WASHINGTON — As the world fights its way through a pandemic and flash recession, Sen. Ted Cruz is warning that Saudi Arabia and China have each misbehaved in ways that should make the United States wary — and may even lead to conflict.
In the Saudi case, he accused the kingdom of trying to kill off Texas oil producers by flooding the market.
“If you want to behave like our enemy, we’ll treat you like our enemy,” he said.
As for China, Cruz asserted that the new coronavirus that has swept the globe may have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, rather than emerging from an exotic meat market nearby. It’s a theory with no supporting evidence, but one the Texas Republican refuses to rule out unless China comes clean on its research programs.
“There needs to be accountability. There needs to be a reckoning — assessing what exactly was China’s culpability,” he said.
Cruz cited China’s well-documented initial cover as reason for suspicion, and asserted that threats to cut off medical supplies could amount to an act of war.
Aides prepared a video showing the senator raising questions about China’s efforts to suppress information about the coronavirus before the crisis spread to other countries.
“We’ve seen official outlets of the Chinese government threatening, in the midst of escalating tensions with China, to cut off vital medicines to the United States. That’s not just economic warfare. That’s actual warfare that would cost American lives. If you deny people lifesaving medication, that would be the Chinese government very directly killing American citizens,” Cruz said. “It is the height of foolishness for us to allow American citizens to be vulnerable to that sort of Chinese aggression.”
Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, he said, the United States must take steps to ensure a supply of critical medical supplies that doesn’t hinge on China’s goodwill, including antibiotics, and drugs to treat high blood pressure and heart conditions.
Cruz made the comments in a conversation Friday by phone from his home in Houston.
A week earlier, he joined President Donald Trump at the White House for a meeting with oil executives to discuss the plunge in the market, driven by a price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia and the near collapse in worldwide demand.
Few people are driving, factories are idled and airlines have all but grounded their fleets.
On Thursday, the group of oil producers known as OPEC+ agreed to a massive 10 million barrel-a-day production cut. Saudi Arabia and Russia would account for half. Mexico balked, refusing to accept its allotted rollback of 400,000 barrels.
To get Mexico on board, Trump promised to cut U.S. production enough for Mexico to reduce output by only 100,000 barrels per day.
“The United States will help Mexico along,” he said Friday afternoon. “There’s a tremendous glut of oil” and “we want to keep those jobs” in Texas, North Dakota and other states. “We will be reimbursed in some form, sometime in the future.”
Cruz welcomed the pending deal, with no hard feelings toward Mexico for holding out.
“The promises have been good, but it will depend upon actual delivery,” he said. “It wasn’t Mexico that launched this economic assault on U.S. producers. It was Russia and Saudi Arabia … who sought to exploit this pandemic.”
Several weeks ago, he and a number of other senators from oil and gas states spoke with the Saudi ambassador, expressing their dismay on a call that Cruz described as the most “bare-knuckled” conversation he ever participated in with a foreign official.
“The Saudi’s defense was `But Russia. But Russia.’ And in my response to the ambassador, I said Russia is our enemy. We know that they behave like our enemy and we treat them like our enemy. You’re supposed to be our damn friend [yet] you’re waging economic warfare against jobs in Texas, and you can’t have it both ways.”
Cruz acknowledged that there is no proof that the new coronavirus escaped from a lab but “we do know the first major outbreak was in Wuhan, China,” and within a few miles of the so-called “wet market” where the outbreak began, two labs were studying coronaviruses of the type found in bats sold as food at the market.
“We know the same family of viruses was being studied at those labs. If this exact virus was being studied at those labs, that raises the obvious follow-up question. Did the virus accidentally escape? Did somebody not follow safety protocols?” Cruz said.
“I’m not stating as a fact that occurred. I’m saying, any reasonable investigation would ask,” he said. “If you think of the hundreds of thousands of cities across the planet, it didn’t occur in any of those others. It occurred within miles of where they were studying coronaviruses from bats. That demands accountability” and congressional inquiry.
“The Chinese government wants nobody to know what was being researched in this lab” and it “aggressively covered up and hid the Wuhan outbreak” and tried to silence medical experts who sounded an alarm.
“There is a very real possibility that we could have stopped this outbreak” and averted the huge cost in lives and jobs worldwide,” he said.
Whatever the Chinese missteps, Cruz also agreed that the Trump administration could have been faster and more effective once public health experts spotted the looming crisis by early January.
Trump downplayed the problem for weeks, insisting the epidemic would not affect the United States.
“Of course the federal government should have done more, and given the scope of this catastrophe, I expect every government believes now they should have done more.” But he added, Trump deserves credit for largely banning travel from China on Jan. 31, despite an uproar at the time.
“I think history has vindicated the president’s judgment,” he said.