the Chinese have not been cooperating. We are going on a year now… you can’t tell us whether or not the president pressed Xi to be more cooperative with his investigation?”
“I’m just not going beyond — I’m not going to go beyond the readout that I just gave you,” Jean-Pierre said.
The evasions followed White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby dodging a question from The Post at a Wednesday briefing regarding whether Biden intended to press Xi for transparency on the pandemic origins or press him on Chinese fentanyl exports, which are driving a surge in US drug overdose deaths.
“They are big issues, no argument. I think we’ll give you a readout when the call is over,” Kirby said. “I don’t want to go into any more detail of the call than I just did” — moments after he more firmly said “I would fully expect” Biden to raise territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
Jean-Pierre confirmed to The Post on Thursday that Biden and Xi “discussed this issue — the fentanyl issue that you just brought up — and tasked their teams to continue to follow up on today’s conversation…This is an area where the US and the PRC interests actually align.”
Biden most recently spoke with Xi in March by phone and in November, the men had a three and 1/2 hour virtual summit. For months after the November summit, White House officials led reporters to believe that Biden failed to mention COVID-19 origins to Xi.
In response to a question from The Post, Biden claimed in January that he did press Xi to be transparent on the origins of the pandemic, even though then-press secretary Jen Psaki had given reporters the opposite impression. Biden said that his own press team was unaware of him doing so because they weren’t in the room for that exchange.
Biden rarely publicly mentions the origins of the virus — in a notable contrast with former President Donald Trump, who last week floated requiring China to pay $50 trillion in “reparations” if he retakes the White House.
In August 2021, the US intelligence community said a laboratory release in Wuhan, China, was one of two “plausible” theories to explain the origins of the pandemic.
After receiving the intelligence community report, Biden said in a written statement that “the world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them,” noting that “we all must better understand how COVID-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics.”
Documents published in September by The Intercept revealed that US health officials indirectly funded “gain of function” research at the Wuhan lab that sought to better understand viruses by manipulating them — including modifying three bat coronaviruses distinct from COVID-19 and discovering they became much more infectious among “humanized” mice when human-type receptors were added to them.
Biden spoke with Xi amid uncertainty over whether first son Hunter Biden still holds a 10% stake in a Chinese investment firm that’s controlled in part by state-owned entities. The company, BHR Partners, was formed 12 days after Hunter Biden joined his father, then-vice president Joe Biden, aboard Air Force Two for a 2013 trip to Beijing.
Online business records suggest the first son still holds the 10% stake in BHR and the White House has provided no transparency about his alleged divestment. Jean-Pierre referred a question about Hunter Biden’s ownership status to the first son’s legal team, which claimed in November he no longer co-owns the company.