Does it matter the place the virus that causes COVID-19 got here from? By way of frontline medication, maybe not — sufferers nonetheless have to be handled and the general public well being disaster managed.
However in terms of geopolitics, it issues significantly, notably to the US and China. So, a brand new investigation into the origins of the virus should be seen within the context of a long-running blame sport between the US and China.
Biden’s newest transfer
Final week, President Joe Biden introduced he had ordered an extra US intelligence investigation into the origins of COVID-19, asking for a report again in 90 days.
He revealed the US intelligence group is cut up between two doubtless eventualities — human contact with animals or a lab accident — and couldn’t assess whether or not one was “extra doubtless than the opposite”.
It is a important shift from early scepticism about theories involving the Wuhan Institute for Virology. Final yr, The Lancet printed an announcement from well being scientists, who mentioned:
We stand collectively to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 doesn’t have a pure origin.
Why is the US stirring up the investigation now?
The lab accident principle has moved from the perimeter to change into rather more mainstream within the US, most lately with a Wall Avenue Journal article final month, reporting sickness amongst Wuhan lab employees shortly earlier than the primary instances of COVID-19.
With the Biden administration doing a wonderful job bringing the COVID disaster beneath management in America, the very fact he’s nonetheless specializing in the origin of the virus is a reminder of the home politics across the concern. Donald Trump promised a conclusive report and Biden can’t afford to be seen as any much less powerful.
‘Victims’ versus ‘saviours’
Relating to the pandemic catastrophe, the US needs historical past books to indicate it because the sufferer of exterior forces, somewhat than its personal mismanagement.
This was notably the case throughout the Trump administration. Within the face of the unfolding well being disaster, it emphasised the origin of the virus, with Trump and officers referring to the “Chinese language Virus” and even “Kung Flu”.
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The US rightly criticised early Chinese language mishandling, with former secretary of state Mike Pompeo vocal about China’s suppression of early warnings and lack of transparency. The constant message was the pandemic was “made in China”.
From the Chinese language facet, it needs to be remembered because the regime that confirmed the world the best way to overcome the virus, not the one which unleashed it. China has already tried to muddy the waters across the origin of the virus, even suggesting
it may be [the] US military who introduced the epidemic to Wuhan.
It has emphasised its success in battling COVID-19 with enviably low case numbers.
Domestically, that is used to indicate the prevalence of China’s political and governance system. Internationally, China is making an attempt to place itself as a accountable, humanitarian world energy, a rustic that helps others with medical provides by its “masks diplomacy”.
What do worldwide investigations say up to now?
In 2020, the 194 member states of the World Well being Meeting tried to get an unbiased and complete analysis of the worldwide well being response to COVID-19. This was by an Unbiased Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, headed by former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and former Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In its Could report, the panel was important of China’s early dealing with and the World Well being Group’s delay in declaring an emergency. However it didn’t make a discovering on the origins of the virus, saying the precise transmission cycle stays unknown.
Ng Han Guan/AP/AAP
The duty of investigating the origins of the virus was given to a joint World Well being Group-China technical mission.
The mission discovered the lab situation was “extraordinarily unlikely”. However it was criticised when it got here to the information made out there. The US mentioned the report offered a “partial and incomplete” image. Regardless of China’s hopes, the report didn’t resolve questions on the place the virus started.
Washington DC known as on the WHO to open a second section to its investigation, which China rejected. With this avenue blocked, the Biden administration has mentioned it’s going to publish the outcomes of its personal inquiry.
What does this imply for Australia?
Within the speedy time period, there aren’t any apparent ramifications for Australia. The form of US-China relations beneath Biden is evident: aggressive when it needs to be, collaborative when it could possibly and adversarial when it should.
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The most recent inquiry might deliver up reminiscences of Australia’s push for a world inquiry final yr, which China noticed as “dancing to the tune” of the US. If Australia is seen to get behind the lab leak principle, this can doubtless be framed by China as “Canberra making an attempt to please Washington”.
To this point, overseas minister Marise Payne has merely welcomed Biden’s announcement whereas prime minister Scott Morrison has positioned it inside the context of the unbiased panel’s work. We are going to see if defence minister Peter Dutton is extra fiery, having beforehand talked up the lab principle after contracting the virus (satirically throughout a go to to the White Home).
Whereas some may say we must always wait till the disaster is over to assign fault, that is by no means going to occur when the US and China are involved. The battle to regulate the COVID-19 narrative began the identical day because the battle towards the virus itself.
Melissa Conley Tyler doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.