As reported on Arirang TV and in (more clear detail) on Taiwan News

Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) asked World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to suppress news about the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the German intelligence agency BND found, according to a report by German magazine Der Spiegel.

During a conversation on Jan. 21, Xi reportedly asked Tedros not to announce that the virus could be transmitted between humans and to delay any declaration of a coronavirus pandemic.

Also reported in the Indian Express, which unlike Taiwan News also contains a rebuttal from the WHO, at least regarding the phone call:

The German news outlet, Der Spiegel, published a report citing intelligence from the country’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as the ‘Bundesnachrichtendienst’ (BND), that China “urged” the WHO to “delay a global warning” about the coronavirus outbreak. As per the report, the intelligence found that Xi and Tedros spoke by phone on January 21 during which the Chinese President “urged” the WHO chief to “hold back information about a human-to-human transmission and to delay a pandemic warning.” “The BND estimates that China’s information policy lost four to six weeks to fight the virus worldwide,” the report further added.

The WHO, on its part, called the claims “unfounded and untrue.” In a series of tweets, the WHO clarified that there was never a phone call between chief Tedros and Xi Jinping.

There seem to be some such articles on Der Spiegel, but they're all in German. So did the BND level this accusation? I'm a bit suspicious because of the lack of coverage in e.g. DW and other English-language media (besides those from South Korea, Taiwan and India. In contrast, what I could find on CNBC about what the BND supposedly said was pretty different, albeit it might be a different story, not necessarily contradicting the one about China and the WHO.)

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    This appears to be the original Speigel article: spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/… the translation seems reasonably okay. The Spiegel does not cite or reference any sources that can be followed up on.
    – Hilmar
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 18:52
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    I found more coverage now, NY Post, Telegraph, Daily Mail but none have anything more in depth (as far as the sourcing) than saying Der Spiegel attributed this to the BND. Commented May 11, 2020 at 19:34

2 Answers 2


The German magazine Der Spiegel has in between posted a follow-up article with a denial from WHO.

The original article published on May 8th contains a paragraph stating that BND (the German Federal Intelligence Service) has knowledge about a phone call on January 21st between Xi Jinping, President of China and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO in which Xi allegedly tried to convince WHO to withhold information.

It is not explained in detail in the article how Der Spiegel got access to this information. The way it is written, the article makes the impression that they are citing from non-public information, probably from someone with access to confidential material.

In a follow-up article published on May 10th, Der Spiegel recited a denial from WHO. Xi and Tedros have, according to WHO, never spoken on the phone. My remark: Unless Der Spiegel is leaving out details from the WHO's response, WHO is only disputing that Xi and Tedros have spoken on the phone, not that Chinese authorities have tried to influence WHO.

So, there are no signs of BND having made any accusations in public. Der Spiegel does not name a specific source, neither in the original nor in the follow-up article. Unless someone here knows about BND internals, I doubt that you will get a better answer.

  • I'm guessing this might be a difference in German vs English-language journalistic standards. Something like Der Spiegel reported probably comes from some confidential source inside the BND, and it might not be the agency's position or even found in some official (albeit secret) note. Something like that would be reported as "officials who declined to identified because they were not authorised to speak on the agency behalf" in English-language press. Or if it's a document, "internal/classified documents seen by <publication name>" would be a usual sentence in English-language press. Commented May 12, 2020 at 19:22
  • Also of some interest, "An internal memo prepared for Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer "classifies the American claims as a calculated attempt to distract" from Washington's own failings, Der Spiegel reported. [...] A defence ministry spokesman declined to confirm the existence of the memo when contacted by AFP." But at least in that case the (alleged) source of the info was made more clear. Commented May 12, 2020 at 19:30
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    I think the first sentence of the second paragraph is the crucial one: "Nach Informationen des SPIEGEL hat der Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) […]" ("According to information of Der SPIEGEL, the Federal Intelligence Service has […]") While not very explicit, this basically says "We do have information" and implicitly makes it clear that they cannot divulge the source. Note that Der SPIEGEL is generally regarded as a reputable magazine, so the base assumption is usually that they have reliable sources, and that the fact that they don't name them simply means they are protecting them. Commented May 14, 2020 at 9:27
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    It is at least imaginable (although not very likely) that even stating whether the source is a leaked document or an off-the-record official might already endanger the source. On a personal note, as someone who watches a lot of US TV, both fiction and non-fiction, the whole "unnamed source" thing always seemed alien to me. In Germany, you would usually either name the source, or if you don't name one, it is assumed to be a confidential one. (Although that depends a bit on the reputation, e.g. a similar article in the BILD-Zeitung would probably be seen as a fabrication.) Commented May 14, 2020 at 9:29

The article of the Spiegel is primarily about the BND asking the Five Eyes about whether they evidence of the thesis of the Trump administration that Sars-Cov-2 escaped from a Chinese lab.

Then the article says that they didn't provide the BND didn't get evidence from the Trump administration that convinced them of the thesis of COVID-19 escaping a Chinese lab and that this is written down in a confidential government document.

Then the article switches to speaking about the phone call between Xi Jinping and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus without specifying how they know.

Given the context the likely scenario is that the BND asked for evidence for the lab escape theory and got no evidence for that but did get evidence from the Five Eyes about the phone call that they found convincing.

When information that the Five Eyes give the BND leak to the press that's bad for the BND because it makes it less likely that the Five Eyes give the BND information in the future that they want to be kept secret. Someone likely gave gave the Spiegel the report on the condition that they don't explicitly write that the BND leaked information it got from the Five Eyes to the press. Given that having the story out in a German paper was in the interest of the US administration, it's likely that they weren't too angry about the information getting leaked but there's still the principle.

The Spiegel journalist then likely accept that a condition to get information from the BND is that they are not writing that the BND got the information from another intelligence service. Given the way the article it's not hard for any careful reader to deduce what happens.

Having the article in this form then has the additional effect that the Indian Express doesn't write, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel, the CIA told the BND, that there was a phone call.

A New York Times journalist on the other hand who reads the Der Spiegel article on the other hand can deduce that CIA told the BND which told Der Spiegel is what happened. They can't write that because the article doesn't say that explicitly. They also don't want to mislead their readers by writing "BND told Der Spiegel", so they write no story.

The New York Times journalist likely also knows that this procedure is a way the US intelligence community gets stories into the press without the press writing that the story comes from the US intelligence community. Especially, given that the New York Times was critical of the Trump administration it didn't want to write the story in a way that suggests that an accusation against China which originates from the US intelligence community/Trump administration is written about in a way that doesn't let the New York Times reader know where it comes from.

  • This answer seems to only add your personal speculation without providing any new information. While this trail of events appears possible, there could also be other sources for the information and/or motivations for leaking it.
    – Hulk
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 12:46
  • @Hulk : It's analysis but I think it's better to have it then only have an answer that represents the facts out of context.
    – Christian
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 17:37

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