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Romney says U.S. must counter ‘sinister’ Chinese propaganda about coronavirus

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, heads into a Republican policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 19, 2020.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and two other Republicans asked the president Monday to create a National Security Council task force to counter the Chinese government’s “sinister propaganda” about the origins of the coronavirus.

“The Chinese Communist Party is manipulating facts surrounding a global pandemic that originated due to their own incompetence. While the rest of the world scrambles to clean up the CCP’s mess, they continue to seek geopolitical advantage and undermine the U.S. at every turn,” according to a letter the senators wrote to President Donald Trump.

Romney, Sen. Cory Gardner, of Colorado, and Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, say it’s critical that the U.S. fight back.

Trump has repeatedly referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” Critics say the term is racist and fosters discrimination. The president told reporters last week that it’s not racist as it comes from China, and he wants to be accurate.

On Monday, Trump expressed support for Asian Americans.

“It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world,” the president tweeted. “They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!”

Early last December, people in Wuhan, China, started experiencing symptoms of what is now known as COVID-19. The new virus has proved highly infectious and in four months since discovery has become a global pandemic and a crisis in the U.S., the senators wrote.

Despite early indications that the virus was comparable to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, the Chinese government made concerted efforts to “obfuscate and downplay” information that would have been critical for the health of their citizens and later the world, according to the letter.

The senators say that tactic, in addition to being a “despicable exploitation” of a global emergency, threatens to undermine the worldwide coordination necessary to combat the coronavirus.

“Now that COVID-19 has spread rapidly around the globe, the CCP and its officials have the audacity to spread disingenuous claims that the United States is responsible for this pandemic,” the senators wrote. “This is not simply dishonest, it is dangerous.”

The task force should include representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services among others, the letter said.

The senators said the group should focus on producing a paper on the origins of COVID-19 and Chinese Communist Party efforts to conceal its seriousness, provide government employees and U.S. embassies guidance on messaging to counter false narratives, and brief Congress on its efforts.