China’s ruling Communist Party leaders congratulated themselves on their “extremely extraordinary” achievement in domestically controlling the COVID-19 outbreak, ahead of a probe by the World Health Organization (WHO) into the origins of the disease.
China has faced a storm of criticism at home and abroad over its initial handling of the virus that emerged last December in the central city of Wuhan.
China’s Politburo, the top decision-making body of the Communist Party, said that the party leadership “played a decisive role in leading China in prevailing over the rare risks and challenges this year.”
“At the critical moment the Party Central Committee took a long-term view achieving an extremely extraordinary glory in this extremely unusual year,” state news agency reported.
China has largely curbed the spread of the virus and is one of the only major economies reporting growth this year. Yet it has been accused of covering up the initial outbreak and thereby contributing to the spread of the virus globally.
At home, by prosecuting at least eight reporters, China has tried to stifle criticism. Since May, Zhang Zhan, a Chinese citizen journalist who has reported on Wuhan’s outbreak, has been detained and is scheduled to go on trial next week.
Mr. Zhang is a former lawyer who travelled to the city in February to report on the chaotic initial stages of the outbreak, through livestreams and critical essays widely shared on social media platforms banned in China.
The two-day Politburo meeting comes shortly before an international team of WHO experts is expected to arrive in China to investigate the animal origins of COVID-19, during which trip they will visit Wuhan.
An expert from the team said that the investigation was “not about finding a guilty country or a guilty authority”, but about “about understanding what happened to avoid that in the future”.
China has recently attempted to cast doubts on the origins of the virus, with the the state-run People’s Daily newspaper saying in a Facebook post in early November that “all available evidence suggests that the coronavirus did not start in central China’s Wuhan”.
China has also tried to enhance its soft power push during the pandemic by promising to share its vaccines with developing countries, and engaging in “mask diplomacy” by donating personal protective gear to countries in need.