US set to reopen Wuhan consulate amid “critical juncture” and fierce tensions with China

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The US State Department informed Congress of its intention to reopen the consulate in a notification that was obtained by CNN.

It allegedly said that the Department is planning to “resume operations on or around June 22”.

And in an email to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Frank Whitaker, minister counsellor for public affairs at the US embassy in Beijing, said that the US was going to “resume operations in Wuhan in the near future”.

However, it’s understood that this provisional June 22 date is subject to change.

The notification added that the planned reopening comes “at a critical juncture in US-China relations” and stated: “it is critical that our diplomatic posts in China are staffed”, CNN claims.

Tensions between the US and China have been increasingly high throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, with the Trump administration making inflammatory statements regarding the origin of the virus.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been one of the most open critics of China, at one point telling ABC’s This Week programme that there was “enormous evidence” that the virus began in a Wuhan laboratory.

However, Zuan Zhiming, a Wuhan laboratory official, denied this, saying in an interview with state-run China Global Television on April 20 that there was “absolutely no way that the virus originated from our institute”, according to Bloomberg.

More recently, Rick Scott, a US Republican senator for Florida, claimed that China was attempting to “sabotage” vaccine development.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “We have to get this vaccine done. Unfortunately, we have evidence that communist China is trying to sabotage us or slow it down.”

READ: US-China trade war: Why US will tread more carefully than it did with Iran

However, Mr Scott refused to say where exactly the evidence for his claim had come from or what the evidence was.

He only said that the evidence had come through the intelligence community and that “there are things I can’t discuss”.

And CNN reports that Mike Pompeo last month said that the US intends to punish China for the outbreak.

According to the Financial Times, US President Donald Trump has suggested that imposing trade tariffs on China could be one way in which this might be done.

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The US consulate in Wuhan had closed in late January after China imposed a strict lockdown as the virus began to spread, and the US brought its diplomatic staff – as well as citizens – home on chartered flights.

Wuhan’s lockdown ended on April 8, SCMP reports, with most cases in recent weeks involving people bringing coming from overseas.

Yesterday, China declared a total of 3 new Covid-19 cases, worldometer reports, though the most recent data has shown an increase to 11.

In the midst of the coronavirus tensions, the Trump administration is also weighing up a range of options it might use to punish China over its controversial moves in Hong Kong, according to Reuters.

These could include sanctions, tariffs, and more restrictions on Chinese companies, the agency adds.

It’s in response to plans approved by Beijing to impose national security measures on the semi-autonomous region that have sparked international criticism.

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