China Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian held his first press conference in several weeks on Tuesday, attempting to walk back his earlier claim that the U.S. military had brought the novel coronavirus to the city of Wuhan.
“The virus [is] a scientific question that requires scientific opinions,” Zhao told reporters. He was then asked if he stood behind a March 12 tweet in which he wrote that, “It might be the U.S. Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.”
“The questions raised on my personal Twitter account are a response to U.S. politicians’ stigmatization of China, which also reflects the righteous anger of many Chinese people over these stigmatizing acts,” Zhao responded.
China blocks Twitter within its borders, although certain citizens and companies may use the app with government approval. Twitter has said that using the platform to claim that the U.S. brought coronavirus to Wuhan does not violate its rules and terms of service.
The Chinese government and state-owned media outlets have repeatedly tried to portray President Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus” as stigmatizing. On March 17, Trump was asked during a White House press conference whether he thought calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” created a “stigma.”
“No, I don’t think so. I think saying that our military gave it to them creates a stigma,” Trump replied.
The coronavirus pandemic that began in Wuhan has now claimed over 81,000 lives and seen 1,400,000 people infected.