Strict new limitations published online by two Chinese universities, then quickly removed, indicate that Chinese officials are rushing to contain the spread of harmful information. Xi Jinping is clamping down hard on any scientific research into the origins of the coronavirus. According to the now missing Ministry of Education directive, “academic papers about tracing the origin of the virus must be strictly and tightly managed.”
Party scrambles to contain the damage
A new official policy forces researchers to get special approval for any publication related to the virus through a “more stringent vetting” process. A central government official must sign off on the final report before it can be submitted for publication. This is an obvious scramble to contain the damage from studies published previously in the major journals regarding the very beginnings of human-to-human transmission. Those papers called into question both the government’s handling of the outbreak but also “its official account of it.”
The new policy was formally posted Friday, on Shanghai’s Fudan University website. A copy went up on the page for the China University of Geoscience in Wuhan soon after.
CNN called the Education Ministry to ask them about it. “It is not supposed to be made public. it is an internal document,” they were told. Right after hanging up with CNN, the Ministry yanked both copies down. They didn’t do it fast enough though and the Wayback Machine has a copy.
A government coverup
One anonymous researcher told CNN that it’s a coverup. “I think it is a coordinated effort from [the] Chinese government to control [the] narrative, and paint it as if the outbreak did not originate in China.” He’s not holding his breath that “they will really tolerate any objective study to investigate the origination of this disease.”
The official “Notice on the publication of academic papers related to the New Coronavirus Pneumonia Epidemic,” after a run through Google’s translator and an adjustment for the fact that it confuses “coronavirus” with “coronary,” reveals disturbing evidence of extreme government suppression in a blatant attempt to contain the damage.
They had a “March 25 meeting of the Public Opinion Team of the State Council’s New Coronavirus Pneumonia Epidemic Prevention and Control Mechanism,” that produced a set of “requirements.” Any “academic papers related to the New Coronavirus Pneumonia Epidemic need to be reviewed and filed in a classified manner.” That means “top secret.” They break the virus related papers into categories of censorship.
Virus tracing is declared top secret
“Papers related to virus tracing should be managed strictly.” Tracing means analyzing the gene sequence from various mutations of the virus over time, to see where the virus originated. Those must first be “reviewed and approved by the academic committee of the college.” Officials are nervous that the data may contradict the accepted version, that the novel coronavirus came from the Wuhan “wet market.”
A special new “traceability paper submission form” then needs to be filled out. It has to be on official college stationary, bearing the seal of the college. “Scan it into a PDF after the seal of the college, and send it to our contact email,” the notice instructs. After that, it will be up to the “scientific research team.” They’ll send an email with their decision on whether or not the material will be published or if they will “contain” it.
“Other papers related to the new Coronavirus pneumonia epidemic” are to be reviewed by the academic committee of the college. They are paying particular attention to the “value and timing of the papers.” That sounds like they’re just a touch nervous about what the research might show.
The bottom line is biosecurity
They also ask the university censors to to “put forward opinions on whether to publish them at home and abroad.” That suggests they intend to keep the juicier details to themselves. That form also has to have a college seal up top. These forms can only be submitted by “the school’s scientific research institute,” which is closely watched by party officials.
The notice also reminds researchers that the “bottom line” is “biosecurity.” That means “matters related to the management of human genetic resources must be examined and approved in strict accordance with regulations,” so they can contain it.
The report also hints they are working on a vaccine, which isn’t really a surprise. “The release of the results of the vaccine should be in line with the schedule and cannot be exaggerated.” It seems they’re trying out some therapy drugs too. “The drug efficacy evaluation and clinical experience should be summed up in time to form a high-quality paper.”
Yanzhong Huang, an expert on China in the U.S., agrees that the virus origin is a touchy subject in China. “It is no surprise that the government seeks to control related scientific research so that the findings do not challenge its own narrative on the origin of the virus and the government response to the crisis,” the professor. “The danger is that when scientific research is subject to the needs of those in power, it further undermines the credibility of the government narrative, making accusations of underreporting and misinformation more convincing.”