On August 16, 2021, Ambassador Cong Peiwu published a signed article titled “Virus Origin-tracing Should Not Be Turned into a Tool for Political Manipulation” on The Hill Times. Here is the full text:
Virus Origin-tracing Should Not Be Turned into a Tool for Political Manipulation
At present, the COVID-19 is still ravaging the world. Virus variation and vaccination have become the main issues of concern. Meanwhile, the origin tracing of COVID-19 also deserves our attention. A better understanding of the source of the virus will allow us to make proactive efforts to prevent similar pandemics from happening again. So origin tracing is a serious scientific matter, and should not be manipulated by politics. It should rely mainly on scientists, and conduct evidence-based scientific research.
Origin-tracing studies in the past indicate that research only on the region where cases were first reported is not enough. For instance, the first AIDS/HIV cases were observed in the US in the 1980s. But later many scientists found that it was very likely that HIV crossed from animals to humans in the early 20th century in Africa. Now more and more reports have pointed to separate COVID-19 outbreaks in multiple places in the world in the latter half of 2019. According to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, a research has shown that evidence of infection in five US states appeared back in December 2019. In a November 2020 paper, Italian researchers noted that samples that tested positive for the coronavirus antibodies suggest that it is likely that infection could well happen in September 2019. All these prove that it is fully necessary to make systemic studies of origin tracing in multiple regions and multiple orientations around the globe.
China has always participated in international origin-tracing cooperation with an open attitude. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China has taken the lead in cooperating with the WHO on origin-tracing, and has twice invited WHO experts to China for joint research on origin-tracing. Early this year, 17 international experts from ten countries including the US, UK, Japan and Australia came to China. All selected by the WHO independently, they worked together with their Chinese colleagues and conducted joint research for 28 days in Wuhan. The experts went to all the places they wanted to go, met all the people they wanted to meet, reached a scientific conclusion in the joint WHO-China study report that a laboratory leak is extremely unlikely, and recommended conducting further research around earlier cases globally.
For some time, certain US politicians have been gearing up political manipulation with regard to origin-tracing. From openly calling the virus “Wuhan virus” last year to peddling intelligence-led origin-tracing, these politicians have been trying to politicize the pandemic, stigmatize the virus, and use origin-tracing as a tool. Pamela Bjorkman, a professor of biology at California Institute of Technology, explained why she co-signed an open letter to Science calling for investigation into the lab leak theory. She thought “the letter would have the effect of promoting more funding for searching for natural viruses in animal reservoirs” and “did not anticipate that the letter would be used to promote the lab origin hypothesis”. Looking back, she felt she had acted “perhaps naively”.
Last month, the WHO Secretariat unilaterally proposed a plan for the second phase of study into the origins of COVID-19. This plan lists the hypothesis that China’s breach of laboratory protocols caused the virus to leak as one of the research priorities. It is not only inconsistent with the requirements of the 73rd World Health Assembly resolution, but also ignores the conclusions and recommendations of the first-stage joint research report. The findings and recommendations of the WHO-China joint study report are widely recognized by the international community and scientists, and must be respected and implemented by all parties, including WHO. The future work of global origin-tracing should and must proceed from that basis, instead of reinventing the wheel. More than 70 countries have expressed opposition to politicization of origin-tracing and support of the joint WHO-China study report by writing letters to the WHO Director-General, issuing statements and sending notes.
China is willing to uphold an open, transparent, scientific and cooperative spirit to support and participate in global origin-tracing cooperation, including actively implementing the relevant work recommendations in the joint WHO-China study report and conducting further follow-up research concerning China recommended in the report. Meanwhile, we hope that the WHO can adhere to the spirit of science, professionalism and objectivity, work with the international community to jointly resist the retrogressive trend of politicizing the issue of origin-tracing, proactively and properly conduct sustained investigations into the origin of the virus in multiple countries and regions around the globe and safeguard a sound atmosphere for global anti-epidemic cooperation.