According to the White House, US President Joe Biden raised the probe into the origins of COVID-19 with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a phone call on Thursday.
“They did discuss a range of trans-national concerns, including COVID-19, and understanding its origins is, of course, a fundamental priority for this administration,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday. “It was brought up, but I’m not going to go into further detail.”
Biden vowed last month to press China for answers over the origins of a pandemic that has now killed 4.8 million people worldwide. Intelligence agencies said they could not resolve a debate over whether the virus emerged from a Chinese research laboratory without Beijing’s help.
Beijing denies the U.S. accusation that it has not cooperated with the pandemic source investigation.
Thursday’s 90-minute call was the first talks for the two leaders’ first in seven months amid cool relations between the countries.
A U.S. official who spoke to Reuters on Thursday said Biden had not planned to raise the prospect of U.S. retaliatory action or “costs” if China refused to cooperate on the investigation or a range of other issues.
For his part, Xi told Biden that the two countries should respect each other’s core concerns and properly manage differences, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.
According to the source, Xi suggested to Biden that the countries maintain contact and dialogue, as well as cooperate on topics such as pandemic prevention and control, economic recovery, and important international and regional challenges such as climate change.
Psaki described the call as respectful and candid, rather than lecturing or patronising, with the goal of maintaining communication channels open between the countries.
Climate change and human rights were among the themes discussed, she added, adding that while economic issues were discussed, they were “not a large component” of the discussion.
“It wasn’t a call that was intended to produce final outcomes,” according to Psaki.