Chinese state media articles quoting a Swiss biologist accusing the US of politicising Covid origin investigations have been quietly deleted, after the Swiss government said no such person exists.
On 24 July, a Facebook post by an account named Wilson Edwards claimed to have witnessed or learned of US efforts to politicise the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 investigations from within.
Edwards cited unnamed WHO sources and “fellow researchers” complaining of having endured “enormous pressure and even intimidation from the US side as well as certain media outlets”.
“The WHO sources told me the US is so obsessed with attacking China on the origin-tracing issue that it is reluctant to open its eyes to the data and findings.”
The Facebook post was picked up widely by Chinese state media, including the Global Times, the People’s Daily – which headlined its story as “US attempts to overturn report, leveraging WHO into political tool” – China Daily, and CGTN in multiple languages.
Edwards’ growing fame caught the eye of the Swiss embassy, prompting staff to search citizen records and academic publications for any mention of him. On Tuesday, it posted to Twitter: “Looking for Wilson Edwards, alleged [Swiss] biologist, cited in press and social media in China over the last several days. If you exist, we would like to meet you!” it said.
“But it is more likely that this is a [sic] fake news, and we call on the Chinese press and netizens to take down the posts.”
An attached statement said the Chinese reports were false, and there was no registered Swiss citizen named Wilson Edwards, or any academic articles in the biology field under his name.
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On Wednesday, Chinese state media articles began disappearing from the internet, including from the Global Times and CGTN. The Wilson Edwards Facebook account – which was created on the same day it published its only post, with a profile photo of a library at Oxford University, and had just three friends – also appeared to have been deleted.
Facebook posts by the People’s Daily and at least one China Daily article remained live on Wednesday afternoon.
The origins of the Covid-19 virus, which are still unknown, have become a key point of hostility between China and other countries – in particular the US.
China has consistently rejected theories and accusations that the virus may have come from a lab leak in Wuhan. An investigation in January by a joint China-WHO team – which was criticised for lacking transparency and access amid claims the investigators were not given the data they requested – determined that the lab leak theory was less likely than other scenarios but did not rule it out.
The WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, later said the push to discount the theory had been “premature” but China seized on the finding. It has since refused to cooperate with a WHO proposal to further explore the possibility and to audit Chinese labs as part of the investigation’s next phase. Instead, foreign ministry officials and state media have heavily pushed unevidenced theories that the virus leaked from a US facility.
The Guardian has contacted the Chinese outlets for comment. – The Guardian