China's diplomatic corps is famous for its remarkably consistent ability to show a unified front it toeing the Communist Party line; however, Trump may have finally broken that.
Bloomberg reports of an extremely unusual public spat between two top Chinese diplomats:
The differences spilled into public view Monday after China’s ambassador to the U.S. reaffirmed his opposition to promoting theories that the virus that causes Covid-19 originated in an American military lab. Ambassador Cui Tiankai said in an interview with “Axios on HBO” that he stood by his Feb. 9 statement that it would be “crazy” to spread such theories, even though a foreign ministry spokesman has repeatedly floated the idea on Twitter in recent weeks.
Cui's comments were directly contradictory to foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who has been aggressive in suggesting a US conspiracy behind the origins of the coronavirus.
Starting March 12 Zhao Lijian issued his bombshell and novel accusation on Twitter, saying "it might be the US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan". In a series of Twitter statements he questioned: "When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!"
China's ambassador in Washington was promptly summoned and called to account by the State Department, after which the theories out of Beijing appeared to cool a bit. Most perhaps took it as Chinese officials hitting back at President Trump's at that time controversially referring to Covid-19 as a "foreign virus". And doubling down by later March, he's begun repeatedly calling in the "Chinese virus".
Cui asserted in the Axios interview in an apparent rebuke of prior statements by Beijing foreign ministry officials: “Such speculation will help nobody. It’s very harmful.”
He added that: “Eventually, we must have an answer to where the virus originally came from. But this is the job for the scientists to do, not for diplomats.”
2/2 CDC was caught on the spot. When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation! pic.twitter.com/vYNZRFPWo3— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 12, 2020
It appears Ambassador Cui's calmer and more measured tone has won out, likely out of a desire to calm the bombastic anti-China rhetoric out of the White House:
The developments suggest that China’s foreign ministry may be having second thoughts about taking a more confrontational approach toward President Donald Trump. The foreign ministry later Monday posted a Chinese-language transcript of Cui’s remarks on its website and another spokesman, Geng Shuang, told reporters “the virus should not be linked to a specific country or region to avoid stigmatization.”
Cui told Axios on HBO he stands by his statements denying the outlandish virus origin theories. "That's my position then and that's my position now."
But simultaneously he took a shot at Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) who has been at the forefront in Congress of raising the possibility that it was created in the Chinese military's lab in Wuhan.