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Ambassador Chen Xiaodong Hosts Press Briefing on COVID-19 Origin-Tracing
2021/08/31

On August 30, 2021, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa Chen Xiaodong hosted a press briefing on COVID-19 Origin-Tracing. Journalists from over 30 mainstream South African media outlets, Chinese language press and international news agencies attended the briefing.

Ambassador Chen pointed out that the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the so-called key takeaways of the Summary of Assessment on COVID-19 Origins. US President Joe Biden also issued a statement on this matter. The US spared no effort to hype up the so-called Wuhan lab leak, and slander that China withholds information, refuses to cooperate and obstructs international investigation. The Chinese side opposes and condemns such a report filled with groundless accusations and lies.

Ambassador Chen said that it is inherently anti-science for politicians and the intelligence community to trace the origins of viruses. The Summary has nothing new in pinning the blame on China. What the US has done is a witch-hunt that only looks for excuses in favor of their verdict that presumes China to be guilty. In doing so, the US holds science in contempt. They turn a blind eye the loss of lives. And they undermined global solidarity against the virus.

First, the so-called Wuhan lab leak theory is full of loopholes. It is a complete fabrication. The P4 lab of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is a China-France government project. It strictly follows international standards all the way from design, construction to management. There are strict protective facilities and measures, and the lab has been operating safely and stably since it opened in 2018.

In March this year, a WHO team consisting of 34 experts from China and around the world concluded that a lab leak is extremely unlikely. This has become the general consensus of the international academic community. Many findings show that the virus had emerged in many places around the world long before the the virus hit and got reported in China and earlier positive samples are still being identified.

Second, China is open, transparent on origin-tracing cooperation. We have nothing to hide. The Chinese side twice invited WHO in July last year and March this year respectively for origin-tracing in China and we fully supported WHO expert team's work. A number of experts on the team said that they visited all the places they wanted to visit, and met with everyone they wanted to meet. They spoke highly of China's open, transparent and responsible attitude. They said that China's openness was unexpected and the results of the Wuhan visit exceeded expectations. The first phase of global COVID-19 origin-tracing cooperation between WHO and China and its research practice provides a model for similar cooperation in other countries around the world.

Third, the timeline of China's COVID-19 response proves that China has no reservations about sharing information with the world. According to international practice, it is customary for countries to have strict rules for the confirmation of infectious diseases. China followed its law on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, completed the identification and genome-sequencing of the virus on January 7th, 2020, and already shared genome sequence of the virus with WHO and other countries on January 11th. From January 3rd, 2020, when China notified the US of COVID to March 13th, when the US declared a national emergency, a simple process like this took the US 70 days. I guess all of us are very clear about what the US has done during the 70 days.

Ambassador Chen pointed out that some US politicians are obsessed with stigmatizing the virus by associating it with certain countries and places. These politicians also attempt to pressure WHO into conducting a so-called Phase II investigation into China. In the name of origin-tracing that should have been based on science, the US attempts to plant evidence to incriminate China. Whatever the US side says or does on origin-tracing has turned into nothing but a farce and a terrible scandal for the international community. Ambassador Chen asked four questions related to the US to reveal US hypocrisy and double standards.

First, the US engages in political manipulation with ill intentions. Does the US really care about origin-tracing? From the very start till now, US government leadership cares nothing about where the virus originated. What they want from all of this is to use origin-tracing to smear and attack China, and to increase bargaining power with China. Their evil intentions could not be more obvious. If the US really cares about origin-tracing, they should stop blaming others, focus on controlling the virus at home, and invite WHO to carry out investigations into the Fort Detrick base and the University of North Carolina. All these fully expose how the US is not tracing origins of the virus but manipulating the situation. What they have done disrespects science, exacerbates the spread of COVID as well as the political virus, which is more dangerous.

Second, the US ignores science and fixates on the presumption of guilt. Does the US know that origin-tracing takes a long time? Many US scientists have took part in the tracing the origins of Spanish flu, Ebola and AIDS. Some of these cases still have not been solved even today, after more than a decade or even decades of tough research. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the US government has put political calculations, bullying and arrogance above science. They blatantly demand that the intelligence community produce a report in just 90 days. The fact that intelligence agencies and politicians, rather than experts, are making investigations is in itself anti-science. It fully demonstrates that the US side never intended to reach a scientific conclusion. They have already predetermined the outcome, just so they can pin the blame on China. In fact, the world knows all too well about the terrible track record of US intelligence community. The so-called origin tracing report they fabricated is by no means credible.

Third, the US keeps on shifting blames to others without any bottom-line morality. Does the US really care about COVID-19 response? President Biden spoke in his statement about "taking every necessary precaution to prevent it from happening again". Yet it really hurts one to know that with the most advanced medical equipment and strongest capabilities in the world, the US has seen 38 million confirmed COVID cases, and nearly 630,000 American lives have been tragically lost to the virus. US number of newly confirmed cases daily still ranks the highest in the world. With only 4 percent of the world population, the US accounts for a staggering 18 percent of global positive cases. The US President also said he would "continue to work with like-minded partners". In reality, the US and its allies have often blamed and created troubles for each other in their COVID responses. The US also used ridiculous tricks to intercept its allies' response supplies and hoarded staggering amounts of vaccines. Smearing China will not clear the name for the US. In order to divert the world from blaming the US for its terrible response, the US has constantly put out bizarre arguments as "holding China accountable", "China needs to pay for it" and "the lab leak in China". In essence, they do all this only to cover up their own failed response. They plant evidence against China so as to serve their own selfish interests.

Fourth, the US willingly and knowingly chooses to turn a blind eye to the call for justice. Has the US ever heard the universal call of the international community for science and justice? More than 80 countries have supported the joint WHO-China study and opposed politicizing this issue by writing to the WHO Director-General, making statements or sending diplomatic notes. More than 300 political parties, social organizations and think tanks from more than 100 countries and regions have submitted a joint statement to the WHO Secretariat. They support WHO in moving forward origin-tracing study in a scientific, objective and impartial manner. Professor Salim Karim, the leading South African epidemiologist and former chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID, argued that the international community needs to approach origin-tracing in a scientifically rigorous way rather than political posturing and finger-pointing. The US has wantonly undermined global cooperation against COVID-19, disrupted origin-tracing, and ignored calls for justice. This has not only cost the American people dearly, but also seriously damaged global cooperation against COVID and posed an unprecedented threat to global health security.

Ambassador Chen stressed that China's position on origin-tracing is consistent and clear. We approach it with an open, transparent, scientific and cooperative attitude. Origin-tracing is about science. No country has the right to disregard life, politicize scientific issues, and smear other countries for political interests. China has always supported and will continue to participate in science-based origin-tracing. What we oppose is origin-tracing that is politicized, that goes against WHA resolutions, and that disrespects the joint China-WHO study. The joint WHO-China study must be respected and implemented by all parties, including WHO and its member states. Global origin-tracing work should and can only be carried out on the basis of this study and not anything else.

Ambassador also stressed that it is important for the international community to join hands to fight against not only COVID, but also the political viruses. We need to jointly oppose the self-serving actions of the US through political manipulation, presumption of guilt and blame-shifting. There is no way out for the US in political origin-tracing. It is essential for them to immediately return to the right path of science-based origin-tracing and response cooperation. That is the expectation of the international community and also in the interest of the American people. Otherwise, they will only bring disgrace for themselves, dishonor themselves and end up harming their own interests and those of others.

Ambassador Chen also took questions from journalists.

When answering a question about Fort Detrick and the University of North Carolina raised by Brian Sokutu with the Citizen, Ambassador Chen said that There needs to be no blind spots or double standards in COVID-19 origin-tracing. It is crucial to always look at oneself before pointing fingers at others. China submitting two non-papers to WHO on this one is in line with public sentiments. They also reflect the common aspirations of the international community and justice itself. As is known to all, Fort Detrick is the home base of US bio-warfare activities. Professor Ralph Baric's team at the UNC is authoritative on this type of research and they have long had extremely sophisticated capabilities for coronavirus synthesis and modification. The US side has all along been dodgy and hiding the truth on this front but they owe to the world an answer. If the US side insists that lab leaks cannot be ruled out, it would be good for the US to set an example first by inviting WHO to Fort Detrick and the UNC for origin-tracing investigations.

When answering a question about the implications of the US report on China-US relations raised by Abbey Makoe with SABC, Ambassador Chen said that The current US administration has basically inherited the previous one's terribly wrong China policy. They still think of China as an imaginary enemy. The US administration's so-called "competition, cooperation and confrontation" approach toward China is actually a blindfold for essentially containing and suppressing China. The US has long pursued a policy of hegemony and power politics. They are the real cause of global trouble. The US also has a bad track record in Africa despised by the international community. The 20-year war in Afghanistan ended with the hasty withdrawal of US troops, leaving a mess full of loopholes. US behavior of starting wars and leaving behind messes once again proves that the US is completely untrustworthy and unreliable. China's policy towards the US is firm and clear. We are committed to handling China-US relations in accordance with the principles of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. The Chinese people are not afraid of evil forces. We are not a people to be tampered with. We have everything it takes to safeguard our national sovereignty, security and development interests.

Ambassador Chen also answered a question raised by Tian Shida with the Economic Daily about various South African communities' opposition to politicizing origin-tracing. The Ambassador said that South Africa also suffered from associating COVID-19 variants with certain countries. Recently, South African political parties, experts and scholars, and various communities have been actively speaking out by issuing statements, giving interviews, and writing articles on this matter. The support is a strong voice against politicizing, stigmatizing and ideologizing origin-tracing and for international cooperation on origin-tracing. China and South Africa are both responsible countries that stand with principles. Our two countries are both leaders in international cooperation against COVID-19. China is ready to further work with South Africa to safeguard the scientific and serious nature of origin-tracing, resist politicizing this issue, oppose political manipulation and promote global cooperation against COVID-19.

Over 100 representatives attended the press briefing. They are from, among others, South African outlets such as the SABC, eNCA, Newz Room Afrika, TV BRICS, SAfm, Power FM, the ANA, the Star, the Pretoria News, the Cape Times, the Mercury, the Citizen, Business Day, and News24, international media such as AFP, Chinese state media stationed in South Africa such as CCTV, Xinhua News Agency, People's Daily, People.cn, China News Service, Science and Technology Daily, Phoenix Television, CGTN, South African Chinese community media, as well as representatives of party, government, women and youth organizations.

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