CHINA / SOCIETY
Exclusive: Chinese expert 'surprised' by WHO’s announcement of release date of COVID-19 joint study report, worried about political pressure undermining previous consensus
Worry that politics undermines consensus on COVID-19 joint study report
Published: Mar 20, 2021 08:00 AM
WHO Photo:VCG

WHO Photo:VCG



Chinese experts from the WHO-China joint experts' team were not notified about the release this week of the full report on the study of COVID-19's origins before the the announcement was made by a WHO official on March 16, which was "quite surprising," as such work should be conducted on the basis of direct communication between Chinese and foreign experts, a Chinese expert from the team told the Global Times exclusively on Saturday.

During communications with the foreign experts, the Chinese experts noticed palpable "political pressure" on the international experts, and therefore the Chinese side was concerned that the final report may deviate from the previous consensus, the expert said.

"I was quite surprised by this announcement," the Chinese expert, who preferred not to be identified, told the Global Times.

Work on the report should be conducted on the basis of direct communication between Chinese and foreign experts, and yet Chinese experts had received no relevant information, the expert said. Instead, a WHO official went public with the announcement of the report's possible release. 

Since the WHO team of foreign experts arrived in China in January to study the origins of COVID-19, the Chinese and international experts established good working and personal relations, with both sides cooperating smoothly toward positive results and a broad consensus, the Chinese expert said. 

Time constraints prevented them from finishing the writing of a full report, but a consensus was reached on the report abstract's major findings, conclusions and future work suggestions for joint study, all of which were unveiled at a joint press conference conducted by the team on February 9 in Wuhan. 

Peter Ben Embarek (center) talks with Liang Wannian (left) and Marion Koopmans (right) after a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in Central China's Hubei Province on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Peter Ben Embarek (center) talks with Liang Wannian (left) and Marion Koopmans (right) after a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in Central China's Hubei Province. Photo: AFP

The Chinese expert said that the two sides agreed that experts from both China and the WHO would continue to write the full text of the report based on the previous consensus, but a full draft report in English was not sent to China until March 17, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian confirmed on Friday.

The report has around 300 pages and has no Chinese version, Zhao said.

In communication with the foreign experts, "we can feel that international experts are facing political pressure from some quarters," the expert said. "So there seems to be a reason for the delayed report beyond scientific research."

The Chinese side doesn't know "exactly who is putting pressure on the international experts," he said. "It could be from several countries. We're concerned that the final report may deviate from the previous consensus."

Such a divergence would be greatly disrespectful to the efforts of the joint experts' team as well as the spirit of scientific endeavor, the expert said. 

It would also undermine global research on tracking the virus' origins, he said. 

"Tracing the virus' origins is a matter of science, which should not and cannot subject to political interference," the expert said. 

"Chinese and foreign scientists are disgusted by politicized acts," he said.

Lead Chinese scientist of WHO joint team addresses key issues ahead of joint report release Graphic: Xu Zihe/GT

Lead Chinese scientist of WHO joint team addresses key issues ahead of joint report release Graphic: Xu Zihe/GT



Zhao said at a routine press conference on Friday that China immediately checked with relevant parties when the WHO official announced that the report on tracing the origins of the virus would be released next week. 

"To my knowledge, Chinese experts received an English version of the report from WHO experts on March 17, totaling around 300 pages," Zhao said. "As we speak, there is no Chinese version available yet."

WHO was reportedly working on the translation, Zhao said. "Whether the report will be released next week depends on the discussions between Chinese and foreign experts," he said. 

Tracing the virus origins was never a simple task and required long-term joint efforts by scientists, Liang Wannian, team leader of the Chinese side of the WHO-China joint expert team, told the Global Times previously in an exclusive interview. 

"At the beginning of this research, we established principles of 'four togetherness,' meaning we plan together, undertake fieldwork together, draft the report together and release publications together," Liang said.

Liang previously predicted a possible delay to the report's release, citing the lengthy contents. "As scientists, we want to present a complete, rigorous and scientific report at the maximum level, so this process takes some time," he said.

Liang believes that some politicians and media "have insisted on politicizing the scientific issue of tracing the sources of COVID-19, regardless of scientific facts, for their own personal gain, arbitrarily misinterpreting the scientific findings and reports of our joint team, which is a huge disrespect to the work of our scientists."


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