Presidential candidate Nikki Haley: Hold China accountable for COVID-19

By: and - March 10, 2023 6:06 pm

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, right, a GOP candidate for president, talked about U.S. foreign policy with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst at a Bastion Institute forum March 10, 2023. (Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley told Iowans Friday that China needs to be held accountable by the international community for the spread of COVID-19.

“I think we need to go and look at the damages, the financial damages that happened, the life loss that happened, and every country in the world needs to know and hold them accountable,” Haley said. “And they’ve yet to do that, and the U.S. should be leading the charge on that.”

She did not specify what accountability would look like but said that the U.S. should “call out” China for the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier in March, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Fox News the FBI believed the virus originated in a lab accident, likely from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The U.S. House Oversight Committee held a hearing Wednesday questioning health officials and reporters on whether the lab leak theory was dismissed unfairly. The House unanimously sent legislation to President Biden’s desk Friday requiring declassification of intelligence on COVID-19’s origins.

A 2021 study by the World Health Organization, which included Chinese researchers, determined that the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely.”

While other presidential hopefuls, including former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, are holding Iowa campaign events on education, Haley sat down with U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst Friday for a foreign policy forum. The event was hosted through the Bastion Institute, a conservative foreign policy organization. Haley discussed her Trump administration tenure as ambassador to the United Nations, calling the international organization “a farce.”

She said China is the United States’ biggest adversary, and America needs to step up and motivate its allies in organizations like the U.N. to hold the country accountable. Alongside questioning the spread of COVID-19, Haley brought up security concerns over the Chinese weather balloon shot down by the U.S. military in February and ongoing tensions with Taiwan.

One way the U.S. can deter China from taking military action against Taiwan is by showing strong support for Ukraine in defending against Russia’s invasion.

“China is watching what we do with Ukraine,” Haley said. “They’re watching who we’ve sanctioned, they’re watching what other countries are joining us. If they see us stay true on Ukraine with our allies, they will hold off on Taiwan.”

Advises sending equipment, not money, to Ukraine

Haley said she does not think the U.S. needs to put money or American troops into Ukraine, but said the country should work with its allies and supply equipment to the Ukrainian military. She criticized former President Barack Obama’s inaction on Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, as well as President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out of Afghanistan in 2021. These decisions “gave Putin the green light” on his current invasion, she said, and signaled weakness to America’s enemies — countries like North Korea and Iran.

One forum attendee shouted at Haley on stage, “Ukraine’s not our ally, why are we doing this?” before leaving. Haley said during her time at the U.N., Ukraine always sided with America. She said supporting Ukraine in its current fight isn’t about starting a war, but preventing future war.

“If we win this war, this will send a message to China, it’ll send a message to Iran. It’ll send a message to North Korea, it’ll send a message to Russia,” Haley said. “If we lose this war, we need to take dictators at their word. They said Poland and the Baltics are next, and you’re looking at a world war.”

U.S. needs stronger presence

Leanne Hessing of Pella said she agreed with Haley’s foreign policy platform, saying that America needs to be a stronger presence on the world stage. Hessing said she was looking at candidates like Haley and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was also in Iowa Friday, to support in the 2024 election.

Trump will be holding his own Iowa event Monday, speaking about education policy in Davenport. While she said she supported Trump in the past, she feared he could split the party in the upcoming election.

“I think he did right when he was president, but I don’t think that he could win again,” Hessing said. “I think we need somebody fresh and new.”

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom Network.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Cate Folsom
Cate Folsom

Editor-in-Chief Cate Folsom has more than 40 years of experience in daily journalism, spending the bulk of that time at the Omaha World-Herald. She worked in various roles, including features writer, copy editor, Washington Bureau reporter, assistant city editor, investigative team editor, metro-regional editor and editorial page editor.

Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. Robin has experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald, in addition to working on multimedia projects, newsletters and visualizations. They were a political reporter for the Des Moines Register covering the Iowa caucuses leading up to the 2020 presidential election, assisting with the Register's Iowa Poll, and reporting on Iowa's 4th District elections.