by H E Wei Hongtian, Chinese Ambassador to Grenada
The Covid-19 pandemic is a global health crisis unseen in a century, which has brought unbearable death tolls and wreaked havoc in the world economy since its outbreak.
With a variety of vaccines currently available around the world and the governments’ determination in pushing forward inoculation relentlessly, it is a common aspiration of the international community that the spread of the virus will eventually be curbed.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, China has openly and actively attended the global origin-tracing bid of the Covid-19 in the spirit of science and has been a firm supporter of World Health Organisation (WHO) and multilateralism with its deeds. China has twice invited WHO experts to do research in China. A WHO-China joint expert group visited China’s Wuhan, place where the confirmed cases was first reported, during which the experts went to all the places they wanted to go, met all the people they wanted to meet, and drew a thorough and rigorous conclusion on the likelihood of different possible pathways for the introduction of the virus in the report “WHO-convened global study of origins of SARS-CoV-2: China part” (namely the phase 1 study) released on March 30 this year:
- Direct zoonotic spillover is considered to be a possible-to-likely pathway
- Introduction through an intermediate host is considered to be a likely-to-very-likely pathway
- Introduction through cold food chain products is considered to be a possible pathway
- Introduction through a laboratory incident is considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway
The report also made recommendations on searching for possible early cases on a global scale, identifying the zoonotic source of the virus and studying the possibility of cold-chain transmission. China firmly holds that the origin-tracing is a serious matter of science and opposes politicising the issue — the authority and objectivity of both China and WHO experts guarantees that the phase 1 report will stand the test of science and time.
However, venomous political factors have unfortunately creeped into science. As continuous efforts are being made to beef up the process of origin — tracing of the coronavirus, a “second phase origin tracing study plan of Covid-19” circulated by the secretariat of WHO on 15 July last month, to our regrets, showed disrespect for common sense and arrogance toward science, as the WHO, before publishing this plan, failed to call for input or seek the views and recommendations from its member states and simply listed the hypothesis that China’s breach of laboratory protocols caused the virus to leak as one of the research priorities. This disorientation caught China and the world by surprise and frustration, since it defied the conclusion of the first-phase origin tracing.
On this account, the step taken by the WHO backwards is, in effect, disturbing and baffling — people are thus forced to suspect that this organisation, which should take an impartial position, is under surreptitious but compelling pressure that pushes it around. To find out where it comes from, just look at which major country re-entered the WHO recently after an ignominious quit when the world need unity most in combating the pandemic, which major country vehemently calls for more unduly investigation into China and ignorantly upholds the “lab leak” theory, and which major country sustained a heavy loss in the pandemic due to government abdication and desperately needs a scapegoat. A deadly political virus needs origin-tracing, too.
Stating further exploration on the hypothesis of China’s laboratory incident due to the unreasonable pontification by a certain individual country is dangerous and illegitimate. Politicising virus origin-tracing is detrimental to global efforts.
The politicisation blocks the path towards the truth and lead the research process towards a wrong direction. China insists that the phase 2 origin tracing study of Covid-19 should be carried on the solid basis of the phase 1 study. Studies that has already been conducted in the first phase, especially those with clear conclusions, should not be included in the second phase so as to avoid repetitiveness. That said, in the next step, the WHO should follow the resolution WHA73.1, promote origin tracing research on searching early cases, molecular epidemiology, and introduction of animal hosts in multiple countries and regions based on adequate and extensive consultations with member state. The phase 2 study should be totally evidence-based and science-driven so that it will be more likely to find the virus origin with practical and scientific international cooperation on origin tracing research.
The politicisation disrupts international anti-pandemic cooperation. At present, the pandemic has not yet been effectively controlled around the world, and the variants of the virus are cropping up in many countries, which could be hazardous. China has shouldered on its responsibility as a major country and provided substantial support, including vaccines, to other countries and WHO to combat the pandemic. As of 4 August, China has provided 770 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to over 100 countries and international organisations. At the first meeting of the International Forum on Covid-19 Vaccine Cooperation on 5 August, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in a written message that China would strive to provide 2 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses to the world throughout this year and offer $100 million to COVAX. The cooperation between China and Grenada in confronting the pandemic is also noticeable, as 6 batches of medical supplies has been donated to Grenada by China, which conduced to Grenada’s efforts in containing the spread of the virus. The substance of international unity cannot be overestimated — thus China calls for WHO to enhance the solidarity among member states instead of stoking conflict; pool the efforts of all parties including scientists to make controlling the pandemic as the top priority, and further promote access to COVAX at a quicker pace so as to save people’s lives all over the world. International exchanges and cooperation on origin tracing research should be further enhanced. If everyone is pointing fingers at each other and shifting blames, how could any problem be addressed?
The politicisation flies in the face of the majority of the international community. A small group of countries always purport to be the representative of the globe, which turns out to be a farce. It has become an academic consensus that the Covid-19 virus evolved in nature. In 5 July, 24 leading experts from around the world published an article again in The Lancet medical journal, noting that the coronavirus Chinese lab leak theory remains without scientifically validated evidence. On 7 July, scientists from the US, the UK and Australia released a preprint paper in Zenodo, a research data sharing platform in Europe, in which they wrote, “There is currently no evidence that Covid-19 has a laboratory origin. There is no evidence that any early cases had any connection to the WIV (Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory), …nor evidence that the WIV possessed or worked on a progenitor of Covid-19 prior to the pandemic.” Up to now, more than 70 countries, have co-singed a letter to the Director General of WHO on recognising the results of the phase 1 research and opposing the plot of politicisation of the tracing, while more than 300 political parties, organisations and think tanks from over 100 countries and regions has issued a similar statement. The voice of justice deserves respect.
To take precautions against its repetitive resurgence in the future, the origin-tracing is an indispensable work — for scientists instead of for politicians — so as to understand the evolvement of the virus and mete a comprehensive defeat out to it, but not leverage this process to make baseless accusations and seek political mileage. Time for that certain country and the anti-China element it fosters to back off from spreading mayhem. China is ready to work with all countries with a sense of righteousness, Grenada included, to jointly shield the tracing from political manipulation and secure a positive atmosphere for global anti-pandemic collaboration. It is a common aspiration of the world to fathom the origin of the virus, so please allow scientists to have their way.