The greatest threat to U.S

Relative of virus victim asks to meet WHO experts in Wuhan

Relative of virus victim asks to meet WHO experts in Wuhan

Associated Press

 

FILE – In this Jan. 14, 2021, file photo, a worker in protective coverings directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team on their arrival at the airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province. A global team of researchers arrived Thursday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

WUHAN, China (AP) — A relative of a coronavirus victim in China is demanding to meet a visiting World Health Organization expert team, saying it should speak with affected families who allege they are being muffled by the Chinese government.

China approved the visit by researchers under the auspices of the U.N. agency only after months of negotiations. It has not indicated whether they will be allowed to gather evidence or talk to families, saying only that the team can exchange views with Chinese scientists.

“I hope the WHO experts don’t become a tool to spread lies,” said Zhang Hai, whose father died of COVID-19 on Feb. 1, 2020, after traveling to the Chinese city of Wuhan and getting infected. “We’ve been searching for the truth relentlessly. This was a criminal act, and I don’t want the WHO to be coming to China to cover up these crimes.”

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The WHO team, which arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 14 to investigate the origins of the virus, is expected to begin field work later this week after a 14-day quarantine.

Zhang, a Wuhan native now living in the southern city of Shenzhen, has been organizing relatives of coronavirus victims in China to demand accountability from officials.

Many are angry that the state downplayed the virus at the beginning of the outbreak, and have attempted to file lawsuits against the Wuhan government.

The relatives have faced immense pressure from authorities not to speak out. Officials have dismissed the lawsuits, interrogated Zhang and others repeatedly and threatened to fire relatives of those who speak to the foreign media, according to interviews with Zhang and other relatives.

Zhang said chat groups of the relatives were shut down shortly after the WHO team’s arrival in Wuhan, and he accused the city government of trying to silence them.

“Don’t pretend that we don’t exist, that we aren’t seeking accountability,” Zhang said. “You obliterated all our platforms, but we still want to let everyone know through the media that we haven’t given up.”

WHO says its visit to China is a scientific mission to investigate the origins of the virus, not an effort to assign blame, and that “in-depth interviews and reviews” of early cases are needed. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China initially rejected demands for an international investigation after the Trump administration blamed Beijing for the virus, but bowed to global pressure in May for a probe into the origins.

On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease official in the United States, said at the World Economic Forum that the origins of the virus that has brought the world to its knees are still unknown, “a big black box, which is awful.”

The mission was repeatedly delayed by negotiations and setbacks, one of which prompted an unusual public complaint by the WHO head.

The arrival of the WHO mission has revived controversy over whether China allowed the virus to spread globally by reacting too slowly in the early days.

From the beginning, WHO officials have been trying to get more cooperation from China, with limited success.

Audio recordings of internal WHO meetings obtained by The Associated Press and aired for the first time Tuesday show that even while the WHO praised China in public, officials were complaining privately about not getting enough information.

The U.N. agency has no enforcement powers, so it must rely on the goodwill of member countries.

Keiji Fukuda, a public health expert at the University of Hong Kong, has called the visit an “image building mission,” with China eager to come off as being transparent and the WHO keen to show it’s taking action.

“Both China and WHO hope to get some brownie points,” said Fukuda, a former WHO official. “But it all comes down to what will the team have access to. Will they really be able to ask the questions that they want to ask?”

President Biden shouldn’t replace military strength with diplomacy

President Biden shouldn’t replace military strength with diplomacy

Defense News

 Sen. Jim Inhofe  

The greatest threat to U.S. national security comes from China and Russia; that won’t change just because our president does. The 2018 National Defense Strategy, the Senate Armed Services Committee and I have unambiguously endorsed this foundational concept, and President Joe Biden must, too.

If the Biden administration is serious about the security of our nation, it must ensure a strong national defense that will deter China and Russia. That means providing the funding needed to implement the NDS. It means using the bipartisan NDS Commission report as a blueprint. It means conditions-based troop levels in key locations across the globe.

These aren’t partisan policies — they are policies that the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, and I have focused on and will work toward in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. As long as President Biden understands and follows through on these priorities as well — and I intend to ensure he does — we will be able to work together to keep our nation safe.

While the United States faces many challenges, China and Russia uniquely threaten our way of life. Both seek to undermine democratic political institutions, including our own. They seek to damage our credibility with foreign partners and redraw borders to suit their ambitions. China in particular is increasingly aggressive in the South China Sea while fielding new capabilities like aircraft carriers and expanding existing ones like ballistic missiles.

This is what we’re up against. So first and foremost, our nation needs leadership at the Pentagon that genuinely understands and agrees to prioritize these challenges. I was concerned that in one of his first, and arguably his most important, national security nominations — secretary of defense — President Biden selected retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, whose career has been focused primarily on the Middle East and didn’t mention China or Russia once in his rationale of the nomination.

However, I was encouraged by what I heard from Gen. Austin at his nomination hearing, and I believe he will work to effectively enable implementation of the NDS and counter the threats posed by these strategic competitors.

Our other top order of business must be making sure our troops have the resources they need to achieve our strategy. Over the past decade, as a result of the Budget Control Act and sequestration, the U.S. military lost $550 billion of planned spending — and that was before China and Russia ramped up their military spending. As a result, our military has been doing too much with too little for too long, and in a constantly unpredictable environment.

First, readiness plummeted — and these readiness-related problems have not yet been fully addressed. Second, shortsighted cuts across the Pentagon drove talented service members to leave and rendered Pentagon civilians unable to conduct critical oversight activities, like the audit. Third, force modernization was put on hold and still moves too slowly. As a result, maintenance costs for aging and outdated equipment are eating the defense budget alive. Now, we must simultaneously upgrade and replace existing equipment and develop weapons technologies where our adversaries lead, such as artificial intelligence.

On top of this, the Biden administration must fully fund priority efforts to counter the threats we face from China and Russia, like the Pacific and European Deterrence Initiatives. This will guarantee we have the right force posture — the right capabilities in the right places — to ensure resiliency in a highly contested combat environment.

Four straight years of increased funding for the military was just a start. We can’t make up for lost time, but President Biden, working with Congress, must replace the $550 billion of defense funding cut by sequestration. Providing this investment — with predictability and certainty — would represent the down payment required to maintain our position against China and Russia over the next several decades.

To preserve nuclear deterrence and cement our most critical alliances, we must continue to modernize our nuclear forces. For decades, we starved investments in our nuclear weapons and infrastructure. In stark contrast, China and Russia expanded their stockpiles, building thousands of additional missiles to threaten the U.S. and our allies. The Biden administration must not ignore these realities. Under President Donald Trump, we’ve made progress in updating our nuclear forces. But again, there’s still a long way to go, such as completing the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent and W93 programs.

China and Russia will be the primary focuses, but not the only ones. I believe Congress and the Biden administration share the goal of sustaining the progress we’ve made against ISIS and al-Qaida. This will require maintaining an effective global counterterrorism posture, including in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, to prevent the resurgence of terrorist organizations and to limit their ability to attack us.

Thus far, President Biden has chosen to prioritize diplomatic efforts — that’s clear from his nominations so far — but he would do well to remember that a strong military underwrites strong diplomacy. He cannot discount the need for a combat-credible military force that deters adversaries, reassures allies and partners, and ensures a global balance of power that defends U.S. national security.

Working with Chairman Reed, I will continue to fight for this. President Biden must do the same.

Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.