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The White House condemned China's rejection of a follow-up World Health Organization investigation into COVID-19’s origins, with the United States saying it was “deeply disappointed" — but not proposing punishment — after China said it would block further scrutiny of the Wuhan lab.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said last week the WHO-China report released earlier this year identified five main areas for further study, including increased scrutiny of the lab. The previous day, Tedros said that “there was a premature push to, you know, especially reduce one of the options, like the lab theory.”
On Thursday, a panel of Chinese government scientists pushed back against Tedros and rejected further studies of the Wuhan lab.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about China’s intransigence during a Thursday press conference.
“Well, let me first reiterate that we, the United States, support the WHO plan for phase two, which commits to ensuring these studies are scientific, transparent, expert-led, and free from interference," she said. "We have certainly seen the PRC’s comments, again, rejecting phase two of a WHO study. We’re deeply disappointed. Their position is irresponsible and, frankly, dangerous."
"Alongside other member states around the world, we continue to call for China to provide the needed access to data and samples, and this is critical so we can understand to prevent the next pandemic," she continued. "This is about saving lives in the future, and it’s not a time to be stonewalling.”
China’s National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin criticized further scrutiny of the Wuhan lab and called for the origins inquiry to expand into other countries. He and other Chinese officials, including the head of China’s side of the WHO-China team, said China would not allow further scrutiny of the Wuhan lab and defended the work done there.
Psaki emphasized the Biden administration was taking a multilateral approach on China, touting the fact the U.S. rejoined the WHO at the start of Biden’s presidency and pointing to statements from the U.S. and its allies after the release of the WHO-China report and at the G-7 calling upon China to be more transparent.
“Unfortunately, phase one, as you all know, did not yield the data and access from China that we think is necessary, but our support for a multilateral approach in a phase two plan is because it’s rigorous and it’s science-based,” Psaki said. “But, most importantly, it’s not just the United States calling for this. As a part of our renewed engagement and our efforts to build a coalition of support around the world with allies and partners, that we’re joined by the international community on this. Partners and multilateral organizations are also calling for and pressuring China to be engaged in the second phase of this discussion.”
Psaki added: “It’s clear that China isn’t living up to their obligations. What our focus is on is building this multilateral effort and support for putting pressure on and making clear that it’s unacceptable and dangerous.”
So far, the Biden administration has declined to lay out any specific punishment if China continues to block an independent investigation into how the pandemic began.
The first WHO team's widely criticized visit to Wuhan earlier this year essentially dismissed the lab leak hypothesis as “extremely unlikely," contending a jump from animals to humans was most likely. The report was widely considered a failure, partly due to a lack of access to key data, Chinese influence over the investigation, and conflicts of interest among team members.
The U.S. intelligence community said in May at least one of its 18 agencies is leaning toward the lab leak hypothesis, and Biden ordered all of the spy agencies to “redouble” investigative efforts.
CIA Director William Burns suggested to NPR on Thursday the world might never know how COVID-19 began.
“The honest answer today is that we cannot offer a definitive conclusion about whether, you know, this originated in a lab accident or whether it originated in a natural transmission from infected animals to human beings,” Burns said.
“It is possible, like so many things, that we may never be able to come to a definitive judgment, but it's not going to be for lack of hard work or effort on this issue to try to uncover as much as we can about what happened," he continued.
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy