Tensions between the US and China continue to rapidly deteriorate and look set to worsen after an explosive claim and criticism of China over the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
On Sunday (local time), US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "enormous evidence" showed the novel coronavirus originated in a lab in China, further fuelling tensions with Beijing over its handling of the outbreak.
More than 247,000 people have been killed and 3.5 million infected worldwide by the virus, which has left half of humanity under some form of lockdown and pushed the global economy towards its worst downturn since the Great Depression.
US President Donald Trump, increasingly critical of China's management of the first outbreak in the city of Wuhan in December, last week claimed to have proof it started in a Chinese laboratory.
He speculated that China could have unleashed the coronavirus due to some kind of horrible "mistake".
Scientists believe the virus jumped from animals to humans, after emerging in China, possibly from a market in Wuhan selling exotic animals for meat.
Mr Trump, without giving details, said on Thursday he had seen evidence the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source, appearing to echo speculation fuelled by US right-wing radio commentators about a secret lab.
China denies the claims and even the US Director of National Intelligence office has said analysts are still examining the exact origin of the outbreak.
‘China has history of infecting world’
Mr Pompeo, a former CIA chief, told the ABC he agreed with a statement from the US intelligence community about the "wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified."
But Mr Pompeo went further than Mr Trump, citing "significant" and "enormous" evidence that the virus originated in a Wuhan lab.
"I think the whole world can see now, remember, China has a history of infecting the world and running substandard laboratories."
Mr Pompeo said early Chinese efforts to downplay the coronavirus amounted to "a classic Communist disinformation effort”.
“That created enormous risk.
"President Trump is very clear. We'll hold those responsible accountable."
US news reports say Mr Trump has tasked US spies to find out more about the origins of the virus, as he makes China's handling of the pandemic a centrepiece of his campaign for the November presidential election.
The United States has the most coronavirus deaths in the world at more than 66,000 and Mr Trump is keen for a turnaround to help reduce the economic pain, with tens of millions left jobless.
Mr Trump pulled the US’s funding to the World Health Organisation last month over its performance during the pandemic and its close relationship with the Chinese, calling for an independent review of how the virus began.
While Scott Morrison has also given his support to an investigation, he said on Friday he hadn’t seen any evidence to suggest a lab was responsible and said the likely source was from animals and likely from the Wuhan wildlife wet market.
China accused of cover-up to stockpile medical supplies
US officials also believe China covered up the extent of the coronavirus outbreak to stock up on medical supplies needed to respond to it, intelligence documents show.
Chinese leaders "intentionally concealed the severity" of the pandemic from the world in early January, according to a four-page Department of Homeland Security report.
The report is dated May 1 and was obtained by The Associated Press.
The analysis states that, while downplaying the severity of the coronavirus, China increased imports and decreased exports of medical supplies.
It attempted to cover up doing so by "denying there were export restrictions and obfuscating and delaying provision of its trade data", the analysis states.
The report also says China held off informing the World Health Organisation that the coronavirus was a contagion for much of January so it could order medical supplies from abroad - and that its imports of face masks and surgical gowns and gloves increased sharply.
- with AFP and AAP
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.