China has made new wild accusations regarding the origin of Covid-19, once again distancing itself from speculation the deadly virus was the product of a Wuhan wet market.
State-owned newspaper The Global Times, which is known as the mouth-piece of the Chinese Communist Party, published the controversial commentary this week.
The publication featured statements from China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, who pointed blame for the global pandemic in the direction of the United States.
She seemed to imply the virus may have emerged from a biological laboratory at the Fort Detrick Army Medical Command in the US state of Maryland and said the World Health Organisation must investigate the claims.
“If America respects the truth, then please open up Fort Detrick and make public more information about the 200 or more bio-labs outside of the US, and please allow the WHO expert group to go to the US to investigate the origins,” she told the publication.
The hashtag “American’s Ft. Detrick,” started by the Communist Youth League, has been viewed at least 1.4 billion times on Chinese social media site Weibo since the spokeswoman’s comments.
China inflames doubt about Pfizer vaccine
Chinese state media and officials have also sown doubts about Western vaccines in an apparent bid to deflect criticism of its early Covid-19 response.
In the latest volley, state media called for an investigation into the deaths of 23 elderly people in Norway after they received the Pfizer vaccine.
An anchor at CGTN, the English-language station of state broadcaster CCTV, and the Global Times accused western media of ignoring the news.
Health experts say deaths unrelated to the vaccine are possible during mass vaccination campaigns, and a WHO panel has concluded that the vaccine did not play a “contributory role” in the Norway deaths.
The state media coverage followed a report by researchers in Brazil who found the effectiveness of a Chinese vaccine lower than previously announced.
Researchers initially said Sinovac’s vaccine is 78 per cent effective, but the scientists revised that to 50.4 per cent after including mildly symptomatic cases.
The arrival of the WHO mission has brought back persistent criticism that China allowed the virus to spread globally by reacting too slowly in the beginning, even reprimanding doctors who tried to warn the public.
The visiting researchers will begin field work this week after being released from a 14-day quarantine.
The Communist Party sees the WHO investigation as a political risk because it focuses attention on China’s response, said Jacob Wallis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
The party wants to “distract domestic and international audiences by pre-emptively distorting the narrative on where responsibility lies for the emergence of Covid-19,” Wallis said.
Tensions between Australia and China continue
It comes after China called on Australia to distance itself from the US as Joe Biden was inaugurated as the country’s new president.
Australia was regularly branded by Beijing as acting like the US’s lapdog during Donald Trump’s presidency – a role the Global Times urged Australia to abandon.
“To some extent, Canberra has chosen to follow Trump's stubborn anti-China campaign and tie itself to the chariot of US unilateralism, at the cost of its mutually-beneficial relation with its largest trading partner,” a Global Times article, which included analysis from Liu Qing, vice president at the China Institute of International Studies, said.
“Placing itself in a subordinate position to always listen to the dictates from Washington is clearly not in line with the long-term interests of Australia.”
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison often emphasises the importance of having the US as a key ally, he has refuted claims Australia takes orders from Washington.
Morrison warns Australia will not ‘compromise its sovereignty’
On Monday, Mr Morrison once again warned China his government would not “compromise Australia’s sovereignty”.
“We will remain absolutely open and available to meet, to discuss, any of the issues that have been identified,” Mr Morrison told reporters.
“But those discussions, as I've made clear, won't take place on the base of any sort of pre-emptive concessions on Australia's part on those matters.
“I don't think that any Australian would want their Prime Minister to be conceding the points that they've set out.”
The Communist Party of China has taken umbrage with Australia over several issues.
China has accused Australia of interfering in internal matters involving Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, while it has refuted Australia’s decision to block multiple Chinese investments on the grounds of protecting national security.
Beijing was also angered by Mr Morrison calling for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus last year.
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