Support Science, Reject Politics

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Stakeholder Opinion

Ambassador Zhang Ming. [Mission of China to the EU]

The rapid spread of Delta variant around the world makes it all the more necessary to understand the origin, transmission and evolution of COVID-19, so as to enhance mankind’s ability to respond to future major health emergencies.

Zhang Ming is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary and Head of Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union.

The thing is, however, there is a rising tendency to politicize origin tracing of the virus and use it as an instrument. As members of the global community, we should say no to this move as it undermines global cooperation in fighting the pandemic and impedes origin tracing itself.

China always supports and actively participates in tracing the origin of the virus and commits itself to contributing to mankind’s efforts in defeating the pandemic. In January last year, China reported the pandemic to WHO at the earliest time possible, shared the genome sequence of the virus and took the lead in cooperating with WHO to identify the origin of the virus.

Over the past year or so, China has invited WHO experts to China twice for origin tracing. Early this year, authoritative experts from 10 countries, including the United States, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, formed a joint expert team with their Chinese counterparts and conducted a 28-day joint study in China. During this period, they jointly analyzed data, conducted field trips, paid visits and had exchange of views to keep building science-based consensus.

On 30 March, the China-WHO joint mission report was officially published. WHO and international experts participating in the joint study highly appreciated China’s openness and transparency.

However, some politicians in certain countries are not satisfied with the scientific conclusions of the report, one of which is that the lab-leak of the virus is extremely unlikely. They ignored the common sense of science and went on to direct the intelligence service to report on COVID origins within 90 days.

Having the intelligence service involved in origin trace is obviously not targeting the virus from the natural world, but making up misleading conclusions. With political manipulation, they have also been trying to coerce and pressure scientists into supporting the “lab-leak theory”. They even pushed the WHO Secretariat to propose the work plan on the second phase of origin tracing without the unanimous consent of member states, attempting to overturn and distort the joint study report.

By politicizing origin tracing, their real purpose is not to identify the source of the virus, but to shift the blame and presume guilt on certain countries and races. Such practice not only goes against science-based origin tracing, but also neglects the lives of their people. Worse still, it has poisoned the atmosphere of global cooperation in fighting the pandemic. There is no shortage of such precedents in history.

That’s why many countries, organizations and people of insight stand out, expressing their strong concern about and opposition to this malicious move. So far, more than 70 countries supported the China-WHO joint study report by writing letters to WHO Director-General, issuing statements or sending notes. Over 300 political parties, social organizations and think tanks from 100-plus countries and regions submitted a joint statement to the WHO Secretariat, calling for objective and impartial global origin tracing, and firmly opposing politicizing this issue.

Just last month, in a joint statement titled “Science, not speculation, is essential to determine how SARS-CoV-2 reached humans” published on The Lancet, 24 world-renowned medical experts affirmed that suggestions of a lab-leak source of the pandemic remain without scientifically validated evidence. On 25 August, 11 international experts from the China-WHO joint mission wrote an article on Nature, further explaining the reasons for the conclusions of their study and emphasizing the importance of global tracing along the most likely pathways based on data and evidence.

There is a growing consensus among the scientific community that to find out how a pandemic started is a very complex process and to obtain objective and fair results, it must be left to scientists and subject to the laws of science.

These rational voices by the global community should be heard and taken seriously. Future global origin tracing work should be based on the conclusions and recommendations in the China-WHO joint study report, which is widely recognized by the international and scientific community. The WHO Secretariat should consult with member states on the work plan and follow-up mechanism for global tracing work, and fully respect the views of member states, according to WHA resolutions.

Origin tracing plan involving the country concerned should be determined after consultation, as it provides the basis for effective cooperation to be conducted. It’s especially important to note that origin tracing requires global cooperation, and no country should politicize this scientific issue for the sake of its own political agenda.

Europe is the cradle of modern science. China is ready to work with the EU and its member states to follow a scientific attitude, support and participate in global cooperation on origin tracing, and maintain its scientific and serious nature. By doing so, we will contribute our share to mankind’s efforts in defeating the pandemic and building a global community of health for all.

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