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Blaming China Is a Dangerous Distraction

Nobody denies that Chinese officials' initial effort to cover up the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan at the turn of the year was an appallingly misguided decision. But anyone who is still focusing on China's failings instead of working toward a solution is essentially making the same mistake.

LONDON – As the COVID-19 crisis roars on, so have debates about China’s role in it. Based on what is known, it is clear that some Chinese officials made a major error in late December and early January, when they tried to prevent disclosures of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, even silencing health-care workers who tried to sound the alarm. China’s leaders will have to live with these mistakes, even if they succeed in resolving the crisis and adopting adequate measures to prevent a future outbreak.

What is less clear is why other countries think it is in their interest to keep referring to China’s initial errors, rather than working toward solutions. For many governments, naming and shaming China appears to be a ploy to divert attention from their own lack of preparedness. Equally concerning is the growing criticism of the World Health Organization, not least by US President Donald Trump, who has attacked the organization for supposedly failing to hold the Chinese government to account. At a time when the top global priority should be to organize a comprehensive coordinated response to the dual health and economic crises unleashed by the coronavirus, this blame game is not just unhelpful but dangerous.

Globally and at the country level, we desperately need to do everything possible to accelerate the development of a safe and effective vaccine, while in the meantime stepping up collective efforts to deploy the diagnostic and therapeutic tools necessary to keep the health crisis under control. Given that there is no other global health organization with the capacity to confront the pandemic, the WHO will remain at the center of the response, whether certain political leaders like it or not.