China can’t intimidate the world by silencing it on Covid-19 any longer – .

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China can’t intimidate the world by silencing it on Covid-19 any longer – .


At the beginning of March last year, as Covid-19 began to take over the world, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Wuhan announced at a press conference that the Chinese people “should learn to say “thank you” to the party “. There has been a wave of outrage on Chinese social media. Conditions in Wuhan were appalling, citizens said. Many were dead and many more had been walled up for weeks. Reaching higher than the Wuhan leader, critics accused President Xi Jinping himself of hiding for crucial 13 days in January his knowledge that the virus could be transmitted from human to human. The reaction was so fierce that authorities in Beijing in fact suppressed the Wuhan leader’s words online.

This was about the last time Chinese public opinion was allowed to surface. Since then, criticizing the regime inside China has been more than worth anyone’s life. The fear that totalitarianism inspires can be very effective.

Even more dismaying, in a way, is the discovery that it also works abroad. One would have thought that the incubator and exporter of a disease that has now killed nearly 4.5 million people would run into problems from other countries and international organizations over how he had succeeded. to achieve this feat. The simple desire to know what started the plague and how it spread would have prompted the most rigorous investigation from scientists, media and world leaders. But no, not really. Many even went so far as to follow the Wuhan leader’s call and say “thank you” to the CCP.

One of the most prominent was World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Ghebreyesus, who announced shortly after Xi’s 13-day silence on transmission that China’s action had “in fact helped prevent the spread of the coronavirus to other countries.” He said he was “very impressed and encouraged by the president’s detailed knowledge of the epidemic”. Dr Tedros had previously obtained his post at WHO with the support of China.

In February this year, a high-level, but not fully independent, WHO delegation traveled to Wuhan to investigate how the virus had spread. Each team member had to be individually approved by the Chinese government. The regime had spent the previous year erasing physical and computer records, so there was little for visitors to see.

But the WHO appeared satisfied. Mission chief Peter Ben Embarek told the press conference that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus had spread from a lab leak in Wuhan. The BBC, still reluctant to touch on the theory of laboratory leaks, considered it almost conclusive. On its website, its health editor wrote that WHO experts had “closed the veil on a controversial theory that the coronavirus came from a lab leak or was made by scientists.”

This week, however, in a TV show (not reported by the BBC) in his native Denmark, Dr Embarek spoke in very different terms. As it turned out, during a conference call in January, he privately expressed concern about a possible leak from the Wuhan Center for Disease Control (CDC), which may have lacked “the same level of expertise or safety ”than that shown, in his opinion, by the separate Institute of Virology in Wuhan. In an interview in June, but published this week, he told the program it was “likely” that a CDC staff member had contracted the virus.

Why did Dr. Embarek change the way he did? Why did something he described as “extremely unlikely” in Wuhan in February become “likely” in Denmark in June? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to watch an interview he gave to Science magazine right after his February visit to Wuhan.

If you read it carefully, you can see Dr. Embarek squirm a bit about his own “extremely unlikely” phrase: “We shouldn’t focus too much on the wording. We were looking at different options… Rather, it is an illustration of the position of these hypotheses to help us organize our planning for future studies. In addition, the WHO could not conduct these studies alone, he said. He admits the pressure he was under as he faced up to 60 Chinese officials, many of whom were not scientists: “Politics was always in the room with us across the table.

Since then, the politics on the world table have changed dramatically. As long as Donald Trump was President of the United States, many world bodies and scientific publications had a simple rule: if he took one point of view, they would take the opposite. At first, Trump blamed a lab leak from Wuhan, so they ruled it out. Some media – notably Nature and The Lancet – seemed to be alarming towards China. It seemed easier to blame the lab leak hypothesis on right-wing conspiracy theorists. Facebook has removed material that it believes fell into this category. Scientists like Birger Sorensen and Angus Dalgleish, who have published on the etiology of the virus, have been marginalized. Some people have even said that questioning China’s behavior is racist.

In May, however, Science magazine returned to the charge. He published a letter from several leading scientists, including Professor Ralph Baric, who had been involved in “gain-of-function” experiments in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who had initially cooperated with scientists in Wuhan. The main signatory was Stanford microbiologist Professor David Relman, who has often advised the US government. Their letter indicated that the leak theory had not been sufficiently “considered in a balanced way”. In an interview, Professor Relman complained that only four of the 313 pages of the WHO report dealt with the lab scenario, and those mostly under the heading “conspiracy theories.”

At around the same time, President Joe Biden publicly tasked his intelligence services with investigating the leak theory. Their report is expected at the end of this month. It could be that those who previously felt more secure in their jobs and their reputations if they were indulgent with China are starting to wonder what their attitudes might look like as they come under the scrutiny of a open society.

Take a step back and consider this sequence of events. It is an extraordinary story. The best way to figure it out is to compare what would have happened if the Covid-19 virus had first appeared, for example, in Oxford or Chapel Hill. How fast would the world’s media have been everywhere, with what violence would they have denounced the scientists, politicians or officials who tried to cover it, restrict access to data or control investigators proposed by the international institutions. Think how no prime minister or president involved in such a global scandal could have survived. Then compare it with the low price paid by the Chinese regime.

It seems even more extraordinary when you recognize that China’s behavior in the face of the virus is not abnormal, but part of a pattern. Secrecy and dishonesty were there in his exploitation of his entry into the WTO, in his use of Huawei to access Western information systems, in his influence purchases and his attempts to control thought in universities. British, in its hidden persecution of Uyghurs, its successful plot against One Country, Two Systems in Hong Kong, and its claim to comply with net zero obligations. We have finally come to recognize the CCP’s methods in most of the above cases, but remain reluctant to do so by the one that is affecting us all – the global pandemic.

China cannot be trusted on the world stage. Even now, the West is struggling to think about what this simple fact means.

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