US President Donald Trump has cast doubt on the accuracy of China’s coronavirus statistics, saying the reported figures appear “a little bit on the light side”.
His comments came after a senior Republican lawmaker questioned Beijing’s data and Bloomberg News reported a classified US intelligence report had concluded that China had under-reported the total cases and deaths it had suffered.
The coronavirus outbreak began in China in late 2019 but Beijing has reported fewer cases and deaths than in the United States, which now has the world’s largest outbreak, with 215,000 confirmed cases and 5100 deaths.
Mr Trump told a daily briefing by his coronavirus task force that he had not received an intelligence report on China’s data.
“The numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side – and I am being nice when I say that – relative to what we witnessed and what was reported,” he added.
Mr Trump said he had discussed how China had dealt with the coronavirus outbreak in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Friday, but “not so much the numbers”.
Is Bloomberg only confirming what many Hong Kongers already know? The city is a leader in virus containment with meticulous case tracing efforts. Still, Hong Kong reports about 50 new cases every day. With 200 times the population, China magically has only 36 new cases yesterday. https://t.co/FPS53lj8NC
— Jason Y. Ng (@jasonyng) April 1, 2020
Mr Trump, who has toned down his criticism of China’s handling of the virus outbreak since the call, also said the US relationship with China was “very good” and both sides wanted to maintain multi-billion dollar trade deal reached earlier this year.
“As to whether or not their numbers are accurate, I am not an accountant from China,” he said.
Mr Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told the same briefing Washington was “just not (in) the position to confirm any of the numbers that are coming out of China”.
“There’s lots of public reporting on whether the numbers are too low,” he said.
“You got access to those reports that are coming out of Chinese social media … we just have no way to confirm any of those numbers.
Earlier, Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, accused Beijing of hiding the true number of those impacted.
He said he had called for the State Department to investigate Beijing’s “initial cover-up and subsequent actions regarding this pandemic”.
The Bloomberg report cited unidentified US officials as saying that a classified report, received by the White House last week, concluded that China’s public reporting on cases and deaths was intentionally incomplete.
China reported dwindling new infections on Wednesday and for the first time disclosed the number of cases of people who have the highly contagious disease but do not show symptoms.
Official figures have China’s total number of infections at 83,000 and 3300 deaths.