Hong Kong CNN  — 

After weeks of facing fierce attacks from Republicans, top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci now has a new critic: Chinese state media.

“US elites degenerate further in morality, and Fauci is one of them,” was the headline of a blistering opinion piece penned by Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times this week.

In the article Hu accused the top US infectious disease expert of “fanning a huge lie against China” by hyping the theory that the coronavirus was leaked from a Wuhan lab. Another article in the Global Times declared that Fauci had “betrayed Chinese scientists.”

The anger is centered on Fauci’s remarks this month that he is no longer convinced the Covid-19 pandemic originated naturally.

“I think we should continue to investigate what went on in China until we continue to find out to the best of our ability what happened,” said the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at a fact-checking symposium on May 11.

The comments appear to be a shift from Fauci’s earlier view that the disease likely was the result of animal to human transmission.

Fauci’s comments were followed by a Wall Street Journal exclusive, citing a US intelligence report, that said three researchers from the Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care — a revelation that, if true, could add weight to growing calls for further investigation into whether the coronavirus may have escaped from the Chinese lab.

Unsurprisingly, China has vehemently refuted the report, echoing its repeated dismissal of any allegations that link the origin of the virus to the lab. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the report was “totally inconsistent with the facts” and a director at the lab called the report “a complete lie.”

In the meantime, Chinese state media has lashed out at Fauci, saying he has joined an “opinion war against China.”

The attack on Fauci is an about-face from the positive portrayal of him in earlier coverage. Last year, as Fauci repeatedly spoke out against the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic, Chinese state media published glowing reports praising the scientist for his professionalism and courage to speak the truth.

Fauci has since attempted to clarify his remarks. On Tuesday, he told CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang that his opinion about the origins of Covid-19 have not changed and still believes that its origin in nature is “highly likely.”

“Since no one is 100% sure, he’s open to a thorough investigation. Dr. Fauci said that does not mean he believes the virus first emerged in a lab, as some have suggested,” Jiang wrote on Twitter.

Whether that will redeem his image in China, however, remains unclear.

Around Asia

Business of China

John Cena says he’s sorry, China.

The “F9” star has professed his love for the world’s largest movie market after he called Taiwan a “country” during an interview with a Taiwanese broadcaster. Cena was promoting the ninth installment of the popular “Fast & Furious” franchise.

“Taiwan is the first country that can watch F9,” Cena told the broadcaster in Mandarin. Taiwan is a self-governed democratic island, but China claims it as its sovereign territory despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war over 70 years ago. Beijing has been increasingly trying to use its economic power to police speech on the topic around the world.

Cena on Tuesday apologized on Weibo, China’s popular Twitter-like social media platform. Speaking again in Mandarin, he didn’t refer to Taiwan by name or discuss the incident in detail, but he did say that he “did a lot of interviews” and “made a mistake.”

“I must say now, [it’s] very, very, very, very important [that] I love, and respect even more, China and the Chinese people,” Cena said.

The episode is a sign of how mindful business in general – and Hollywood, in particular – has become about political sensitivities in China. The “Fast & Furious” franchise has traditionally been well-received by Chinese audiences, and “F9” took in nearly $136 million in the country over the weekend.

– By Jill Disis

Tiger trouble

Two zookeepers have been killed by tigers this week at separate zoos in China, according to state media.

On Sunday, a 55-year-old man in Bengbu, in Anhui province, was mauled to death after entering a Siberian tiger enclosure to clean it, state media reported.

Then on Tuesday, two tigers escaped their enclosure after killing a keeper, surnamed Jia, at a park in central China’s Henan province, and were shot dead, according to state media.

The animals mauled Jia while he was feeding them at Danjiang Peacock Valley, a small tourist attraction in Xichuan County, to the west of Nanyang City. Jia was hospitalized and later died of his injuries.

The tiger attacks come weeks after three leopards escaped a park in Hangzhou, which neglected to tell local residents for a week. Two of the leopards were caught but one remains on the loose.

While zoos in big cities are increasingly on par with some in the West, smaller parks and attractions elsewhere in the country have been criticized in the past for animal cruelty, poor safety or misleading advertising.