US slams China for ‘hacking’ vaccine research
The US has slammed the Chinese government for attempting to hack its research into a coronavirus vaccine.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Beijing to "cease this malicious activity".
"The United States condemns attempts by cyber actors and non-traditional collectors affiliated with the People's Republic of China (PRC) to steal US intellectual property and data related to COVID-19 research," Mr Pompeo said in a statement released Thursday, local time.
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday warned of the cyber espionage attempts on US scientists.
"The potential theft of this information jeopardises the delivery of secure, effective, and efficient treatment options," the statement from the FBI said.
Mr Pompeo said China's "behaviour in cyberspace is an extension of its counter-productive actions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic".
"While the United States and our allies and partners are co-ordinating a collective, transparent response to save lives, the PRC continues to silence scientists, journalists, and citizens, and to spread disinformation, which has exacerbated the dangers of this health crisis," Mr Pompeo said.
The cyber warning comes after China has been accused of covering-up the origin of the coronavirus and delaying warning the world it was contagious so they could stockpile medical supplies.
Australia and the US are among countries to call for an independent investigation into how COVID-19 spread from Wuhan to the world, infecting more than 4.3 million and killing 300,000 people.
Beijing on Thursday denied responsibility for the cyber attacks.
"China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to such smearing," said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
"Judging from past records, the US has carried out the largest cybertheft operations worldwide."
The coronavirus has plunged relations between Washington and China to new lows and saw US President Donald Trump hint this week at withdrawing from a recent trade deal.
"We got a lot of things going with China. We're not happy about China - I will tell you that," Mr Trump said Thursday morning local time at the White House.
"The ink wasn't dry on a great trade deal, and all of a sudden, the plague comes in from China. We're not happy about it."
MACRON MEETS WITH VACCINE PRODUCERS
French President Emmanuel Macron's top officials will meet with executives of pharmaceutical giant Sanofi early next week, his office said Thursday, after the firm's CEO said the United States would be the first recipient of a COVID-19 vaccine it is racing to develop.
"This vaccine must be a global public good, which is not submitted to market forces," the presidency said in a statement.
It comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin has met in the Kremlin with top Russian officials about genetic research and plans for Russia to launch three top research centres in the field of a coronavirus vaccine.
Rinat Maksyutov, the head of the Vektor State Virology and Biotechnology Centre, told Mr Putin at the meeting that research was ongoing on several potential vaccines against the coronavirus.
MOSCOW LAUNCHES IMMUNITY TESTS
The top secret lab complex in Siberia has developed six prototype vaccines and Mr Maksyutov told Mr Putin that "three promising ones" had been chosen for the next stage of preclinical studies.
He said he hoped to be able to register an experimental coronavirus vaccine in September.
"I am very much counting on your work being finished … and the registration of this vaccine against coronavirus being carried out in September," Mr Putin told Mr Maksyutov.
Mr Putin said the research centre needed to ensure its intellectual property rights on the vaccine.
It was unclear if he meant that a vaccine should be ready for use by September. The Vektor laboratory conducted secret biological weapons research in the Soviet era and stockpiles viruses ranging from ebola to smallpox.
U.S. HEADED FOR 'DARKEST WINTER' IN MODERN HISTORY
Meanwhile, in Washington, Dr. Rick Bright, a top U.S. immunologist who says he lost his government job because he warned the Trump administration to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic, told Congress the U.S. lacks a plan to produce and fairly distribute a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available.
"Our window of opportunity is closing," Dr. Bright said in his prepared testimony. "If we fail to develop a national co-ordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities."
Whistleblower Dr. Bright warned the U.S. lacks a plan to produce and fairly distribute a coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available.
Dr. Bright told a congressional panel the nation could face "the darkest winter in modern history" unless leaders act decisively.