By Xie Feng
May 12, 2020 6:30 pm ET
In 1666, as bubonic plague swept Europe, residents of the tiny village of Eyam in England’s East Midlands elected to quarantine themselves in hopes of protecting neighboring communities. When the lockdown was lifted in November 1667, 260 of the approximately 800 residents had died, but the self-isolation worked. The illness was contained.
In early 2020, caught in the Covid-19 outbreak, Wuhan, a transport hub of 11 million people in China’s Hubei province, locked itself down for 76 days. Making tremendous sacrifice against all the odds, it created a strong first line of defense for China and the world.
Covid-19 has thrust the world into uncharted territory. Among the countries hit by its first wave, China took a “closed-book exam,” with uplifting results that have informed other countries’ decision-making in the “open-book tests” that followed.
While China never intends to export its system or model, its efficiency, spirit and sense of responsibility in the lifesaving battle against Covid-19 should be obvious. But some have started rumors that the coronavirus was produced synthetically in China. Social media amplifies these falsehoods. Tasuku Honjo, a Japanese Nobel Laureate from Kyoto University, was forced to issue a public statement denying that he had claimed the virus had been “manufactured in China.” Some American politicians touted evidence—none of which has been produced—that the novel virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory. But even the Trump administration’s own scientists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have dismissed such theories.
Identifying the virus’s origin is a serious scientific issue. It is up to scientists to research and draw evidence-based conclusions. Politicians shouldn’t meddle in the process, much less stigmatize others.
Outbreaks have occurred world-wide, and there is dispute about where the virus first appeared. A pneumonia of unknown origin with flulike symptoms was seen in some countries in late 2019. According to recent research by University College London’s Genetics Institute, the pandemic may have started sometime between Oct. 6 and Dec 11. A growing number of countries have found that their assumed “patient zero” had not traveled to China and that the local dominant strains of the virus are different from those in China.
China was the first to spot and report the outbreak, identify the pathogen, and share its genome sequence with the World Health Organization and the rest of the world. Yet China has been accused of coverups and delays and put in the dock. At the same time, those who failed to test, report and act in a timely fashion are passing judgment on others. Isn’t it a bit ironic?
As the timeline changes and possible cases are discovered in other countries that predate those found in China, some are anxious to shift the blame instead of reflecting on their own failures in the virus’s early days. Was it because they lacked the techniques, or perhaps a sense of responsibility? Could there have been any undercounting or even coverup? Should a country be labeled as the origin of the virus, held accountable and made to pay for others’ inept responses simply because it was the first to report what it found? If so, what country will be willing to test people and honestly report the findings in the future?
Some are taking things further, trying to make a fortune out of the pandemic. They have demanded reparations from China, a chilling reminder of the Boxer Indemnity foreign powers coerced China into paying more than a century ago. As a Chinese proverb goes, “A gentleman pursues wealth in a righteous way.” Blackmail and plunder are surely not the correct response to a pandemic.
Some others have seen the crisis as an opportunity to cut off trade and decouple economically from China. This has caused bottlenecks in global industrial supply chains and will only set back the recovery of frail economies.
Fighting Covid-19 should be everyone’s first concern. The enemy is the virus. Scapegoating China will neither make up for the time that has been lost, nor save the lives that are at risk. We are teammates in this battle, not rivals. Countries need not compete with or envy each other, still less point the finger at or turn against one another. In fact, quite the opposite is necessary. We need to show sportsmanship and team spirit, give teammates who perform well a pat on the back, and lend a helping hand to those in need. After all, this is a fight nobody can afford to lose, one we must win together.
When disaster struck, people in Eyam and Wuhan made their heroic choices. They are the epitome of responsibility, self-sacrifice and solidarity. Such spirit defies time and space, transcends national, ethnic, religious and ideological boundaries, and inspires the international community to set aside prejudice and differences and unite as one. Not only has it kindled our hope of prevailing over the ongoing pandemic; but it will also light our way to a better future.
（Mr. Xie is commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong.）