'Appalling': Chinese official clashes with BBC reporter over wild Covid claim

Tom Flanagan
·News Reporter
·4-min read

China has accused foreign media of double standards, insisting its state media is justified in continuing to suggest the coronavirus originated from outside of China.

An infuriated Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying clashed with BBC reporter John Sudworth on Monday night, as he pressed her on claims once again put forward by Chinese state media he suggested were baseless.

“Can you tell us why China is promoting this narrative in the absence of scientific evidence, and with the WHO inquiry into the origins barely just begun?” Sudworth asked her at the beginning of their tense exchange.

BBC correspondent John Sudworth pressed Hua Chunying over China’s persistent coverage suggesting the virus originated from outside of China. Source: FMPRC
BBC correspondent John Sudworth pressed Hua Chunying over China’s persistent coverage suggesting the virus originated from outside of China. Source: FMPRC

On Sunday, the state-run tabloid Global Times raised research that suggested Covid-19 had been detected in Brazil and Italy in late 2019, before the emergence of the virus in Wuhan.

Paraphrasing comments from Yang Zhanqiu, deputy director of the pathogen biology department at Wuhan University, it said such studies “support the theory that the virus had multiple birthplaces around the world”.

The publication also revisited the theory the virus was brought to Wuhan at the Military Games in October 2019 – a wild claim first brought to the table in what appeared to be retaliation to US President Donald Trump’s brazen condemning of Beijing’s handling of the pandemic in its infancy.

Western media is prejudiced, China says

Ms Hua hit out at Sudworth, accusing the Western media of hypocrisy.

“Your question reveals your prejudice against China. Why can't the Chinese media report on this? The British media have reported on these stories, haven't they?” she said.

And while Ms Hua correctly observed Western media had covered such research, Beijing has routinely been accused of trying to deflect blame for the virus’s emergence as well as downplaying its severity.

Chinese media and the Communist Party of China has repeatedly jumped at the opportunity to claim the virus originated elsewhere, Yan Bennett, Assistant Director of the Paul and Marcia Wythes Center on Contemporary China at Princeton University, explained for The Conversation.

Unlike in Chinese media, the studies identified by the Global Times have faced scrutiny by experts, with some saying if the virus had been detected in other nations earlier, it did not categorically mean the virus did not originate in China.

Chinese Covid reporting slammed and ‘pure propaganda’

When German epidemiologist Alexander Kekule spoke of the G strain of Covid-19 being found in northern Italy, it was pounced upon by Chinese state media and Beijing officials.

State agency Xinhua categorically claimed the virus did not originate in Wuhan, pinning the claim on Professor Kekule’s comments – a move he strongly refutes.

One headline at the time read: “China is innocent.”

“This is pure propaganda,” Prof Kekule told The New York Times last month.

Prof Kekule continues to state the pandemic originated in China and fears the outbreak may have been concealed during its infancy.

Such a theory is supported by Harvard University research that indicates search engine data shows searches for Covid-like symptoms in China spiked in Autumn 2019.

Masked people crossing a road in China. Source: Getty
Chinese media has refuted claims the coronavirus originated from Wuhan. Source: Getty

China to wait on official stance

Ms Hua deflected further questioning from Sudworth who asked whether it was now China’s official stance the virus was initially imported into China.

“We should rely on scientists and medical experts to arrive at a conclusion based on science and facts. This is our consistent and official stance,” she hit back.

Ms Hua took aim at Western media, citing the “appalling injustice” China had faced.

She referred to outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s unfounded claims Washington had cause to believe the virus had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

“Since it's a matter of science and the WHO experts to China are still conducting their research, then why were there so many conspiracy theories against China?”

While China has insisted it has alway cooperated with the World Health Organisation over investigations into the origins of the pandemic, the WHO said earlier this month it was disappointed at a delayed entry of scientists into China.

Some experts fear China’s control over the narrative of the virus will hinder investigations as Beijing looks to protect its global reputation.

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