The Covid-19 pandemic has become one of the deadliest in human history and is still evolving. As of June, it has reportedly infected nearly 180 million people and caused around 4 million deaths, or about 500 per million (the global population is estimated at 7.9 billion). Moreover, the pandemic has resulted in significant social and economic disruption globally and triggered political distrust and tensions among countries.
It is important to determine the origins of the virus that causes this respiratory disease, but the origin tracing should be a scientific issue rather than a geopolitical game.
First, the joint WHO-China investigation should be respected.
The virus was first publicly reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, but that did not necessarily mean China must be its origin. As we know, the first person with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) was identified in the United States in 1981, but scientists later traced the origin of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) back to chimpanzees and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in Africa.
On February 9 this year, the joint World Health Organization–China investigation team held a press conference to present the preliminary findings from its four-week field-trip study. The 319-page joint research report supported the natural-outbreak theory and said it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus was leaked from a Chinese lab.
It goes without saying that China strongly welcomed such conclusions, while those consistently claiming China as “the culprit” are not satisfied at all. However, if we cannot trust the WHO, the top and authoritative agency under the United Nations responsible for international public health, who else can we shall rely on?
Second, double-standard approaches should be discouraged.
Some unfriendly Western figures including former US president Donald Trump directly called Covid-19 the “China virus” or “Wuhan virus.” Applying the same logic, should not the swine flu (H1N1) virus be renamed as “America virus”?
The H1N1 virus was first detected in the United States in early 2009 and spread quickly across the country and the whole world, eventually resulting in 700 million to 1.4 billion infections or 11-21% of the total population on our planet. Should the world demand compensation from the United States?
Intentionally ignoring the result of the WHO probe, certain US politicians have repeatedly called for a reinvestigation. Washington has vowed that the United States and its allies will “work together” to “exercise the necessary pressure on China” amid the global tracing of Covid-19 origins, urging Beijing to be a “participant” and provide “transparent data and access.”
However, a recent study by the US National Institutes of Health suggests that Covid-19 could have been circulating in the United States as early as December 2019. Therefore, if a new worldwide tracing effort is indeed necessary, then the primary focus should be on the US instead of China.
In fact, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has publicly urged President Joe Biden’s administration to investigate America’s own biological laboratories, especially the army lab at Fort Detrick.
Third, cooperation rather than confrontation would be welcome.
Mislabeling Covid-19 as “China virus” or “Asia virus” has sadly led to xenophobic violence targeting Chinese and other Asian people in the US and other Western societies.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, and China has been transformed and progressing significantly under the CPC’s regime since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. However, distrust and hostility between the West and China persist.
Ideologically, many Western people are still frightened of the CPC; technically, most people in the West do not really comprehend the Chinese political system; culturally, some people deliberately misunderstand the Chinese nation and people.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has deepened such confrontation between the two sides, although this global crisis in fact offered a valuable opportunity for them to cooperate. Optimistically speaking, it is never too late to join hands, especially when the whole world is still suffering from the pandemic.
The first step is to stop politicizing the tracing of the Covid-19 origins, because the scientific work is about the health of all mankind and should not become a geopolitical game among big powers.
Sun Xi, a 1980s China-born alumnus of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is an independent commentary writer based in Singapore.
This article was previously published by the South China Morning Post, and was provided to Asia Times by the author.