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Pompeo warns China against 'outlandish rumors' on coronavirus

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Washington (AFP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned China on Monday not to spread disinformation on the novel coronavirus after an official in Beijing promoted a conspiracy theory on US involvement.

Pompeo raised "strong objections" to Chinese efforts "to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States" in a phone call with Yang Jiechi, a top foreign policy official in Beijing, the State Department said.

Pompeo "stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat," a State Department statement said.

The call comes after the State Department on Friday summoned the Chinese ambassador, Cui Tiankai, to denounce the promotion of the conspiracy theory -- which has gained wide attention on social media.

Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, in tweets last week in both Mandarin and English, suggested that "patient zero" in the global pandemic may have come from the United States -- not the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, where cases were first reported in late 2019.

"It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation," tweeted Zhao, who is known for his provocative statements on social media.

Pompeo himself has sought to link China to the global pandemic, repeatedly referring to SARS-CoV-2 as the "Wuhan virus" despite advice from health professionals that such geographic labels can be stigmatizing.

Scientists suspect that the virus first came to humans at a meat market in Wuhan that butchered exotic animals.

While COVID-19 -- the disease caused by the virus -- has largely come under control in China, it has killed more than 7,000 people around the world and severely disrupted daily life in Western countries.

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