Jonathan Swan: Chinese envoy to US 'disowned' and 'distanced himself' from coronavirus conspiracy theory

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Axios national political reporter Jonathan Swan joined "The Daily Briefing" Monday to discuss his report on China and the coronavirus and highlighted his recent interview with the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., in which Swan raised the theory pushed by another Beijing official that the virus originated in an American military lab.

"It was actually your own spokesman, the spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- Zhao Lijuan --who has been spreading this conspiracy that the virus originated in the U.S. laboratory," Swan asked Cui Tiankai on "Axios on HBO." "Does he have any evidence to support that theory?"

"Maybe you could go and ask him," Cui said.

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"I mean, have you asked him, you are the ambassador?" Swan responded.

"No, I'm here representing my head of state and my government, not any particular individual," Cui shot back.

"Does he speak for the Chinese government?" Swan asked. "Does Zhao or do you?"

"I'm representative of China in the United States," Cui said.

Swan told host Dana Perino he was surprised at Cui's remarks, since the conspiracy theory has become a point of contention between the United States and China.

"This is a conspiratorial lie that the coronavirus originated in a laboratory, a U.S. military laboratory, then [was] somehow planted in Wuhan, China, which is obviously absurd," Swan said. "I guess I thought maybe he would defend his colleague, but he didn't. He absolutely disowned it and distanced himself from it, which I thought revealed an interesting division inside the senior ranks of the Chinese government."

Swan said China had been on a "propaganda tour" recently in hopes of changing the narrative surrounding the Beijing government's role in the global pandemic.

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"They've also been trying to position China as a world leader in dealing with the virus. That leaves out some inconvenient facts, which I pressed him on, which is the fact that the first three weeks when the virus emerged, actually the first month, really there was a cover-up by Chinese authorities and the first doctors that raised the alarm about the virus, " Swan said. "And amid all of that, about 5 million people were allowed to leave Wuhan unscreened and that's how the virus spread so quickly around the world."