Coronavirus: Chinese academics’ open letter urges Beijing, Washington to come together to beat Covid-19

Catherine Wong

A group of 100 Chinese scholars has signed an open letter calling on the United States and China to put an end to their political blame game and work together to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The signatories, who include former diplomats and academics from various fields, including political science, international relations and sociology, said that while the origins of the coronavirus remained unknown, hurling accusations achieved nothing but hurt.

Nations should stop “complaining, finger-pointing and blaming one another” and instead cooperate to find a solution to the global public health crisis, they said.

“Political bickering does nothing to contribute to the healthy development of Sino-US relations, nor will it help the people of the world to rationally and accurately understand and cope with the pandemic,” the scholars said in the letter published on Thursday in online news magazine The Diplomat.

“As two of the great countries on Earth, cooperation between China and the US could, and should, be used to bring a more positive outcome for all humankind,” it said.

The scholars also urged the two sides to put aside their bickering over where and how the disease originated.

“At this stage of the pandemic, the exact source and origin of Covid-19 remain undetermined, but these questions are unimportant and finger-pointing is demeaning and hurtful to everyone,” they said.

US and Chinese officials have sparred for weeks over the origins of the coronavirus, which was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan but has since spread around the world, infecting more than 1 million people and killing close to 53,000.

Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the pathogen as the “Chinese virus”. Photo: Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the pathogen as the “Chinese virus”, while other US politicians have said it was created in a Chinese laboratory. For China’s part, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian suggested the coronavirus might have been carried into the country by US soldiers.

China’s ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai said in an interview on American television last month that speculating about the origin of the virus was “harmful”, but the finger-pointing on both sides has plunged relations between the two countries to a new low.

The open letter was the idea of Wang Wen, executive dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, who said its aim was not only to show the willingness of China’s intellectual elite to promote solidarity and reduce tensions, but to make clear that the priority right now was saving lives.

“We did not criticise anyone in the letter, or mention any names. We did not want to fuel the current disputes and confrontations,” he said.

“Most Chinese intellectuals are peaceful, rational and constructive, and thankfully we quickly reached consensus on the content of the letter.”

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The scholars said that after months of battling the coronavirus and seeing the situation at home improve, China now wanted to share its experience and knowledge with other countries as they seek to contain its spread.

“Chinese people have made unimaginable efforts and sacrifices to achieve hard-won results,” Wang said.

“We are grateful for the support of the international community, including donations from American friends, during the most critical stage of the fight … and we are willing to share our experiences with other countries and provide all available assistance to them.”

Wu Sike, a former Chinese special envoy to the Middle East, was among the signatories to the open letter. Photo: Xinhua

Among the other signatories were Wu Sike, a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies and former special envoy to the Middle East, and Wang Yiwei, an international relations professor at Renmin University, who described the Covid-19 pandemic as a “global issue that overrides geopolitics concerns”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Trump agreed in a telephone call last week to work together to contain the spread of Covid-19, but critics have questioned how long their cordiality can last against a backdrop of rising China-US tensions over trade, the media and regional security.

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