The Defence Secretary spoke at a news conference at the Pentagon on Monday. Mr Esper has claimed that Chinese efforts to promote Huawei mobile phone networks are malign.
He said to newspaper La Stampa: “(The United States) is aware that some (countries) will try to use the pandemic as a way to invest in critical industry and infrastructure, with effect on security in the long term.
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“Potential opponents will almost certainly try to use their interest to put their interests forward and create divisions in NATO and Europe.
“Huawei and 5G are an important example of this malign activity by China.”
The United States has advised countries to boycott Huawei, the world’s biggest maker of telecoms equipment, in setting up new 5G mobile phone networks, and also to scrutinise gear from another Chinese firm, ZTE.
Washington says the equipment could be used by China to spy on communications.
Esper said: “Dependence on Chinese suppliers could make crucial systems vulnerable to interruption, manipulation and espionage.
“This would put at risk our capacity to communicate and to share intelligence.”
Huawei and ZTE deny their gear poses a security threat.
Both China and Russia have offered support to Italy, sending doctors, medical equipment and face masks to the country which was the first in Europe to be hit hard by the outbreak.
Russia’s assistance, including army medical staff, drew attention to the limited support Italy received from the European Union, and EU and NATO diplomats and officials have seen it as a geopolitical move.
Russia has also sent aid to the US as their number of cases began drastically climbing, billing the country $660,000 for the supplies.
US President Donald Trump said of the offer: “He (Putin) offered a lot of medical, high-quality stuff that I accepted.
“And that may save a lot of lives.”
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Esper’s comments come as some US officials have place the blame for the pandemic on China.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday Washington had evidence the disease emerged from a Chinese lab, which Beijing strongly denies.
Trump has previously claimed that China’s handling of the pandemic is proof that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose his re-election bid in November and told Reuters he was considering different forms of retaliation.
The Washington Post reported that high-level meetings were under way in the White House to discuss options, including suing for compensation, which would involve stripping China of “sovereign immunity” or cancelling debt obligations to China.
The US President has also been incredibly outspoken in his defence of his administrations handling of the crisis.
Trump said: “The President of the United States calls the shots.”
Total US cases of coronavirus has reached 1,211,745.
The countries death toll has reached 69,703 as of Monday evening.
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