Weaponising the origin of Covid-19

Weaponising the origin of Covid-19

The push for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus is picking up steam.

An EU-led draft resolution calling for "an impartial, independent and comprehensive examination of the global response to the pandemic" was adopted by the World Health Assembly, the forum that governs the World Health Organization, on Tuesday.

Beijing, which had recently called an Australian-initiated drive to get to the bottom of China's role in the outbreak a "joke", has seemingly made a volte-face, saying it supported such a review with the caveat that it be conducted after the virus has been contained.

Sweetening the pot, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $2 billion to tackle the pandemic, while throwing his support behind WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying that under his leadership, "the WHO has made a major contribution in leading and advancing a global response to Covid-19".

United States President Donald Trump for his part heaped something other than praise on Mr Tedros.

"Throughout the crisis, the World Health Organization has been curiously insistent on praising China for its alleged 'transparency'. You have joined in these tributes, notwithstanding that China has been anything but transparent," Mr Trump wrote.

"It is clear the repeated missteps by you, and your organisation in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world. The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China."

Mr Trump then threatened to permanently cut off the $400-500 million which the US provides annually to the WHO after suspending it last month "to assess the organisation's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus".

The president and his administration have worked hard to weaponise the origins of the virus. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo claimed there is "enormous evidence" the coronavirus outbreak originated in a Chinese laboratory, without providing any of it.

China for its part has more than once engaged in the propaganda technique of mirroring -- accusing one's opponent of doing that which one has been accused of doing to deflect blame.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian in March floated the conspiracy theory that it might have been the "US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan".

In a recent editorial in the Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece claimed that as "the country with the highest number of infections and deaths … the US' role in the origin and spread of the coronavirus has become a major concern".

But post-lockdown reports of Wuhan incinerators working round the clock, dolling out 500 urns a day, with families waiting in five-hour queues to receive the remains of their loved ones, belies China's drastically deflated national death toll of 4,634.

And therein lies the problem.

China's constant efforts at obfuscation have been seized on by Mr Trump to spin a conspiratorial vision of the virus' origin.

The WHO did itself no favours by praising China's "commitment to transparency" as whistleblowers were routinely cowed if not outright disappeared, while the media is ruthlessly repressed.

But then Mr Trump himself tweeted: "China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The US greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency."

Meanwhile, China's lack of transparency and the WHO's arguable bias provides Mr Trump enough cover for his claims to at least smack of believability.

His approach is known as grey propaganda, whereby accurate but highly curated information is blended with misleading if not outright fabricated claims to muddy the waters.

Yet no one benefits from the politicisation of the pandemic. In getting to the bottom of what are most likely the virus' natural origins, a global policy response, including stringently regulating wet markets, curbing deforestation and stamping out the illicit wildlife trade can be implemented to limit the type of human-wildlife contact which increases the likelihood of such outbreaks reoccurring.

But the fact that 44% of Americans and 50% of registered Republicans believe the virus was likely created in a lab shows that domestic political concerns, and not global health ones, are driving the negative feedback loop between Mr Trump and the US public.

All the while, Beijing's duplicity has given bad-faith actors more than enough ammunition. And in that sense, the CCP is reaping what it sows.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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