Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has joined hands with all other countries in an effort to pull through the tough times together.
While China strives to boost international cooperation against COVID-19, it also takes the issue of origin-tracing seriously. Origin-tracing is an important link in fighting all pandemics to the extent that it will help prevent and tackle more effectively similar public health emergencies in the future. China has all along taken a scientific attitude as it engages in global cooperation on science-based origin-tracing. It invited WHO experts to China twice for relevant research. Earlier this year, a WHO team of leading experts carried out a 28-day joint research in China and concluded that the pathway of lab leak is extremely unlikely. They also recommended further research on earlier cases around the world and the role of cold-chain and cold-chain products in viral transmission. These important conclusions, reached by following WHO procedures and rigorous scientific methodology, are authoritative and science-based, and should be the basis for the next phase of global origin-tracing.
Last month, however, the WHO Secretariat notified its member states without prior consultation about a work plan on a second-phase origins study, including the so-called 'lab leak' theory as a research priority. The plan 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. So far, 70 countries have expressed opposition to politicising origin-tracing by sending letters to the WHO director-general, and issuing statements or diplomatic notes, etc. Over 300 political parties, social organisations and think tanks from 100-plus countries and regions in the world submitted a Joint Statement to the WHO Secretariat, firmly opposing the politicisation of origin-tracing.
China's position on global origin-tracing has been consistent and clear-cut. First, origin-tracing is a matter of science. It should be and can only be left to scientists to identify, through scientific research, the virus's zoonotic source and animal-human transmission routes. No country has the right to put its own political interests above people's lives, nor should a matter of science be politicised to slander and attack other countries.
Second, the findings and recommendations of the WHO-China joint study report are widely recognised 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.
Third, China has all along supported and will continue to take part in science-based origin-tracing efforts. What China opposes is politicising origin-tracing or origin-tracing that goes against the WHA resolution and disregards the joint study report.
Fourth, the WHO Secretariat should act on the WHA resolution, conduct thorough consultation with member states on the global origin-tracing work plan, including the follow-up mechanism, and fully respect the views of member states. Very importantly, the plan for origin-tracing involving a particular country must be decided through consultation with the country concerned, as it provides the basis for effective cooperation to be conducted.
The virus knows no borders and does not distinguish between races. China, like other countries, is a victim of the pandemic, and we all hope to find out the origin of the virus and cut off its transmission as early as possible. Given the ongoing spread and rebound of the virus, the priority remains to be stepping up equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and enhancing solidarity and cooperation. Origin-tracing cooperation must be based on science, and politicisation must be firmly rejected. China has already made feedback to the WHO Secretariat on how to revise its plan for the second phase of origin-tracing and looks forward to working with other parties to carry out science-based global origin-tracing to contribute China's part to humanity's final victory over COVID-19.
*H.E. Wang Xuefeng, Chinese Ambassador to Botswana.