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Unwise to politicize origin tracing of COVID-19

June 25, 2021

By Sun Xi

The COVID-19 pandemic has become one of the deadliest pandemics in human history and is still evolving. As of June 2021, it has reportedly infected nearly 180 million people and caused around 4 million deaths. Moreover, the pandemic has resulted in significant social and economic disruption globally and triggered political distrust and tensions among countries.

It is necessary and important for us to find out the origins of the COVID-19 virus, but the origin tracing should be a scientific issue rather than a geopolitical game.

First, the joint WHO-China investigation shall be respected. The COVID-19 virus was first publicly reported in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, but that did not necessarily mean China must be the origin of such new virus. As we know, the first patient of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic was identified in the United States in 1981, but scientists later traced the origin of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) back to chimpanzees and simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in Africa.

On 9 February 2021, the joint World Health Organization (WHO)-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 clearly stressed it was “extremely unlikely” that the COVID-19 virus was leaked from a Chinese lab.

It goes without saying that China strongly welcomes 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 we shall rely on?

Second, double-standard approaches shall be discouraged. Some unfriendly western figures including former US President Donald Trump directly called the COVID-19 virus “China virus” or “Wuhan virus”. If applying the same logic, shall not the swine flu (H1N1) virus be renamed as “America virus”? Because 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 infected cases or 11% to 21% of the total population on our planet. Shall the world ask compensation from the United States?

Intentionally ignoring the WHO investigation result, certain US politicians have repeatedly called for a reinvestigation of China. 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 the 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 the COVID-19 could have been circulating in the United States as early as December 2019. Therefore, if a new worldwide tracing is indeed necessary, then the primary focus should be on America instead of China. In fact, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has publicly urged the Biden administration to probe its own bearing with the COVID-19 origins and investigate its own biological laboratories, especially the army lab at Fort Detrick.

Third, cooperation rather than confrontation shall be welcomed. Mislabeling the COVID-19 as “China virus” or “Asia virus” has sadly led xenophobic violence targeting on Chinese or Asian people in the US and other western societies. Recently, the Group of Seven (G7) summit in England set the unified tone to rival China, so more confrontation will be expected in the future.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and China has been transformed and progressing significantly under the CPC’s regime since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. However, distrust and hostility between the West and China never disappear.

Ideologically, many western people are still scared of the CPC; technically, most western people do not really comprehend Chinese political system; culturally, certain western people deliberately misunderstand Chinese nation and people.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 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 together, especially when the whole world is still suffering from the pandemic.

First of all, please stop politicizing the tracing of the COVID-19 origins, because the scientific work is about the survival 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.

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