Chinese FM suspects US exerting pressure on WHO-China virus origins report
Published: Mar 29, 2021 09:01 PM
Liang Wannian (L) and Peter Ben Embarek, both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands at the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 9, 2021. Photo:Xinhua

Liang Wannian (L) and Peter Ben Embarek, both members of the WHO-China joint study team, shake hands at the WHO-China joint study press conference in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 9, 2021. Photo:Xinhua

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday questioned whether the US is exerting pressure on international experts from the WHO-China joint team on tracing virus origins, as the US has repeatedly expressed "concerns" about the joint report ahead of its release.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken showed his concerns about the "methodology and the process" behind the report and claimed "China apparently helped the WHO write the report."

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at Monday's routine press briefing that China will never accept the groundless accusations and wanton smear of China. 

"As we have said many times, China was the first to report the epidemic to the WHO, the first to release key information such as the gene sequence of the novel coronavirus, and the first to release the diagnosis, treatment and control plans. Authorities in Wuhan [Central China's Hubei Province] received the first suspected case report on December 27, 2019, and on January 3, 2020, China began to regularly inform the US of the epidemic information and prevention measures," Zhao said. "Since then, China has kept the US informed and the two sides have maintained close communication, which the US is aware of."

"The US kept showing its 'concerns' over the report. Is it attempting to exert political pressure on WHO experts?" Zhao asked. "Please ask the experts which parts of the report the Chinese government helped them to write. Does China's facilitation on traceability research also a behind-the-scenes manipulation?"

When will the US be as open and transparent as China when it comes to the epidemic and tracing its origins? When will the WHO experts be invited to the US to carry out the traceability research? When will the Fort Detrick lab be open to international experts for visit, investigation and study? Zhao asked. 

For almost a week, Chinese experts from the WHO-China joint team have been revealing updates about the highly anticipated full report of the field studies about a month ago in Wuhan. 

In a briefing with dozens of diplomats from 50 countries and two regional organizations on March 26 at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Feng Zijian, Deputy Director-General of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China's CDC) who is also a member of the WHO-China joint team, talked about major findings and the detailed work of the joint team from January to February in Wuhan, and made major recommendations for the next phase of the origins-tracing studies.

However, a Chinese expert from the team told the Global Times previously that during communications with the foreign experts, the Chinese experts noticed palpable "political pressure" from certain foreign countries on the international experts, and the Chinese side was concerned that the final report may deviate from the previous consensus. 

The Chinese expert said that the two sides agreed that experts from China and the WHO would continue to write the full text of the report based on the previous consensus. 

Zhao said at a routine press conference on March 19 that China immediately checked with relevant parties when a WHO official announced that the report on tracing the origins of the virus would be released "next week." Chinese experts received an English version of the report from WHO experts on March 17, totaling around 300 pages, without a Chinese version, Zhao said. 

The WHO was reportedly working on the translation, he said.

Tracing the virus origins is never a simple task and requires 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 in an exclusive interview.

Liang previously predicted a possible delay to the report's release, citing the lengthy content. "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 Western 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."