The White House on Tuesday accused China of hampering the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origins of the coronavirus and demanded Beijing be more “transparent” by providing greater access to data about the initial outbreak in late 2019.
The joint report from a W.H.O. team and Chinese scientists, released on Tuesday, was inconclusive, but surmised that the pandemic most likely began from animal-to-human transmission and began widely circulating in the city of Wuhan, China, as Chinese officials have long asserted.
Some observers, including Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have questioned that theory, arguing that the virus might have originated in a government lab, although U.S. intelligence officials have said they do not have evidence to determine where the virus came from.
“The report lacks crucial data information and access — it represents a partial and incomplete picture,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news conference on Tuesday, adding that Chinese officials “have not been transparent, they have not provided underlying data.”
W.H.O. officials should have been given “unfettered access” and “should be able to ask questions of people who were on the ground,” Ms. Psaki said.
“That certainly doesn’t qualify as cooperation,” she added, summing up the White House view of China’s cooperation at a moment of already heightened tensions between the two nations.
Later in the day, the United States co-signed a letter with officials from Israel, Australia, Japan, Canada and Britain calling for a “transparent and independent analysis” of the origins of the virus free from “undue influence.”
At times, Ms. Psaki intermingled her criticism of Beijing with skepticism about the W.H.O.’s investigation, and the value of Tuesday’s report.
“It doesn’t lead us to any closer of an understanding or greater knowledge than we had six to nine months ago about the origin,” she said. “It also doesn’t provide guidelines or steps, recommended steps, on how we should prevent this from happening in the future. And those are imperative.”
Some of the Biden’s administration’s frustrations with China and the W.H.O. echo former President Donald J. Trump’s scathing criticism of the W.H.O. — although Mr. Biden opposed Mr. Trump’s effort to cut off federal funding to the agency or withdraw as a member over its handling of the virus crisis. Officials with the agency have argued that they have no enforcement authority, and do not have the power to demand greater cooperation from nations.
Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden, while supportive of international health agencies, had no plans to disengage from the W.H.O., but said he had long expressed frustrations with China’s actions in the crisis.
“He believes that the American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors — all of the people who have been working to save lives, the families who have lost loved ones, all deserve greater transparency, they deserve better information,” she said.
Still, the Biden administration has no immediate plans to join an effort by the leaders of more than two dozen countries, the European Union and the World Health Organization to create a new international treaty to protect the world from future pandemics.
“We do have some concerns primarily about the timing and launching into negotiations for a new treaty right now,” Ms. Psaki said, “and we believe that could divert attention away from substantive issues regarding the response preparedness for future pandemic threats.”