US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the group of seven powers had gathered to oppose China's coronavirus "disinformation", but European allies emphasized cooperation to fight the global pandemic.
Foreign ministers from the major industrialized democracies talked about the crisis by video conference, scrapping a meeting scheduled in Pittsburgh, but any hope of showing a common front was eroded by the lack of a common statement.
Pompeo, a sharp critic of Beijing who has gone on the offensive over what he calls the "Wuhan virus", said he shared a common view with the top diplomats of the other G7 countries – the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
"All the nations that attended that meeting this morning were deeply aware of the disinformation campaign that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in trying to divert from what has really taken place," Pompeo told reporters.
Pompeo said China "has been and continues to be engaged in" a social media campaign that has included conspiracy theories about US involvement.
"This is crazy talk," he said.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman angered President Donald Trump's administration by suggesting on Twitter that US troops brought the virus to Wuhan, the metropolis where it was first discovered late last year.
A foreign ministry spokesman said Thursday that China condemned Pompeo's comments, including his use of the term "Wuhan virus".
"This American politician opposes the international consensus and continues to stigmatize China, lubricates China's efforts, tries to use this to shift attention and guilt with extremely malicious intent," Geng Shuang said at a news conference Thursday.
The virus has killed more than 21,000 people worldwide, but Beijing appears to be bringing it under control and has sent aid overseas – including 40 tonnes of medical supplies to the US ally Italy, which has the world's highest death toll.
On Wednesday, Pompeo minimized China's efforts, pointing to a US Air Force cargo delivery service to Italy as well as private US charitable efforts.
China now sells "little sales of products around the world and claims that they are now the white hat in what has taken place," Pompeo said.
But he also said that the United States was seeking cooperation, including with China. The leaders of the two countries will attend a virtual summit of the crisis on Thursday in the group of 20 major economies.
"We desperately want to work with all countries around the world. This is a global pandemic," Pompeo said.
– France warns not to "exploit" crisis –
German magazine Der Spiegel, citing anonymous diplomats, said the joint statement was mocked by Pompeo's insistence on using the term "Wuhan virus" – a phrase wrinkled by medical professionals saying it is stigmatizing.
Pompeo did not deny the report when asked about it, saying that each minister would talk separately, but that they had a "common understanding" of the health and economic crisis caused by the "Wuhan virus."
France and Germany sent statements about the G7 talks that did not mention China. Canada said China was raised in "broader discussions."
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian "stressed the need to combat any attempt to exploit the crisis for political purposes," the statement said, probably a veiled response to Pompeo.
Le Drian "expressed the view that in order to effectively combat the pandemic, the devices of everyone must now take precedence over other considerations," it states.
France asked G7 to find ways to help Africa, warning that both the continent's health care and economies were ill-equipped for the global crisis.
Pompeo has accused China of endangering the world by first suppressing news about the virus. Beijing, for its part, has accused the Trump administration of seeking a scapegoat for its own mistakes.