The Biden administration raised new concerns on Saturday over the possibility of Chinese government interference in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan.
“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,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.
“It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” he said.
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“To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”
The comments from Sullivan, the president’s top national security official, are the latest sign that Washington under the new administration remains deeply distrustful of Beijing and its relationship with the WHO – even as President Joe Biden has moved to re-enter the organisation after the Trump administration walked away from it last year.
“Re-engaging the WHO also means holding it to the highest standards”, Sullivan said. “And at this critical moment, protecting the WHO’s credibility is a paramount priority.”
The WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last Tuesday, a WHO team of scientists said it had finished a long-anticipated investigation into the coronavirus’ origins in Wuhan. The Biden administration said that it was not prepared to make a judgment on the organisation’s findings without first verifying them with its own intelligence and conferring with allies.
Chinese government officials have come under intense scrutiny from the US and elsewhere in the world, including from some Chinese citizens themselves, over its censorship of crucial information in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak.
Beijing and its state media outlets have lashed out at suggestions that the country bears any responsibility for the pandemic.
Critics have also accused the WHO of acting under the influence of the Chinese government and parroting its talking points.
After the WHO team finished its investigation last week and said that the virus had not leaked from a lab called the Wuhan Institute of Virology – a theory that the Trump administration had pushed and that Beijing vehemently denies – Chinese state media outlets boasted that their government had been vindicated.
When the Biden administration said that it wanted to review the data itself before commenting on the WHO’s report, the lone American member of the WHO’s team, Peter Daszak, took to Twitter to criticise the administration for doubting the organisation’s word, and urged Biden to not “rely too much” on America’s own intelligence on the matter.
Daszak himself has faced criticism for his professional ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and had funding from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) suspended last year as a result.
This was NOT my experience on @WHO mission. As lead of animal/environment working group I found trust & openness w/ my China counterparts. We DID get access to critical new data throughout. We DID increase our understanding of likely spillover pathways. https://t.co/gwGnm9pnGj
— Peter Daszak (@PeterDaszak) February 13, 2021
On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese authorities had refused to give WHO investigators “raw, personalised data” on early Covid-19 cases.
The New York Times reported that Chinese officials had urged the WHO team to “embrace the government’s narrative about the source of the virus”, citing several members of the team.
Daszak tweeted on Saturday, before Sullivan’s statement, that he had “found trust & openness w/ my China counterparts.”
“We DID get access to critical new data throughout,” he wrote.
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