China should have to answer for misleading the world about the novel coronavirus, says Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. He faults China's lack of transparency for enabling the virus to erupt from "an epidemic to a global pandemic."
"China should be held accountable. I think there should be consequences, and I think what they did to the world, we should not forget it," McCaul told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett on this week's episode of "The Takeout" podcast.
In May, McCaul became the chairman of a new congressional China Task Force, formed in part to investigate China's role in the spread of the virus. McCaul said his task force is examining how the U.S. can punish the Chinese government for its early secrecy about the virus, when transparency might have made it possible to contain it.
"There are a whole lot of ideas about how to hold China accountable," McCaul said, suggesting that could also occur through economic means. For instance, countries could alter their supply chains, he pointed out, to reduce their reliance on China for personal protective equipment, medicines, and other supplies.
McCaul, who is also the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released an interim report with Republican committee members last month detailing their investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and the initial handling of the virus by the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization.
The State Department translated the report into Mandarin, Cantonese, and the Uighur language, penetrated the firewall into mainland China and distributed the report on social media platforms. "The report is going viral," McCaul told Garrett, and it was even addressed at a press conference by a spokesperson for President Xi Jinping.
"To me, that indicates it's obviously getting under their skin because we are telling the truth about what happened," McCaul said. "I think the greatest fear the Chinese Communist Party has is not me or the United States, it is their own people, and their own people learning the truth about their government. And that's very powerful."
McCaul also criticized China's activities in the South China Sea and said he wouldn't be surprised "if you start seeing a little bit of muscle on our part with Taiwan, perhaps doing things like joint military exercises." Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the U.S. views nearly all of China's maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea as unlawful.
However, McCaul was quick to add, "I don't think anyone wants a direct confrontation in terms of military posture."
The Trump administration has recently taken some punitive actions against China on other fronts.
Last week, the U.S. sanctioned Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses against minority Uighur Muslims.
And after Beijing imposed a sweeping National Security Law on Hong Kong that erodes the freedoms Hong Kong has enjoyed under the "one country, two systems" framework since it was handed back to China in 1997 after decades of British colonial rule, the president revoked Hong Kong's special status exempting it from certain tariffs and other privileges. He also signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which approves sanctions on Chinese officials and banks that enable the security law.
"You're going to see some strong sanctions coming out there, I hope that has some impact," McCaul said. "I think that's the first step, Major, that we have to do. I don't think the first step is ever bringing your military in. I think you've got to work diplomacy, sanctions, and do everything you possibly can. But I do think we need to empower the people of Hong Kong."
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