More intl voices opposing US politicizing virus origins probe
Online petition calling for investigation of Fort Detrick lab garners 13m signatures
Published: Jul 26, 2021 08:35 PM Updated: Jul 27, 2021 12:21 AM
Play Dirty. Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Play Dirty. Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Politicians, media outlets and experts from more countries are choosing to stand against the US' politicization of the coronavirus origins probe and slammed the country's refusal to open Fort Detrick lab to investigation. Analysts expected more countries and people to follow suit, as they see the US selfish deeds of putting politics over science as hobbling international efforts to tackle the COVID-19 surge.

At a Monday briefing, Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave multiple examples of foreign media and experts lashing out at the US for putting politics over science, including Hamdan Shakeel, senior editor of Maldives News Network, who published an article last week suggesting that Western countries are politicizing the search for the source of the coronavirus, which means it is distorting facts and imposing responsibility on China.

The spokesperson revealed that the world has seen through the US' attempt to shift attention away from its bungled approach to COVID-19 and blame China, and urged the US to invite WHO experts to probe the Fort Detrick biolab and "give the world the truth."

More rational voices criticizing US attitude on COVID-19 origins tracing investigation emerged in the international community recently. Anil Sooklal, a deputy director-general at South Africa's Department of International Relations and Cooperation, told the Xinhua News Agency earlier this month that countries must refrain from using the tracing of the origins of COVID-19 to score cheap political points. 

"What is important is that COVID-19 should not be used for political point scoring exercises, which is what is happening at the present time," said the official, while applauding China's cooperation in tracing the origins of COVID-19.

Herman Tiu Laurel, a columnist, proposed on Philippine media outlet Sovereign PH on Friday an online petition to be signed by netizens for the WHO to look into the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.

"While China has shown it has nothing to hide by opening the city of Wuhan, its suspected market epicenter, and its virology institute to the WHO international team, the US is not only uninviting but is aggressively applying 'weapons of mass distraction' and smoke-screening Fort Detrick from questions by steering attention back to China with the false narrative of a 'Wuhan lab-leak' conspiracy theory," the columnist added.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, also wrote on Thursday an article in which he urged international cooperation to deal with the pandemic, instead of blaming or acquitting some countries. 

With many parts of the world overwhelmed by the COVID-19 surge, the US' politicization of virus origins tracing has seriously hobbled scientific research on this issue, which is why countries still ravaged by the pandemic have vented their anger against the politicization of the probe, Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times.

He said that more countries and more scientists will stand up and voice their indignation if Washington continues to play the blame game on the coronavirus origins probe and keep Fort Detrick biolab shrouded in secrecy. 

A source close to the China-WHO joint expert team told the Global Times that the trend of politics leading science is "unlikely to result in useful results. It will also significantly delay the next steps, making tracing even more difficult." He said that eventually everyone stands to lose because politicization of this issue. 

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

To date, nearly 60 countries have sent letters to the WHO, agreeing with the results of the first phase of origin-tracing research and opposing the attempt to politicize the study of the origins, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday while meeting the press with Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto. 

The coronavirus needs origin-tracing, and so does the political virus, said Wang.

"Yet the US, long being obsessed with hegemony, and the one that has forced international organizations to probe others, is unlikely to change its attitude because of the international petition," said Li, noting that the US refusal to subject itself to a WHO virus origins probe exposes its hypocrisy and condescension.

Standing up for truth

Before the international community began opposing politicization of the virus origins investigation, Chinese people have taken actions to have their voices heard.

An online petition demanding that the WHO investigate the Fort Detrick lab launched on July 17 has garnered 13 million signatures among Chinese netizens as of press time. 

However, the petition was attacked by multiple US IP addresses Saturday night as the number of signatures approached 10 million. Responding to the cyberattack, Zhao Lijian said that the US owes Chinese netizens an explanation on why it remains silent on opening the Fort Detrick lab for investigation and why it launched a cyberattack against the online petition.

The US is ignoring a request from 13 million Chinese people, and deliberately dodging questions on the Fort Detrick lab, Zhao remarked. "The US presents itself as 'transparent,' where is your transparency now?" 

About a week ago, the US together with its allies accused China of launching large-scale cyberattacks against Western countries. But the cyberattack from the US on the petition has exposed its double-standards on the issue of cybersecurity and exposed the US as a threat to cybersecurity, Zhao continued. 

Chinese observers said the strong appeal shows that Chinese people will not stop questioning the American lab until the US gives a reasonable explanation, and they also urged the WHO to truly play its coordinating role based on science and objectivity rather than becoming a political tool of the US. 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, outlined a plan recently for a second investigation in China of the origins of coronavirus, including a proposal for "audits of relevant laboratories and research institutions operating in the area of the initial human cases identified in December 2019." The proposal was rejected by Zeng Yixin, China's vice minister of the National Health Commission, saying it "disregards common sense and defies science."

The recent steps Tedros has taken are likely to lead to months being lost in the scientific study to understand the origins of coronavirus, said the anonymous source, noting that it seems political agendas have been put at a higher priority than science. 

Lei Ruipeng, an expert at the School of Philosophy and Center for Bioethics at the Wuhan-based Huazhong University of Science and Technology, and a member of the WHO Ethics and COVID-19 Working Group, told the Global Times that virus origins tracing is complex work that requires international cooperation. China has taken the lead and opened the country for a WHO investigation. It would be unfair and unjust to only focus on China while other countries, such as the US and Italy where the epidemic is severe and suspicious cases had been reported before the pandemic emerged, still refused to cooperate.

Lei said that the WHO second-stage plan has deviated from the roadmap and distorted the key point of the virus origins tracing work by politicizing the issue.