xi's moments
Home | Op-Ed Contributors

Only true multilateralism can end the pandemic

By Wang Ziqian | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-09-30 07:42

The World Health Organization is reviving the second phase of its investigation into the origins of the coronavirus in China, responding to the continued pressure from the US and its allies. However, the renewed probe into the origins of COVID-19 ignores the firm conclusions from the first phase of the WHO-convened origins study. It also violates the principle of true multilateralism and politicizes origin tracing. As reiterated by President Xi Jinping in the general debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept 21, the global origin tracing should be science-based and China stands firmly opposed to political maneuvering in any form.

In March, the first phase of the origin tracing process led by experts for the WHO and China had already reached solid and clear conclusions that the chance of COVID-19 being introduced by a laboratory incident was "extremely unlikely"; and the animal-to-human transmission through an intermediate host was considered to be "a likely to very likely pathway". As China supported the WHO's origin-tracing study in the spirit of openness, transparency and science, the first-stage investigation is independent and thus, the conclusions of the research report are plausible. According to Science, most scientists who study coronaviruses and who have investigated the origins of the pandemic also firmly stand with the evidence pointing toward a natural source of the coronavirus. However, the WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus proposed on July 16 a second phase of the virus origin probe in China, highlighting the investigation of the probability of the "lab leak theory".

So what's behind the ambivalent attitudes of the WHO? Right after the publication of the first-stage report, the United States and its political allies issued a statement to question the independence of the investigation without any substantive evidence. On May 26, US President Joe Biden disregarded the scientific report by the WHO and initiated a new investigation to look at the "Wuhan lab-leak hypothesis", which was categorized as a conspiracy theory by The Lancet in its widely circulated open letter published in March 2020. Not surprisingly, in the final report released on Aug 27, the US intelligence community reached no definitive assessment about the origins of the COVID-19 virus after a 90-day investigation. According to Nature, the only strong conclusion shown in the report is that SARS-CoV-2 wasn't weaponized and is unlikely to have been engineered.

This is another illustrative example of pseudo-multilateralism -- to reshape their status as global leaders, major powers may interfere with multilateral organizations by abusing their existing advantages, including misusing the international rules or even planning to reset the international order to serve their own national interests. Under the guise of multilateralism, these pseudo-multilateralist behaviors are ultimately the products of unilateralism, hegemony and a "Cold War mentality". Multilateral cooperation instead of pseudo-multilateralism is the key to overcoming global challenges, and all nations can benefit from genuine collaboration. Transforming a scientific problem to a political one would only severely jeopardize multilateralism and cost more lives during this ongoing pandemic.

As for now, China has managed to effectively control the coronavirus at home, even in the face of the rebounding pandemic due to the Delta variant, and it leads the world in the number of COVID-19 vaccinations. To uphold true multilateralism, China actively engaged in providing substantial support for international anti-pandemic cooperation. As of the end of July, China has provided more than 300 billion masks, 3.7 billion sets of protective gear and 4.8 billion testing kits to more than 200 countries and regions, and as well as over 600 million doses of vaccines to other countries, according to Zhao Lijian, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson. Meanwhile, China has also been working closely with multilateral organizations such as the UN, the WHO and the WTO to boost international cooperation against the coronavirus.

Multilateral cooperation is crucial to solving the vaccine equity crisis. According to the New York Times, only 0.5 percent of doses administered worldwide went to low-income countries, compared to the 78 percent of shots that have gone into arms of people from high- and upper-middle-income countries. In his annual state-of-the-world speech at the opening of the UN 76th General Assembly, António Guterres, the UN chief, called for COVID-19 vaccine equality, emphasizing that "we have no time to lose". Coronavirus-linked deaths in Africa surged by 43 percent in the space of a week, driven by a lack of intensive-care beds and oxygen, reported by the WHO. Instead of hoarding the vaccines and setting up barriers, we need significantly more vaccines to be produced in considerably more places.

As Larry Brilliant, one of the top epidemiologists, noted this August, "the world is nowhere near the end of the COVID pandemic". As for now, only 32.67 percent of the world's population is fully vaccinated, while for people from low-income countries, only 2.2 percent of the population have received at least one dose, according to figures from Our World In Data. This is not the time for political finger-pointing or blame games. The politicization of the virus origins probe would only split the international community, encourage conspiracy theories, and distract the attention from dealing with the crucial challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. To practice true multilateralism, countries, especially those with great powers, need to cooperate in curbing the global spread of the virus and make substantial contributions to global public health.

Wang Ziqian is a doctoral researcher from the University of Sussex.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

If you have a specific expertise, or would like to share your thought about our stories, then send us your writings at opinion@chinadaily.com.cn, and comment@chinadaily.com.cn.

Global Edition
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349