White House Voices Skepticism on China’s Role in Covid-19 Probe
The White House issued its strongest criticism yet of the World Health Organization’s handling of the investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 virus and China’s involvement in the probe’s findings.
“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,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement Saturday. “It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government.”
Calling for transparency, Sullivan said “China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”
The criticism follows a monthlong WHO mission into the pandemic’s origins that seemed initially to reject speculation that the virus could have leaked from a Chinese lab.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday appeared to distance the mission from any definitive conclusion, saying that all avenues of research remain open. He said that the mission “has added important information that takes us closer to understanding the origins of the virus.”
The United Nations agency has been criticized for being too deferential to China, boosting theories that the virus could have escaped from a high-security virology lab in Wuhan. Former President Donald Trump and his team promoted that theory, as did some Republican members of Congress.
The U.S. rejoined the organization on President Joe Biden’s first day in office, and Sullivan said the administration has “deep respect for its experts.”
“But 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.”
Peter Daszak, a New York-based zoologist assisting the WHO-sponsored mission said last week the work had been “collaborative,” with Chinese counterparts helping investigators dig deeper for clues.
“We sat down with them every single day and went through information, new data, and then said we want to go to the key places,” the British scientist said. “They asked for a list. We suggested where we should go and the people we should meet. We went to every place on that list and they were really forthcoming with that.”
But a report in the New York Times on Saturday said that Chinese scientists had refused to share raw data with WHO investigators on the trip. Disagreements over patient records and other information escalated into shouting matches, the Times reported.
Biden is spending the weekend in Camp David and meeting with his national security advisers Saturday, according to a White House official.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.