Russia and China are taking advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to further their interests in Europe, the US defense secretary said Monday.
Mark Esper's remarks came during an interview with Italian daily La Stampa when asked whether Beijing and Moscow represent a security risk by sending aid to a NATO country, Italy.
"We remain mindful that some may seek to use the pandemic and resulting economic challenges we all face as an opening to invest in critical industries and infrastructure, which in turn may affect long-term security," Esper said. "I have reiterated that all aid offered by each country should be of quality materials and free of strings and interference."
He stressed that during last week's NATO Defense Ministers' virtual meeting it is reaffirmed that "potential adversaries will almost certainly look to exploit this situation to further their own interests and try to sow division in the Alliance and in Europe."
"Together with our NATO Allies we will take meaningful steps to ensure the health crisis does not turn into a security crisis," he added.
Esper reiterated his call for Russia and China to be transparent with information during the pandemic.
"I would also recommend their donations to other countries be of quality and come without strings," he said.
Both China and Russia have sent medical equipment and personnel to Italy, the epicenter of Europe.
Recently, the US held China responsible for the coronavirus outbreak. State Secretary Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the US has "enormous evidence" indicating the coronavirus pandemic began in a lab in Wuhan, China, contrary to Beijing's denials.
After originated in China last December, the virus has spread to 187 countries and infected more than 3.5 million people and killed nearly 250,000. [Source: Anadolu Agency]