US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the coronavirus statistics China was reporting seemed “a little bit on the light side,” while his national security adviser said Washington had no way of knowing if Beijing’s figures were accurate.
The comments came after a senior Republican lawmaker cast doubt on Beijing’s data and Bloomberg News said a classified US intelligence report had concluded that China had under-reported the total cases and deaths it had suffered.
The coronavirus outbreak began in China in late 2019 but Beijing has reported fewer cases and deaths than in the United States, which now has the world’s largest outbreak, with 214 000 confirmed cases and 4 800 deaths.
Trump told a daily briefing by his coronavirus task force that he had not received an intelligence report on China’s data, but added:
“The numbers seem to be a little bit on the light side – and I am being nice when I say that – relative to what we witnessed and what was reported.”
Trump said he had discussed how China had dealt with the coronavirus outbreak in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last Friday, but “not so much the numbers.”
Trump, who has toned down his criticism of China’s handling of the virus outbreak since the call, also said the US relationship with China was “very good” and both sides wanted to maintain multi-billion dollar trade deal reached earlier this year.
“As to whether or not their numbers are accurate,” he added,”I am not an accountant from China.”
Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told the same briefing Washington was “just not (in) the position to confirm any of the numbers that are coming out of China.”
“There’s lots of public reporting on whether the numbers are too low,” he said. “You got access to those reports that are coming out of Chinese social media … we just have no way to confirm any of those numbers.