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House Republicans on Thursday launched a “China Task Force” to coordinate a strategy against the geopolitical threat from Beijing — coming amid global scrutiny over China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced the group during a press conference.
The Washington Post, which first reported on the move, said that the group will be a clearinghouse to set priorities, gather information and coordinate approaches to the threat coming from China, including dealing with legislation.
The group will look at China's influence in the U.S., its efforts to take over international organizations, supply chains and more, along with China's role in the initial outbreak of the coronavirus.
While Democrats and Republicans have been united in seeing the coronavirus threat as an urgent challenge needed to be dealt with, and have passed a series of major bills to deal with the crisis, Republicans have placed an emphasis on the Chinese origins of the virus.
The Post reported that Democrats abandoned the new project in February, leaving Republicans to launch it alone. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, will serve as chairman, while members will include Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Elise Stefanik, R-NY.
McCarthy told the Post that Democrats were still welcome to join the project if they wished.
“All these issues existed prior to the virus and they just continue to grow in importance,” McCarthy said. “The rest of America and the rest of the world has woken up to this and now we’ve got to do something about it."
The U.S. is currently investigating how the virus initially spread and if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan, China, or the result of transmission at a wet market.
Fox News first reported last month that there is increasing confidence from U.S. officials that the virus likely escaped from the lab in Wuhan, where the naturally occurring strain was being studied not as a bioweapon but as part of a Chinese effort to show that its efforts to identify and combat viruses are equal to or greater than those of the U.S. But the matter remains under investigation and officials have not presented public evidence yet to support the lab theory.
Meanwhile, a 15-page document from the intelligence agencies of the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand was obtained by Australia's Saturday Telegraph newspaper and reportedly found that China's secrecy amounted to an “assault on international transparency."
The dossier highlighted the initial denial by the Chinese government that the virus could be transmitted between humans, the silencing of doctors, destruction of evidence, and a refusal to provide samples to scientists working on a vaccine.
While U.S. intelligence has not confirmed the existence of the 15-page document, a senior official told Fox on Saturday that reports of the document aligns with U.S. intelligence that China knew the spread between humans earlier than it said, that it knew it was a novel coronavirus earlier than it said and that it was spread wider than they reported to the international community in the first weeks of the outbreak.
Fox News’ Mike Emanuel and Gillian Turner contributed to this report.