President Biden on Monday chose not to answer a question from The Post on whether he will get China to be transparent about the origins of COVID-19 ahead of a virtual summit with President Xi Jinping.
Biden looked directly at a reporter as he listened to the inquiry on the White House driveway, before walking off after an event honoring the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks. He answered other questions on his legislative agenda.
Moments earlier, while entertaining the basketball team, Biden reminisced about visiting a basketball court during his first visit to Beijing to meet Xi, the Communist “president for life.”
“When I first went to Beijing to meet with Xi Jinping, he put me on a basketball court. I’m not like these guys,” Biden told the NBA players. “I can play a little bit, but he put me on a basketball court. I’m thinking to myself, everywhere in the world I go as I travel the world — basketball.”
Biden often speaks publicly about his engagement with Xi while he was vice president from 2009-2017, but he hardly ever mentions pushing China to be transparent about early data on COVID-19, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans.
The US intelligence community said in August that it’s possible the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, calling the theory one of two “plausible” explanations, in addition to a natural origin in animals.
White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Monday that Biden intends to meet virtually with Xi either this month or in December. The White House has declined to say if Biden pressed Xi for transparency during a 90-minute call on Sept 9.
“We have an agreement in principle with the PRC that President Xi and President Biden will have a virtual bilateral meeting before the end of the year. This is part of our ongoing efforts to responsibly manage the competition between our countries,” Jean-Pierre said.
Documents published in September by The Intercept revealed that US health officials indirectly funded 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. The documents boosted a theory that “gain of function” research may have caused the pandemic.
The Biden White House initially resisted launching a US review of pandemic origins this year, instead deferring to the World Health Organization. But in May the president ordered the 90-day spy agency review after the Wall Street Journal reported that three workers at the Wuhan lab were hospitalized in November 2019 before public confirmation of the outbreak.
Biden said in a written statement in August that China should be transparent.
“The world deserves answers, and I will not rest until we get them,” the statement attributed to Biden said. “Responsible nations do not shirk these kinds of responsibilities to the rest of the world. Pandemics do not respect international borders, and we all must better understand how COVID-19 came to be in order to prevent further pandemics.”
But the White House has declined to outline any steps to pressure China on the issue and instead often emphasizes a desire to avoid military conflict and to jointly address issues such as global warming.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in August that Biden opposes former President Donald Trump’s demand that China pay $10 trillion in reparations for allowing COVID-19 to spread beyond its borders.
Biden has conflicts of interest in China due to his son Hunter Biden’s business pursuits.
The first son still owns a 10 percent stake in a Chinese investment firm that was formed 12 days after he joined his father aboard Air Force Two for a 2013 trip to Beijing, according to recently reported business records. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company, BHR Partners, is co-owned by Chinese state-owned entities.
A 2017 email recovered from Hunter Biden’s laptop described a 10 percent set-aside for “the big guy” as part of a prospective deal involving a Chinese energy company. Former Hunter Biden business partner Tony Bobulinski said Joe Biden was the “big guy.”