Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who has expressed wariness toward China virtually since his confirmation, shared some harsh words for Beijing yesterday, then reiterated them on Thursday during an appearance on "The Today Show" - one of the Defense Secretary's most high-profile media appearances since he was picked to lead the Pentagon last summer - Esper accused Beijing of being "misleading and opaque" during the early days of the outbreak.
"They’ve been misleading us, they’ve been opaque if you will from the early days of this virus. So I don’t have much faith that they’re even being truthful with us now,” Esper said during an interview that mostly focused on the 'real' reason for Esper's visit - the controversy over the firing of Capt. Crozier from the USS Theodore Roosevelt earlier this month.
Despite the fact that Esper's interview aired on its network, NBC News didn't deem his comments newsworthy enough to mention in its story about the interview, which focused exclusively on the fact that Esper hinted he might be willing to reinstate Capt. Crozier, who has kept his rank and retained his status as a naval officer (something many of the Trump Administration's critics probably don't even realize).
As far as we can tell, the only report about Esper's comments was a three-sentence Reuters brief. NBC has also released clips from the interview.
Esper added that he finds it hard to trust any information coming out of China...
"I find it hard to trust much of what comes out of the Chinese Communist Party," says U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on whether the Chinese govt. has been truthful about the origins of the virus. pic.twitter.com/I8z1mfhvJS— TODAY (@TODAYshow) April 16, 2020
...And when asked about reports that the virus leaked from a bio-lab in Wuhan, Esper said US information was "inconclusive."
What is the likelihood that the coronavirus could have come from a Chinese lab?— TODAY (@TODAYshow) April 16, 2020
"The results are inconclusive...we do know one thing, if the Chinese government had been more transparent earlier, it would have helped us." — Mark Esper U.S. Secretary of Defense. pic.twitter.com/0CbjCEGr2P
Still, Beijing apparently felt this comment was high-profile enough to warrant a response: GT Editor Hu Xijin, a well-known mouthpiece for the CPC, tweeted that the US should have learned everything it needed to know from China's decision to close Wuhan back in January.
You can just believe your own information. Lockdown in Wuhan on Jan. 23 sent out the biggest alarm. What else do you want China to provide? In Shanghai, close to Wuhan, 7 died from COVID-19. While in faraway New York City, more than 10,000 people have died. And you blame China? pic.twitter.com/njOxj9kjNg— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) April 16, 2020
Perhaps Hu hasn't seen these documents yet? We're not sure Beijing would let them past the firewall.
And honestly we expect we'll be hearing more from Beijing about these comments. After all, there are a lot of Americans watching daytime TV right now.