(CNSNews.com) – As the World Health Organization (WHO) prepares to release a report of a study into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview aired Sunday that the U.S. has “real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it.”
In another sign of growing skepticism about the WHO-organized mission to Wuhan, a former Clinton administration national security official noted that not only did Beijing have a veto over which international experts were included in the team, it also insisted on the terms of reference – to which the WHO consented – stipulating that Chinese scientists carry out most of the primary research.
A team comprising an equal number of international and Chinese experts ended its mission on February 9 with a briefing in Wuhan where it declared as “extremely unlikely” the possibility that the virus had leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a specialist lab in the outbreak city for investigating pathogens including bat coronaviruses.
The team assessed that the “most likely pathway” had been the virus’ jump from an animal, probably a bat, via an intermediate host, to humans. It also gave credence to a theory, heavily prompted by Beijing, that transmission could have occurred through frozen food products, possibly linked to a food market in Wuhan.
Since wrapping up the mission, the team has been compiling its final report for release, now expected within days.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Blinken said he believed the Chinese government had misled the world about the outbreak, saying, “they did not provide transparency, they did not share information, they did not give access when it mattered most, in the early days of this virus. Had they done so, it’s possible that the course of this virus would have been different, and we could have dealt with it sooner and more effectively.”
Interviewed for CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Blinken voiced concerns about “the methodology and the process” of the study whose conclusions will appear in the report, “including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it.”
“But let’s see what comes out in that report,” he said. “But we do need to have both accountability for the past, but I think our focus needs to be on building a stronger system for the future.”
Earlier this month, a group of scientists from the U.S., Europe, Australia, New Zealand and India, in an open letter called for a new, genuinely independent forensic inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, including the possibility of a laboratory leak, saying the joint WHO-China probe “has unfortunately proven opaque and restrictive, greatly compromising the scientific validity of the investigation.”
The signatories pointed out that “half of the joint team convened under that process is made of Chinese citizens whose scientific independence may be limited, that international members of the joint team had to rely on information the Chinese authorities chose to share with them, and that any joint team report must be approved by both the Chinese and international members of the joint team.”
We have therefore reached the conclusion that the joint team did not have the mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses to carry out a full and unrestricted investigation into all the relevant SARS-CoV-2 origin hypotheses – whether natural spillover or laboratory/research-related incident.”
One of the organizers of that letter was Jamie Metzl, a former National Security Council official in the Clinton administration who is a senior fellow for technology and national security at the Atlantic Council, and a member of a WHO advisory committee on human genome editing.
Metzl told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in a program broadcast on Sunday that many people mistakenly viewed the joint Wuhan probe as “some kind of full investigation. It’s not.”
“It was agreed first that China would have veto power over who even got to be on the mission,” he said. “WHO agreed to that.”
“On top of that, the WHO agreed that in most instances China would do the primary investigation and then just share its findings with these international experts, so these international experts weren’t allowed to do their own primary investigation.”
Metzl drew an analogy to the U.S. asking the then-Soviet Union “to do a co-investigation of [the 1986 explosion at the nuclear power plant at] Chernobyl. It doesn’t really make sense.”
Despite documented evidence to the contrary, the Chinese government maintains that its response to the outbreak in Wuhan was characterized by transparency and cooperation with outside experts and the international community.
Commenting on the open letter calling for an independent probe, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian earlier this month called it “an ill-intentioned defamation against the joint relevant research by the WHO and China.”
As CNSNews.com has reported, the international probe into the origins of the virus was mandated by a WHO health assembly resolution on May 19 last year, but the team’s visit to China was held up for months, as Beijing slow-walked the selection of its members and approval of its “terms of reference.” It took 240 days from the passage of the resolution until the team was allowed to fly into Wuhan in January.