Chinese official blocks Republican lawmaker on Twitter after blasting coronavirus conspiracy theory

dchoi@businessinsider.com (David Choi)
President Donald Trump is greeted by Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, R-Ind., left, and Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., second from right, as he arrives at Indianapolis International Airport in Indianapolis, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, to speak at the 91st Annual Future Farmers of America Convention and Expo.

Andrew Harnik/AP

  • Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana was blocked on Twitter by a senior Chinese official who claimed the coronavirus pandemic was "brought" by the US military into Wuhan, China.
  • Neither Banks nor Zhao previously tweeted to each other.
  • "He's going out of his way to target politicians that are generally critical of China," Banks said in a message to Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana was blocked on Twitter by a senior Chinese official who claimed the coronavirus pandemic was "brought" by the US military into Wuhan, China.

"I've been blocked by [Lijian Zhao], a [Communist Party of China] foreign minister in China's Dept of 'Information' who claims that the #Wuhan coronavirus originated in the US," Banks said on Twitter.

"China's 'information' official tells blatant lies, gets questioned, then immediately reverts to censorship. Too perfect," he added.

On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao suggested without evidence that the US Army "brought the epidemic to Wuhan."

"When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals," Zhao questioned on Twitter.

"Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation," Zhao added in his tweet.

Neither Banks nor Zhao previously tweeted to each other.

"I've never interacted with Lijian Zhao on Twitter," Banks said in a message to Insider. "He's going out of his way to target politicians that are generally critical of China."

"The conspiracy theory he's peddling is extremely hostile behavior by a high-level communist official," he added. "Does President Xi condone this behavior? The entire episode underlines the need for the United States to distance ourselves from China and its economy as quickly as possible."

China is one of the leading countries that trades the most with the US, along with Canada and Mexico.

Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the US, was summoned to the US State Department on Friday, after Zhao's posted his tweets.

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Getty Images / Thomas Peter-Pool

Officials from both countries levied allegations on the virus's origins in recent weeks, as the World Health Organization upgraded its classification to a pandemic. Republican Rep. Tom Cotton of Arkansas on Thursday said he was looking into holding China "accountable" for the coronavirus after saying earlier in February that he was not ruling out the possibility that it may have been developed in a Chinese "superlaboratory."

Both Banks and Cotton have been longtime China hawks and have suggested Beijing had not been as forthcoming about the number of infections to downplay the seriousness of the epidemic. Chinese officials have been accused of lowering the number of cases and tamping down on reports for months, before the virus's spread was formally acknowledged by the government.

Chinese health authorities widely deduced that the coronavirus originated from a wildlife market in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. The officials, in addition to their US counterparts, have been sharing their data over their cases since, according to President Donald Trump.

"We all know where it came from," Trump said in a press conference on Friday afternoon, referring to a phone conversation he had with Chinese President Xi Jinping in February.

Nearly 120,000 people have been infected so far and over 4,290 people have died, the majority of cases stemming from China. The US has had over 1,629 cases and 41 deaths as of Friday afternoon, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

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