This morning, President Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, offered an eye-opening statement of skepticism about the World Health Organization’s investigation into the start of the pandemic in Wuhan, China:
The mission of the World Health Organization (WHO) has never been more important, and we have deep respect for its experts and the work they are doing every day to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and advance global health and health security. That is why President Biden rejected and reversed the Trump Administration’s decision to disengage from the WHO. But re-engaging the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards. And at this critical moment, protecting the WHO’s credibility is a paramount priority. We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them. It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government. To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak. Going forward, all countries, including China, should participate in a transparent and robust process for preventing and responding to health emergencies — so that the world learns as much as possible as soon as possible.
By the standards of a Democratic presidential administration, that’s pretty tough talk.
The Wall Street Journal and New York Times, among other publications, reported yesterday that Chinese officials refused to share “raw, personalized data on early Covid-19 cases” that the WHO team requested, leading to “heated exchanges.” This comment from one of the investigators suggests that the Chinese government believed the purpose of the WHO trip was to sign off on Beijing’s claims that the virus came to Wuhan from somewhere outside China, a scenario that most virologists and epidemiologists find unlikely.
Chinese officials urged the W.H.O. team to embrace the government’s narrative about the source of the virus, including the unproven notion that it might have spread to China from abroad, according to several members of the team. The W.H.O. scientists responded that they would refrain from making judgments without data.
“It was my take on the entire mission that it was highly geopolitical,” Dr. Fischer said. “Everybody knows how much pressure there is on China to be open to an investigation and also how much blame there might be associated with this.”
Secrecy, bullying, and glaring mendacity are not, by themselves, definitive evidence that the Chinese government is attempting to cover up something as consequential as an accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology or the Wuhan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both of which were researching coronaviruses in bats. One could argue that secrecy, bullying, and glaring mendacity are just standard operating procedure for the Chinese government.
But the Chinese government sure is acting like it has something enormously consequential and embarrassing to hide, now, isn’t it?