Not too long ago, former US President Donald Trump poked fun at China about the origins of COVID-19.
Trump mockingly took every opportunity to ridicule the Chinese about the marauding global pandemic as a disaster of their making, almost by choice or through negligence.
He sarcastically referred to COVID-19 as “China Virus”, much to the glee of the millions of his supporters including some prominent sections of the US mainstream media.
Through it all, Beijing maintained a quiet dignity and never once stooped to the same lowest level to ridicule Trump or America back.
Instead, the Chinese government focused their energy on fighting the rapidly spreading killer disease, developing vaccines not only for China, but for the world.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans were sadly losing their lives to COVID-19, which the Trump administration vividly undermined and took a rather lackadaisical approach towards the need to declare the wearing of face masks in public mandatory.
And then, Democrat Joe Biden ascended to the Oval Office with a markedly different attitude and foreign policy stance to the one displayed by his predecessor. He put shoulder to the wheel and made war on COVID-19 a national priority.
President Biden also accelerated the vaccine regime, and millions of Americans are today vaccinated and much insulated against the COVID-19 onslaught than during Trump’s cantankerous four years in the White House.
However, the sad reality about the Biden administration is that it carried on with some of President Trump’s ludicrous focus points, including investigation into validating unsubstantiated Washington-driven claims that COVID-19 originated in China’s Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, through a leak in the laboratory.
In May last year the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted a resolution that was co-sponsored by more than 140 countries including China on COVID-19 response. The resolution called on the World Health Organisation (WHO) to cooperate with all parties “to identify zoonotic source of the virus, the possible role of intermediate hosts and the transmission routes”.
Speaking at the 73rd WHA, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave assurance that China will continue supporting research by scientists “on the origins and transmission routes of the virus”.
From January 14 to February 10 this year, Beijing invited WHO experts twice to visit China to conduct research on “the tracing of COVID-19 origins and jointly formulated the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the China part.
Between January and February – following coordination between China and WHO, leading experts from 10 countries including the US, UK, Japan and Australia formed a joint WHO-China Study Team. They immediately conducted “a 28-day joint research in China on the origins of SARS-CoV-2”. Together, the team analysed raw data, undertook field work and carried out interviews of curious interest.
Some of the field trips took place at institutions including the Hubei Provincial Centre for Disease Control, the Wuhan Centre for Disease Control and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The team also visited biosafety laboratories and, according to the Chinese government, “had in-depth and candid exchanges” with experts there.
A Chinese government statement reads: “China did a lot of administrative, technical, logistic and supporting work for the joint study. China offered the joint expert team every convenience, arranged a rich itinerary with many site visits and presented item by item raw data of particular concern.”
On March 30, the WHO released a report of the joint WHO-China study of origins of SARS-CoV-2, which had analysed the “four means of transmission”. The report was authored by more than 30 top global experts in various relevant fields and was premised on science-based approach. The report particularly drew clear, unequivocal conclusions. Notably, the report found that “the lab leak is extremely unlikely”. The report put forward suggestions such as to continue to look for “more possible early cases in a wider range around the globe” and to “further understand the role of cold chain and frozen food in virus transmission”.
The joint WHO-China Study Team agreed to recognise the scientific findings in the report. Respecting and upholding the findings was to serve as the basis for the next phase of global origin-tracing.
But China is enraged that although American participation formed part of the study group, Washington has elected to continue casting aspersions on the authenticity of the report.
“Regrettably, the US government has once again sought to play up the issue of origin-tracing. This whole thing is turning into a political farce,” the Chinese government complained, before adding: “Since the outbreak, the US has been bent on going down the road of politisization, stigmatization and ideological framing.”
After the release of the report in February, Washington stated that the joint report lacks credibility, claiming that some team members have conflict of interest due to their previous cooperation with Beijing. The US maintains that the report lacks credibility.
As a result, President Biden in May ordered US intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of COVID-19 and to submit the final report with clear conclusions within 90 days.
Now, the US has every right to question report. But is morally incorrect, in my opinion, for the US politicise science-based collaborative work featuring more than 30 experts from more than 10 countries working under the auspices of the WHO. Origin-tracing must not be politicised.
Back from the cold after former President Trump ditched the WHO, the US now seem determined to mix geopolitics with cooperation on global origin-tracing. As things stand, Washington’s frosty bilateral relations with Beijing – characterised by tit-for-tat tariffs imposition on goods and services, is poisoning the grand atmosphere of multilateral cooperation.
Origin-tracing is a scientific matter that requires international cooperation of scientists across the globe.
The fact that President Biden has instructed his intelligence services to conduct a scientific research must worry the WHO and the rest of the world. After 90 days when the negative report against China is placed on his desk, President Biden is likely to do what Washington does all the time with impunity – unilaterally imposing economic sanctions against China and coercing the rest of the world to toe the line.
But unfortunately, in a rapidly-globalising world where countries have become inter-dependent, China’s economy is the much-needed oxygen for most of the developed as well as the developing world. Unilateral sanctions by Washington against China will fail dismally and likely to hurt the US economy itself.
COVID-19 is not a discriminatory pandemic. It affects everyone and every nation. Global cooperation to enhance access to vaccines for all nations is what the international community should do under the leadership of the WHO. Playing politics based on selfish national interests is no good for humanity. Otherwise, the world will not find time and space to cooperate in advance against the future pandemics or other disasters.
Global anti-pandemic cooperation must be bolstered instead of being compromised by politics.