Published On: Mon, May 18th, 2020

Coronavirus latest: China faces growing pressure from the West to allow investigation | World | News


Analysts say Beijing has refused to authorised the inquiry requested by the Western powers over fears it could tarnish its global image, already affected by the criticism of initial ambiguity and attempts to change the narrative. China’s foreign ministry has said it would agree to a review “at an appropriate time”, but criticised what it described as the politicisation of the virus’ origin “by the US and some other countries” for an investigation “based on the presumption of guilt.”

Scientists have widely theorised the virus had its genesis in in a seafood market in the central China city of Wuhan which also sold live wild animals.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it was discussing an investigative mission with China.

But that might not alleviate international concerns, after allegations that the world body has favoured China, and given the possible rejection from the mission of American experts and access to Wuhan laboratories that the White House has claimed may have been where the pathogen originated, observers said.

Angela Stanzel, associate in the Asia division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said it was in China’s interests to keep the origin of the virus uncertain at this stage, adding that proof that China was the source “would be a public relations disaster”.

China rejects growing pressure from Western powers to allow COVID-19 investigation

China rejects growing pressure from Western powers to allow COVID-19 investigation (Image: Getty)

She said: “It is bad enough for China’s image that the coronavirus pandemic is linked to China, so any proof is seen as equally damaging.”

“Such proof would contradict China’s attempt to find a different narrative for the origin of the virus, and in particular it may feed into the US attempt to blame China for it.

“China may allow some sort of inquiry to show the outside world that it is cooperative, but I absolutely do not see any chance for US experts to be part of this.”

The World Health Assembly, the decision-making body of the WHO is set to announce a decision in a virtual meeting on Monday about the virus’ origin problematic.

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Chinese president Xi Jinping

Chinese president Xi Jinping (Image: Getty)

The European Union has said it would co-sponsor a verdict at the conference for an “independent review” of the pandemic.

The review is supported by Australia, Britain and the US.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has also said she is “very, very open” to backing the investigation.

Australia has shown proactivity in lobbying other nations – including Israel and Singapore – for their support.

This has triggered tensions between Canberra and Beijing, with China’s ambassador to Australia suggesting it could spark Chinese boycotts against Australian wine and beef.

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How to reduce your risk of catching coronavirus (Image: Express)

Australian officials have dubbed the Chinese ambassador’s claims as “economic coercion”.

Beijing notified the Australian government late on Monday that it would withhold imports from four large Australian beef companies, after warning there would be towering levies on Australian barley exports.

Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at New York think tank the Council on Foreign Relations, claimed that China’s positioning of itself as a leader in the crisis and the praise of its pandemic response achievement had sparked resentment, from Western powers in particular.

China also modified its account of what happened, having not argued that it was the origin of the pathogen until late February.

In February, Zhong Nanshan, the leading respiratory disease expert and government adviser, said it did not necessarily start in China even though the first cases were found there, Mr Huang said.

Scientists have widely theorised the virus had its genesis in in a seafood market

Scientists have widely theorised the virus had its genesis in in a seafood market (Image: Getty)

“If there is nothing to hide – and since most scientists would agree this is a naturally caused outbreak with no indication of being human-made – there is no reason [for China] to be resistant to the idea of investigating the origin,” he said.

“It is important to look into it, to help prevent future outbreaks and also to break the transmission chain.”

Wei Zongyou, international relations professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the Chinese government may allow an independent inquiry if it were “initiated voluntarily rather than from international pressure.”

“But when to accept this investigation, and whether it is directed only at China, may require further discussion,” he said.

“China has rejected this presumption that it is guilty, and the scapegoating of China to hide the gaps in other countries’ epidemic responses.”



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