China has rebuked a series of suggestions of a lack of transparency and interference into the joint World Health Organisation-led mission to Wuhan to identify the origins of the coronavirus, slamming a host of nations – including Australia – for attempts to manipulate the ongoing study.
On Wednesday, in the wake of the release of the mission's highly-anticipated report, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus delivered his strongest criticism yet, voicing concerns Western experts were not given key data during the trip earlier this year.
He also said the probe hastily dismissed the theory the virus leaked from a Wuhan lab, calling for immediate further investigations.
Australia and 13 other countries also released joint statement expressing their concern over the the report.
Yet Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said heavy criticism of China's role in the mission was "absurd".
"Some Western countries are now trying to interfere with the work of scientists... such political interference is highly irresponsible and frivolous," she said.
She also hit back at Dr Tedros, suggesting he "respect science" and the findings of the report which said the lab leak theory was "highly unlikely".
The report, which says the virus likely transmitted to humans from bats via an intermediate animal, has faced widespread criticism from experts and political figures across the globe, particularly – and unsurprisingly – in the US.
Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who previously stated the US had substantial evidence the virus leaked from the lab, called the latest report "a sham".
In the past 12 months, Beijing has repeatedly tried to deflect attention away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and initially said it would not welcome a visit from the Western team at the facility. President Xi Jinping has feared views on China's response to the virus has tarnished the nation's reputation.
In a statement shared with Yahoo News Australia, Günter Theißen, Professor of Genetics at Germany's Friedrich Schiller University, said dismissing the lab leak theory was "arrogant".
“The WHO report provides a shocking example of how empirical science should not be done," he said.
"Considering only ‘politically correct' theories about the origin of SARS-CoV-2, especially a natural zoonose, as reasonable, but all others as conspiracy theories, is not only bad science. It is easily a recipe for the next disaster.”
Yet Ms Hua slammed the views of experts who were not involved in Wuhan.
"Those outsiders who never took part in the joint study are now accusing the team of being interfered.
"They want to muddy the waters by making up and spreading rumours to achieve their hidden political purposes. We can all see this very clearly."
China pushes overseas origin theory
In yet another tense daily press conference from the Foreign Ministry, Ms Hua once again pointed the finger overseas – a common tactic seen from the ministry's three spokespeople in recent months when facing a deluge of critical questioning.
"There are many reports of early outbreaks in many places around the world. In addition to Fort Detrick, certain countries have more than 200 biological bases around the world.
"So I think, if necessary, scientists should be allowed to work in a scientific spirit with relevant laboratories."
China has regularly entertained the conspiracy theory the virus leaked from the US army lab at Fort Detrick.
In the wake of the report, Liang Wannian, the head of the Chinese team that worked with the WHO group of experts, said it would be "a misunderstanding" to not investigate overseas.
"Based on this scientific consensus, we should have a broader viewpoint in terms of sourcing," he said.
Liang called accusations that China did not share data "invalid".
He said it is difficult to imagine the experts examining every sample and record, and that instead they used a database to perform analyses.
"On this issue, what our Chinese experts can see is the same as what the foreign experts can see," he said.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org