European governments struggling with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic are hardening their positions toward China as suspicions grow over the level of transparency in the coronavirus’s country of origin.
French President Emmanuel Macron accused Beijing of not being upfront over its handling of the epidemic, while in the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plans to involve Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co. in the nation’s next-generation mobile network may fall prey to mounting opposition.
The European Union’s position on China has been relatively measured, but leaders are beginning to call for a more thorough examination of its activities amid accusations Beijing has covered up the true scale of the epidemic. American intelligence officials are said to have concluded that China concealed the extent of its outbreak and under-reported the number of cases and deaths.
China on Friday revised its official death count from the coronavirus, adding some 1,290 fatalities from the city of Wuhan. The government pushed back against accusations of a cover-up, with Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian saying that revisions were common practice and that China “has done nothing that should be criticized.”
The strain was also set to stoke one of the key flash points of Chinese-EU relations: the presence of Huawei in European fifth-generation networks and suspicion that Beijing could exploit it for potential sabotage or espionage.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has spent her tenure cultivating relations with the key trade partner, has been more cautious over any accusations against China. But German officials have warned about Beijing exploiting the crisis in the west and stepping into power vacuums as nations turn inward to slow the spread.