Deleted Chinese university notices suggest clampdown on coronavirus research
As China continues to draw backlash over its handling of the coronavirus crisis, a report suggested that the government may be cracking down on academic research related to the origins of the virus. Critics reportedly said the move is aimed at controlling the narrative around the outbreak, which started in China's Wuhan and went on to kill over one lakh people around the world.
According to The Guardian, two websites for leading Chinese universities recently published and deleted pages referencing to a new policy that required academic papers on coronavirus research to undergo checks by the government. The notices were reportedly published on the websites of the Fudan University and China University of Geosciences (Wuhan). The publication's requests for a comment from the Chinese government reportedly went unanswered.
The since-deleted notice on the China University of Geosciences (Wuhan) mentioned additional vetting by China's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) as a requirement for academic papers on COVID-19 (Coronavirus Diseases 2019). The Fudan University notice—also deleted—mentioned additional review by a special office. Contact details of the office listed in the notice were traced to China's Ministry of Education by The Guardian.
Separately, a document obtained by The Guardian purportedly from the Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University also said research on the origins of COVID-19 would need the approval of MOST. The publication could not independently verify this document.
Director of the SOAS China Institute in London, Prof Steve Tsang, said, "If these documents are authentic it would suggest the government really wants to control the narrative about the origins of COVID-19." A Chinese studies senior research fellow at Monash University, Kevin Carrico, said, "They are seeking to transform [the outbreak] from a massive disaster to one where the government did everything right."
Carrico said that although he was not aware of any specific recent change in the rules for academic research in China, the documents accessed by The Guardian were consistent with Chinese efforts to control the narrative of the pandemic.
An April 3 notice from MOST said ongoing clinical coronavirus research must be reported to authorities within three days or be halted. Last month, Chinese diplomats and state media backed rumors that the virus originated elsewhere. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian suggested it came from the United States. In the early stages of the outbreak, Chinese authorities reportedly cracked down on whistleblowers and journalists.
Although there is no confirmation on the origins of the novel coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, it is largely believed to have emerged from the Huanan Seafood market in Wuhan in China's Hubei province. The virus is believed to have originated in bats and crossed over to humans through an intermediary animal. The virus has sickened nearly 18 lakh people worldwide and killed over 1 lakh.