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Radio Free Asia

China's State Broadcaster Takes Down Virus Article Outed as 'Fake News'

By Jane Tang 2021-08-11 -- Some Chinese state media outlets have removed a report on the origins of the coronavirus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic that cited a "Swiss biologist" after the Swiss embassy said there was no such person.

ChinaNews.com had originally posted an article on July 30 titled "U.S. Pressure on the World Health Organization (WHO) Over the Origins of the Coronavirus May be a Political Move: Swiss Biologist."

The article cited a "Swiss biologist" named as "Wilson Edwards," who quoted a WHO source as saying that the U.S. is fighting back to regain political influence at the agency, and using unproven claims that the coronavirus originated in Wuhan, possibly a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, to achieve this aim.

The piece was picked up my many other outlets and social media accounts across China.

The Swiss Embassy in Beijing responded on Aug. 10 with a statement calling for the removal of all articles citing "Edwards."

"In the last several days, a large number of press articles and social media posts citing an alleged Swiss biologist have been published in China," the embassy said in a statement on its website.

"While we appreciate the attention on our country, the Embassy of Switzerland must unfortunately inform the Chinese public that this news is false," the statement said.

In a tweet linking to the statement, the embassy added: "Looking for Wilson Edwards, alleged biologist, cited in press and social media in China over the last several days. If you exist, we would like to meet you!"

"But it is more likely that this is a fake news, and we call on the Chinese press and netizens to take down the posts," the tweet said.

The original article was still visible on ChinaNews.com on Aug. 11, a day after the statement was made public.

However, copies of the article appeared to have been deleted from the Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo and from the website of state broadcaster CCTV.

A July 24 Facebook post to an account named as "Wilson Edwards" also claimed to have inside information from the WHO showing that the agency's plans to investigate the "lab leak" theory of the coronavirus' origins were "largely politically motivated."

The post was still visible without attribution on at least one Facebook account on Aug. 11.

Overseas political commentator Hu Ping said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is trying to fight back over WHO plans to start a second phase of investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The WHO is talking about a second phase of investigation ... while the Biden administration will [make] public the results of its investigation into the origins of the pandemic at the end of this month, so the Chinese government is under a lot of pressure," Hu told RFA.

"They are firing random shots and using every trick up their sleeve, no matter how ridiculous or contradictory," he said.

"The point of creating such confusion is to cover up whatever they want to hide," Hu said.

Meanwhile, three Chinese "think tanks" that published a report criticizing the U.S. response to the pandemic are closely connected to the CCP, sources said.

Hong Kong's Ming Pao newspaper and Hu Ping both said there was a strong link between the Chongyang Institute of Financial Studies at Renmin University and the CCP.

Stephen Morrison, senior vice president and director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, said the WHO's last investigative trip to China to look at the origins of the pandemic had left too many questions unanswered.

But he said it was "too early to say" whether the virus had been leaked from a laboratory.

President Joe Biden asked the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Defense Intelligence Agency to submit a their report on the origins of the pandemic by Aug. 26.

In a report on Aug. 5, CNN cited several people familiar with the matter as saying that the U.S. intelligence agencies have obtained, and are studying and deciphering, data and genetic material from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Decrypting these data can provide clues about how the virus has mutated over time and whether there are traces of human manipulation, the report said.

A World Health Organization (WHO) team sent to Wuhan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic in February 2021 sent out mixed signals regarding the transparency of the probe.

Investigators said China refused to hand over raw data on early COVID-19 cases, making it harder to figure out how the outbreak began.

White House officials said at the time that they had "deep concerns" about the investigation.

The WHO experts agreed that the virus likely jumped from bats to an unknown animal species, before being transmitted to humans.

They also said that it was "extremely unlikely" that the virus came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been at the center of international speculation around the origins of the pandemic.

For its part, China has sought to direct the narrative away from Wuhan as the originating point of the virus, calling for a probe into imported frozen food and a possible U.S. origin for the pandemic.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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