EXCLUSIVE: China Stonewalled US Offer of COVID-19 Assistance During Early Days of Pandemic, Emails Show

Three days after Beijing officially acknowledged a cluster of an unknown pneumonia disease in 2020, then-head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Robert Redfield asked his Chinese counterpart George Gao to get on the phone.“I’ve been trying to reach you and will try again in a few hours,” he wrote, according to emails obtained by The Epoch Times. It was Jan. 3, 2020. This would be the first of a series of efforts from the United States to engage with China and offer assistance over the next few weeks. “Unfortunately, that assistance wasn’t accepted by the Chinese government,” Redfield later recounted. “I think it could have made a big difference.” Redfield said he had “extensive discussions” with Gao in the early days of the pandemic and that a team of 20 people was ready to fly across the world. Gao personally refused the offers, citing a lack of authorization, according to one report. A review of the files The Epoch Times obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and the public statements offers another glimpse into how China was stonewalling the United States during the early days of the pandemic. All the while, the communist regime was suppressing information about the outbreak domestically when any health data would have been crucial to formulate a more effective COVID-19 containment strategy and minimize the disease’s global spread. The day after the call, Redfield wrote to Gao again reiterating the U.S. offer of assistance. “China has tremendous capacity in infectious diseases and outbreak investigation,” he wrote in an email on Jan. 4 with the subject line “Offer of Assistance.” “In the spirit of cooperation, I would like to offer CDC technical experts in laboratory and epidemiology of respiratory infectious diseases to assist you and China CDC in identification of this unknown and possibility novel pathogen.” Two days later, he followed up on the email, attaching a letter containing official U.S. Department of Health and Human Services letterhead to extend a formal invitation. “We look forward to continuing our close collaborations and stand ready to provide additional support,” he wrote in the covering email. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield testifies before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on a review of Coronavirus Response Efforts, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, on Sept. 16, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) None of the written correspondence appeared to receive a response. The request that obtained the emails had a date range of Dec. 1, 2019, to Feb. 1, 2020. Redfield and Gao did not respond to requests for comment. Then-U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar would later reveal that the Trump administration had been urging the Chinese authorities to let in American experts, to no avail. It was not until Jan. 29, 2020, that their repeated offers received an official acknowledgment, he said. “More cooperation and transparency are the most important steps you can take toward a more effective response,” Azar said during a briefing with reporters on Jan. 28, 2020, a day after he raised the subject again in a talk with China’s minister of health. Over a week later, nothing had changed. “At this point, it’s really a decision for the Chinese,” Azar said at a press conference in Washington on Feb. 7, 2020, seven days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global health emergency. “We are ready, willing, and able,” Azar added. “We are here to support the Chinese government, to help China with their response.” HHS Secretary Alex Azar speaks about the coronavirus while flanked by (L-R), Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn during a press briefing on the administration’s response to COVID-19 at the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in Washington on Feb. 25, 2020. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images) Ultimately, the United States and allies, during the early stages of the pandemic, made nearly 100 requests to ask for assistance or offer help, all of which were rejected by Chinese authorities, according to David Asher, the former lead COVID-19 investigator at the U.S. State Department. Chinese officials at the same time had been aggressively suppressing information inside China. While Redfield spoke with Gao in one of the calls, local police in Wuhan summoned Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, one of a string of Chinese medical professionals who tried to sound the alarm about the danger of a new pneumonia-like virus, and accused him of “rumor-mongering.” Li ended up passing away after contracting COVID-19 on Feb. 7, the same day Azar reiterated Washington’s readiness to provide on-the-ground help. The U.S. CDC had no access to direct

EXCLUSIVE: China Stonewalled US Offer of COVID-19 Assistance During Early Days of Pandemic, Emails Show

Three days after Beijing officially acknowledged a cluster of an unknown pneumonia disease in 2020, then-head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Robert Redfield asked his Chinese counterpart George Gao to get on the phone.

“I’ve been trying to reach you and will try again in a few hours,” he wrote, according to emails obtained by The Epoch Times. It was Jan. 3, 2020.

This would be the first of a series of efforts from the United States to engage with China and offer assistance over the next few weeks.

“Unfortunately, that assistance wasn’t accepted by the Chinese government,” Redfield later recounted. “I think it could have made a big difference.”

Redfield said he had “extensive discussions” with Gao in the early days of the pandemic and that a team of 20 people was ready to fly across the world.

Gao personally refused the offers, citing a lack of authorization, according to one report.

A review of the files The Epoch Times obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request and the public statements offers another glimpse into how China was stonewalling the United States during the early days of the pandemic. All the while, the communist regime was suppressing information about the outbreak domestically when any health data would have been crucial to formulate a more effective COVID-19 containment strategy and minimize the disease’s global spread.

The day after the call, Redfield wrote to Gao again reiterating the U.S. offer of assistance.

“China has tremendous capacity in infectious diseases and outbreak investigation,” he wrote in an email on Jan. 4 with the subject line “Offer of Assistance.”

“In the spirit of cooperation, I would like to offer CDC technical experts in laboratory and epidemiology of respiratory infectious diseases to assist you and China CDC in identification of this unknown and possibility novel pathogen.”

Two days later, he followed up on the email, attaching a letter containing official U.S. Department of Health and Human Services letterhead to extend a formal invitation.

“We look forward to continuing our close collaborations and stand ready to provide additional support,” he wrote in the covering email.

US-POLITICS-COVID 19-HEARING
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield testifies before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on a review of Coronavirus Response Efforts, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, on Sept. 16, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

None of the written correspondence appeared to receive a response. The request that obtained the emails had a date range of Dec. 1, 2019, to Feb. 1, 2020. Redfield and Gao did not respond to requests for comment.

Then-U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar would later reveal that the Trump administration had been urging the Chinese authorities to let in American experts, to no avail. It was not until Jan. 29, 2020, that their repeated offers received an official acknowledgment, he said.

“More cooperation and transparency are the most important steps you can take toward a more effective response,” Azar said during a briefing with reporters on Jan. 28, 2020, a day after he raised the subject again in a talk with China’s minister of health.

Over a week later, nothing had changed.

“At this point, it’s really a decision for the Chinese,” Azar said at a press conference in Washington on Feb. 7, 2020, seven days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a global health emergency. “We are ready, willing, and able,” Azar added. “We are here to support the Chinese government, to help China with their response.”

Epoch Times Photo
HHS Secretary Alex Azar speaks about the coronavirus while flanked by (L-R), Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Stephen Hahn during a press briefing on the administration’s response to COVID-19 at the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in Washington on Feb. 25, 2020. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Ultimately, the United States and allies, during the early stages of the pandemic, made nearly 100 requests to ask for assistance or offer help, all of which were rejected by Chinese authorities, according to David Asher, the former lead COVID-19 investigator at the U.S. State Department.

Chinese officials at the same time had been aggressively suppressing information inside China. While Redfield spoke with Gao in one of the calls, local police in Wuhan summoned Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, one of a string of Chinese medical professionals who tried to sound the alarm about the danger of a new pneumonia-like virus, and accused him of “rumor-mongering.”

Li ended up passing away after contracting COVID-19 on Feb. 7, the same day Azar reiterated Washington’s readiness to provide on-the-ground help.

The U.S. CDC had no access to direct data from China. More COVID-19 cases began emerging in America. No U.S. experts were invited on the WHO team that arrived in China on Feb. 10 that year.

A WHO probe into the virus origin eventually happened a year later, under mounting international pressure and the close supervision of Chinese researchers. Two U.S. scientists were on board, including Clifford Lane, deputy director at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It was the first time government-affiliated U.S. scientists were allowed into China since the COIVD-19 pandemic.

By that time, all viral traces had long been destroyed in Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, the site linked to the cases officials first identified. The WHO panel was similarly denied access to raw data on early cases.


China Reporter

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Eva Fu is a New York-based writer for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S.-China relations, religious freedom, and human rights. Contact Eva at [email protected]

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Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.