“No matter the external pressure or coercion, we will always have Australia’s back, just as Australia has always had ours.”
The bipartisan group includes Republican Senator Marco Rubio, Republican House member Liz Cheney and the co-chairs of the Friends of Australia caucus, Democrat Joe Courtney and Republican Mike Gallagher.
In late April China’s Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye warned that Chinese consumers could boycott Australian products and universities if the country keeps pushing for an investigation into the origins of the outbreak.
“Maybe the ordinary people will say ‘Why should we drink Australian wine? Eat Australian beef?'” Cheng said in an interview with The Australian Financial Review.
Describing the Cheng’s comments as “deeply disturbing and thinly-disguised threats of retaliation”, the group of lawmakers said: “We unequivocally oppose this behaviour and strongly support Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s rejection of ‘any suggestion that economic coercion is an appropriate response to a call for such an assessment’.”
Other signatories include Democratic senators Chris Coons and Robert Menendez and Republican senators Cory Gardner and Ron Johnson.
The group said they “could not agree more” with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Maryse Payne’s calls for an independent investigation into the origins of the pandemic.
“Given the tremendous toll COVID-19 has taken on the world, it is only natural that Australia – like all nations concerned with upholding best practices for global public health – would want an objective, scientific, evidence-based and rigorous investigation into the origins of the virus,” they wrote.
“For more than a century, our nations have stood side by side during moments of great peril. The current crisis is no different. Although the challenges we face are new, what has not changed is our shared commitment to our values and to our friends.”
Sinodinos said: “We welcome the strong affirmation from the US Congress of the alliance between our two countries and support for an independent objective examination of the pandemic to provide lessons for the future.”
Morrison has said that Australia will push for an international investigation at the annual meeting of the World Health Assembly on May 17.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said there was “enormous evidence” to support the theory that the virus came from a Wuhan laboratory but later said that there was “no certainty” about how it originated.
Separately, US House Republicans have formed a taskforce to investigate China’s role in the spread of the virus.
“China’s cover-up directly led to this crisis,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said.
“It follows the same threatening pattern of behaviour we have seen from the Chinese Communist Party for years, something that has long been a bipartisan consensus in Washington.”
Matthew Knott is North America correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.