China's Xi Says Pandemic Probe Should Only Happen Once Virus is 'Under Control,' But WHO Says That Could Be 5 Years Away

Chinese President Xi Jinping has indicated his support for an eventual international investigation into the COVID-19 coronavirus, though only once the pandemic has been brought "under control."

Speaking at the opening of the World Health Organization's World Health Assembly meeting—being held virtually from Geneva, Switzerland—Xi told attendees that China has been fully transparent over the outbreak, despite allegations from other nations that Beijing intentionally concealed vital information and warning signs.

Multiple nations and world leaders have called on China to allow an independent international investigation into the origins and course of the COVID-19 virus.

The dominant theory is that the novel coronavirus originated at a wildlife market in Wuhan. Some—including President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—have suggested that the virus escaped from a research laboratory in the city.

Both have blamed China for the pandemic, arguing that Beijing mishandled its outbreak and intentionally misled the world about the danger. Trump has even hinted at repercussions for China over the crisis.

Chinese officials have so far rejected demands for a probe, arguing that any investigation must be conducted in the "right atmosphere" and only after the pandemic has been defeated.

Xi echoed these sentiments on Monday, noting that while China "supports the idea of a comprehensive review" of coronavirus, it would only do so "after it is brought under control." Xi did not give any indication of what constitutes under control, nor when the world might reach this stage.

Any probe should be "based on science and professionalism," led by the WHO and conducted in an "objective and impartial manner," Xi added.

Last week, the WHO's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned that it could take four to five years before COVID-19 is brought under control. Research teams across the world are striving to create a vaccine, though experts have warned that this may take more than a year. Even then, any vaccine will need to be produced on a massive scale and distributed around the world.

"Science can come up with the vaccine—someone is going to make it and we've got to make enough of it so everyone can get a dose of it and we've got to be able to deliver that," Swaminathan told a Financial Times webinar. "And people have got to want to take that vaccine. Every single one of those steps is fraught with challenges."

On Monday, Xi also rejected any suggestion that the Chinese Communist Party had misled the world about the crisis. Officials are accused of silencing whistleblower doctors, underreporting the true number of infections and deaths, hiding warning signs of the looming pandemic to secure more time to gather needed medical supplies, and conducting a disinformation campaign to absolve itself of blame and malign other nations.

Xi said China has "acted with openness, transparency and responsibility" during the pandemic, while providing the WHO and relevant countries with information "in the most timely fashion" and "without reservation."

Xi expressed China's continued support for the WHO—to which Trump has threatened to cut funding, accusing the United Nations body of facilitating China's alleged cover up efforts—and announced a raft of measures to assist developing nations in their fight against the virus.

Xi said China would provide $2 billion over two years to support affected nations, and that Beijing would work with the U.N. to set up a global humanitarian response depot and hub within China, ensuring the operation of vital anti-pandemic supply chains with the help of "fast track transportation and customs clearance."

In Africa, China will establish a "cooperation mechanism for its hospitals to pair up with 30 African hospitals and accelerate the building of the Africa [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] headquarters to help the continent ramp up its disease preparedness and control capacity."

The president added that he would make any Chinese-produced vaccine a "global public good" and ensure its "accessibility and affordability in developing countries." Xi added that China will work with fellow G20 nations to agree debt service suspensions for the poorest countries facing economic strain due to the pandemic.

Xi Jinping, China, coronavirus, WHO, WHA, investigation
A picture taken on March 9, 2020 shows the logo of the World Health Organization at the entrance of their headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images/Getty