On June 7th, U.S. Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) accused China of trying to block the development of a Coronavirus vaccine in the West, sparking further controversy between the two nations. According to a BBC article dated June 7th, Scott provided no details to back his claims. China meanwhile, released a document saying that it had briefed the U.S. on the spread of Coronavirus as early as January 4th, before it was declared a pandemic by the WHO. Scott repeated his claims on Monday, June 8th, in a tweet in response to an op-ed in the Global Times.
Scott made his original comment on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show”: ‘‘We have got to get this vaccine done. Unfortunately we have evidence that communist China is trying to sabotage us or slow it down.” When pressed twice to provide details to back his claims, Scott responded, ‘‘It came to our intelligence community. … I’m on Armed Services, so clearly there’s things I can’t discuss. … I get provided information. But there’s evidence that they’ve been trying to either sabotage or slow it down.’’ He added, ‘‘China does not want us, and England and Europe to [produce a vaccine] first. They’ve decided to be an adversary to America and democracies around the world. [If] England or the US does it first, we’re going to share. Communist China, they are not going to share.’’
In response to Scott’s incendiary comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying (华春莹) said, “Since this lawmaker said he has evidence that China is trying to sabotage western countries in their vaccine development, then please let him present the evidence. There’s no need to be shy.”
According to the BBC, Scott has been known to be a staunch supporter of President Trump. In recent months, Trump has lambasted against China for numerous reasons, including the disputed origins of Coronavirus, the human rights of Uyghurs, and the autonomy of Hong Kong. As the BBC notes, Trump has claimed numerous times that he has evidence that Coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan. The Five Eyes intelligence agency, which includes the United Kingdom and the United States, has refuted Trump’s claims, saying there is no evidence to back his claims.
Scott’s comments created a flare in U.S.-China tensions, which the Council of Foreign Relations notes has reached a high point in recent months. The U.S. and China have been embroiled in a trade war, resulting in an increase in tariffs and hostile verbal exchanges. As noted above, the Coronavirus pandemic deepened these tensions as Trump repeatedly accused China of creating the virus in a lab and concealing information about the virus from the rest of the world.
The U.S. recently passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which will sanction Chinese officials that have participated in the oppression of Uyghurs. CNN notes that the policy is a signal that the U.S. is hardening its stance towards China. When China announced it had drafted a new security law regarding Hong Kong, the U.S. stated that it would no longer recognize Hong Kong as being an autonomous state, subjecting Hong Kong to the same trade laws as China.
U.S.-China tensions are relatively high, and Senator Scott’s comments seem to have deepened that divide. The BBC notes that Scott did not provide evidence to back his claims, and The Hill adds that there is little existing evidence to support his claims. At a time when one would hope for cooperation to solve the numerous crises at hand, Scott’s incendiary comments seem to worsen the chances of cooperation between the U.S. and China.