U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns stated on Monday that if the U.S. and China want to work together, China must "be more forthcoming about what transpired in Wuhan three years ago that led to the COVID-19 crisis."
Burns spoke at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event the day after it was reported that the Department of Energy judged with "low confidence" that the fatal pandemic was likely caused by a laboratory leak.
While Burns was not particularly referring to the most recent assessment, the Department of Energy's new finding illustrates how U.S. intelligence agencies remain divided on the origins of the pandemic, in part because Beijing has not been forthcoming with efforts to probe the problem.
In answer to a question regarding political polarization in the U.S. and how it affects the country's standing and ability to confront geopolitical challenges, Burns made remarks about COVID in the context of strengthening the World Health Organization.
The new assessment, which represented an update of the intelligence community's perspectives on the pandemic's origins, widened the rift between the 18 intelligence community institutions.
In 2021, a declassified document from the intelligence community revealed that four agencies judged with low confidence that the virus likely moved from animals to humans in the wild, whilst the FBI assessed with intermediate confidence that the pandemic was caused by a laboratory accident.
A low confidence evaluation typically indicates that the information received is insufficiently dependable or too fragmented to make a more decisive analytic judgment, or that there is insufficient data available to reach a more firm conclusion.
A senior administration source noted that U.S. diplomats have repeatedly urged China to be upfront about the origins of COVID-19, but China has not enhanced transparency.
Burns' call for transparency on COVID-19 in the context of strengthening the WHO - a key global agency for responding to pandemics - was mentioned as part of a list of issues, including climate change and food security, on which "most Americans" would like to see Beijing and the U.S. collaborate.
The State Department has frequently requested that Beijing disclose the origins of COVID.
"It's in everyone's interest, it's - including in the interest of the PRC, that they work with the international community, lend a degree of transparency to the international investigations into COVID origins so that neither they nor we nor any country around the world should have to pay this kind of steep cost again," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in November.