WHO expert team is tracing origins, not Sherlock Holmes mystery: Global Times editorial
Published: Mar 31, 2021 03:23 PM
An exterior view of the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Xinhua

An exterior view of the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Xinhua

The US, ganging up with 13 other countries including the UK, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Denmark and Israel, released a joint statement on Tuesday expressing their "shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China." They called for "a swift, effective, transparent, science-based, and independent process for international evaluations of such outbreaks of unknown origin in the future."

It is a consistent manner of the US to presume that China is guilty. This joint statement was apparently drafted by the US, then sent to 13 countries that Washington can best manipulate to endorse it. However, countries which are gravely impacted by the coronavirus, such as Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, did not participate in endorsing this statement. Although the EU criticized that the origin study had begun too late, it called the study "an important first step."

The statement by the US and 13 other countries is undoubtedly piling political pressure on the efforts to trace the origins of the pandemic. This will add heavier geopolitical burdens to scientific research in the future. Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO official who led the four-week mission of international experts to China in January and February, said on Tuesday that the team felt political pressure, including from outside China. But he said he was never pressed to remove anything from its final report, according to Reuters. His words clearly showed to the international community that Beijing has not interfered with the drafting of the report. The pressure is from outside of China.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus apparently has suffered the greatest pressure. He said during the Tuesday press conference that although "a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation." He also said he expected "future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing." He was appeasing Washington. The US has forced the leader of this international organization to be politically sensitive and to walk a tightrope between science and politics. 

The US has been doing the worst job in the global pandemic fight. It not only has been jealous of and attacked China's excellent response to the pandemic, but it has also exerted pressure on WHO. Washington is rude. It has torn down all kinds of common sense about public health and humiliated science with politics. 

It's well known that tracing the origins of the pandemic is a complicated and difficult task. It's a gradual process to recognize the pandemic and the early prevention work was uneven. Looking back, we cannot recover all the clues and circumstances at the early stages of the pandemic. A clear road map of backward reasoning exists only in the political imagination of presumption of guilt. 

The US has long concluded that the coronavirus was leaked from a virus laboratory in Wuhan. It has thus demanded that the WHO trace the trajectory of the virus from the West back to the Wuhan lab through "independent investigation."

It is in this very regard that the WHO report made no progress. Instead, it characterized the hypothesis as "extremely unlikely." Scientifically speaking, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack, thus the report offended Washington. 

The WHO expert team came to China to investigate, of course, with the cooperation and assistance of Chinese experts. How could they go to any country without the cooperation of local experts? Without the help of Chinese experts to provide clues and raw data, foreign experts, even if they are of a high caliber, won't know what to do. It is ridiculous that the US asks WHO to trace the origins of the virus like how Sherlock Holmes might do, as if it is in a detective story. 

The WHO investigation in Wuhan is indeed just an important first step. We anticipate a second and a third step. But a serious and fair tracing effort should obviously not just focus on Wuhan, as early cases of the virus emerged all over the world. These cases provide more clues that such tracing efforts should not ignore. WHO should look to those clues before further investigating the situation in Wuhan. That is the proper logic of scientific research.

We hope that the US, where the pandemic has been the most severe and where the cold flu season was extremely severe in 2019, will allow investigation and cooperate actively with tracing efforts. As the US has made great contributions to modern science, the country does not lack scientific imagination and a spirit of exploration. What they lack now is a moral order in which science can still overwhelm political purposes.

What we are worrying now is: As the epidemic has recently rebounds in the US, the current US administration may resume the Trump administration's crooked strategy of blaming China to divert the focus of US public sentiments by hyping up the issue of tracing the origins of the coronavirus. 

We have to point out that China was the first to discover and curb the spread of the coronavirus. Moreover, China contained the epidemic the fastest. If the US cannot face facts and learn from China's experience with an open mind, but instead make the Chinese the target of political attacks, then this will be the ideological and psychological starting point for the US' decline.

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