China Attacks W.H.O. Director Again for Urging Wuhan Lab Probe

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), addresses the media during a press conference at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020 on the situation regarding to the new coronavirus. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday attacked World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus for urging further investigation into the possibility that a laboratory leak in Wuhan was the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is very eager to shut down all discussion of that possibility and has previously attacked Tedros and others who have suggested the lab leak hypothesis remains a viable one.

W.H.O.’s controversial report on its visit to Wuhan did not “rule out” the lab leak hypothesis, despite some commentary to that effect from members of the research team. Instead, it classified laboratory release as less likely than transmission from animals to humans, either in the wild or through an intermediate species traded at a food market.

Critics of the report said the Chinese government had far too much influence over its preparation, especially the laughably cursory and long-delayed “inspections” of Wuhan’s three virus laboratories. W.H.O. investigators were required to accept some dubious conclusions from Chinese political operatives and scientists instead of reviewing the data for themselves. 

Tedros backpedaled from the report almost immediately after its release, saying he did not believe “this assessment was extensive enough” and saying the origins of the coronavirus merit “further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.”

“Let me say clearly that as far as W.H.O. is concerned all hypotheses remain on the table,” Tedros stated in late March.

Chinese state media on Tuesday attacked Tedros for those weeks-old comments, trotting out an “anonymous Chinese expert” who ostensibly worked with the W.H.O. team who visited Wuhan to declare himself “surprised and unsatisfied” by the “extremely irresponsible” remarks from the W.H.O. director.

China’s state-run Global Times quoted the anonymous expert suggesting Tedros had taken leave of his senses, or perhaps become a paid agent of anti-China forces:

The expert told the Hubei Daily that he was unclear how the head of the WHO read and interpreted the report, which was done on the basis of a large number of scientific facts and of the consensus reached by Chinese and foreign scientists.

From the beginning, the lab leak theory was a baseless argument, which has been the consensus for global scientists, the expert told the paper. 

“Some forces with ulterior motives are challenging the authority of and science behind the joint report, based on Tedros’ comment. Experts on the joint team are worried and unsatisfied. If the global virus origins tracing work is in stalemate, the WHO should bear the responsibility,” the expert told the Hubei Daily.

The anonymous Chinese source dismissed complaints about China refusing to let the W.H.O. team see raw data from Wuhan, insisting there was “no difference [between data] obtained by the Chinese experts and that obtained by their foreign counterparts” — a demonstrably and provably false assertion, so the Global Times rode to the rescue by quoting another Chinese scientist musing there is “no such thing as perfect data.”

The Global Times found yet “another expert from the team” who claimed the foreign W.H.O. investigators were under “palpable political pressure” during their visit to Wuhan, clumsily attempting to invert charges that the CCP had excessive political control over the joint project.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Wednesday quoted anonymously-sourced state media propaganda to chastise Tedros for saying the lab leak theory requires further investigation:

On March 30, the WHO released the origin-tracing study report of the China-WHO joint mission, drawing a clear conclusion that lab leak is extremely unlikely. The report was co-authored by more than 30 top global experts in various fields. It is widely representative and highly professional. The joint mission has been conducting its research and writing the report independently, following WHO procedures and adopting a science-based approach, thus the report is authoritative and scientific.

I would like to stress that China has been conducting joint origin-tracing study with the WHO at the request of the latter. A number of international experts have stated on various occasions that “lab leak is extremely unlikely” and that there is no such thing as difficulty in obtaining raw data. All parties should respect science and the opinions and conclusions of scientists. This is where the WHO, in particular, should play a leading role.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) noted Wednesday this “rare public display of discontent” illustrated China’s desire to bury the lab leak hypothesis while “leaving room not to bruise ties with the U.N. agency.”

“Beijing’s floating of views through unofficial channels and with anonymous sources is not an uncommon method,” the SCMP pointed out, quoting analysts who suspect the CCP wants to nudge W.H.O. away from the Wuhan laboratories without provoking a confrontation that could threaten China’s carefully cultivated image as a global health leader in the wake of the pandemic.

If nothing else, the sudden spate of Chinese criticism for Tedros clearly signals China will tolerate no further investigations of the Wuhan laboratories. Speaking through its “anonymous experts,” the CCP is clearly telling W.H.O. that keeping the laboratory leak hypothesis alive is a pointless waste of the organization’s political capital.

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