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Australia on Sunday called for an “independent international” investigation into China’s management of the coronavirus outbreak and the origin of the pandemic, joining the U.S. in scrutinizing China's role.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne has doubled down on similar calls by President Trump, questioning the Chinese Communist Party’s truthfulness, and saying that Australia “will absolutely insist” on an international investigation.
Payne, over the weekend, added that her concern about China’s transparency was “at a very high point.”
“The issues around the coronavirus are issues for independent review, and I think that it is important that we do that,” Payne told ABC. “In fact, Australia will absolutely insist on that.”
She added: “My trust in China is predicated in the long-term. My concern is around transparency and ensuring that we are able to engage openly.”
Australia’s calls for an investigation comes as U.S. officials confirm to Fox News that they are conducting a full-scale investigation into whether COVID-19 escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, where the naturally occurring virus was being studied -- as opposed to claims it originated in a nearby "wet market."
Intelligence operatives are said to be gathering information about the laboratory and the initial outbreak of the virus and piecing together a timeline of what the government knew. Officials are “creating an accurate picture of what happened,” sources said.
Once that investigation is complete, the findings will be presented to the Trump administration. At that point, White House policymakers and the president will use the findings to determine how to hold the country accountable for the pandemic.
Trump on Sunday called for investigators to be allowed access inside China: “We are talking to China. We spoke to them a long time ago about going in. We want to go in."
Fox News first reported last Wednesday that there is increasing confidence that the outbreak likely originated in the Wuhan lab, not as a bioweapon but as part of a Chinese effort to show that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal or greater than those of the U.S.
U.S. officials and the intelligence community have confirmed to Fox News that they have taken the possibility of the coronavirus being man-made or engineered inside China as some sort of bioweapon off the table. Sources point to the structure of the virus, in saying the genome mapping specifically shows it was not genetically altered. The sources believe the initial transmission of the virus was a naturally occurring strain that was being studied there -- and then went into the population in Wuhan.
US officials are 100 percent confident China went to great lengths to cover up after the virus was out, the sources said.
Additionally, the sources believe that the World Health Organization -- which the president paused funding to last week over its role in the crisis -- was either complicit in the coverup, or looked the other way.
There has been speculation for months, not just in the U.S., that the virus originated in a Chinese laboratory. A February study on the origins of the virus from the South China University of Technology concluded: “In addition to origins of natural recombination and intermediate host, the killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan."
Should it turn out that the virus escaped from a Chinese laboratory, the global pushback against the Chinese government could be significant. The virus has infected and killed hundreds of thousands of people and ravaged economies across the globe. Trump, who has frequently taken a hard line toward China even before the crisis, would be expected to lead calls to make Beijing face consequences.
But the director of a Wuhan lab said to be studying coronavirus denied the allegations over the weekend.
“There’s no way this virus came from us,” Yuan Zhiming, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, reportedly told state media on Saturday.
Fox News' Bret Baier and Adam Shaw contributed to this report.