In Depth

Why the UK is planning coronavirus ‘reckoning’ with China

Tory ministers accused of using Beijing as ‘convenient scapegoat’ to deflect criticism over lack of Covid-19 testing

A diplomatic row between the UK and China is growing over Beijing’s lack of transparency about the coronavirus outbreak.

Speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove appeared to blame the Chinese authorities for the UK’s lack of mass testing for the virus.

“We’ve been increasing the number of tests over the course of the last month… The first case of coronavirus in China was established in December of last year, but it was also the case that some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this,” Gove said.

Meanwhile, senior Downing Street officials told The Mail on Sunday that the Communist state faces a “reckoning” when the pandemic is over.

Echoing that warning in an article for the newspaper, Conservative grandee Iain Duncan Smith wrote: “For too long, nations have lamely kow-towed to China in the desperate hope of winning trade deals.

“But once we get clear of this terrible pandemic, it is imperative that we all rethink that relationship and put it on a much more balanced and honest basis.”

Tom Tugendhat, Tory chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, added his voice to the calls for tough new tactics with Beijing, telling The Telegraph: “It’s quite clear that the relationship with China has got to change.

“The idea that we can import cheap goods and not import the consequences of slave labour, of silencing opposition and government repression, including of the truth about pandemic outbreaks, is clearly not true.”

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However, the newspaper adds that there have also been “accusations that ministers are using China as a convenient scapegoat to deflect criticism from the government’s failure to ramp up testing [for coronavirus] in the way that many other countries have done”.

Ed Davey, acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, is among those who have dismissed Gove’s claims, reports The Independent. “The evidence this was a serious virus was well documented through January into February. We need to understand precisely how ministers were responding, rather than feeble excuses that they didn’t know,” Davey said.

Nick Lowles, head of the Hope not Hate anti-racism group, also warned of “a steady stream of anti-Chinese rhetoric coming from government politicians as they try to deflect from any criticism of their own handling of the crisis”.

Gove told the BBC’s Marr that 10,000 people a day are being tested for Covid-19 in the UK, with the aim of increasing that daily rate to 25,000. However, he did not give a timeline for when all NHS and social care workers would have access to the tests.

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