Several Chinese state media outlets have scrubbed references to a Swiss biologist by the name of “Wilson Edwards” from articles published in recent weeks, after the Swiss embassy in Beijing revealed how a statement attributed to Edwards, and shared widely by Chinese press and netizens, was falsified.

The move comes after the Swiss embassy issued a statement on Tuesday saying no Swiss citizen by the name of Wilson Edwards exists and that no academic articles written by any biologist with the same name have been found.

China Daily and CGTN references, now scrubbed. Photo: Screenshot.

“In the last several days, a large number of press articles and social media posts citing an alleged Swiss biologist have been published in China. While we appreciate the attention on our country, the Embassy of Switzerland must unfortunately inform the Chinese public that this news is false,” its statement read.

In a Facebook post from July 24, an account under the name of “Wilson Edwards” claimed to have witnessed attempts by the US to “politicise” the continuing efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to uncover the origins of the coronavirus.

“I have the impression that WHO’s new plans, which include lab audits, are largely politically motivated,” the post read. It also questioned the international health body’s independence, accusing the US of placing pressure on it to place its own experts on a new team to carry out the probe’s second phase.

Photo: Internet.

The post also quoted a “source” as saying that US President Biden would “spare no efforts” to “rebuild US influence in the organization” and “seek to dominate key issues.”

The picture above Edwards’s name is not of Bern; it is of the Radcliffe Camera, a library in Oxford.

The claims were later picked up by Chinese state media to lend weight to articles accusing the US of politically manipulating the WHO’s probe into the origins of Covid-19. “US attempts to overturn report, leveraging WHO into political tool: Swiss biologist,” a People’s Daily opinion headline read one week after the original post.

The embassy also added that the Wilson Edwards Facebook account was created on the same day of the post, and only had three friends: “It is likely that this Facebook account was not opened for social networking purposes,” it said.

It also called on the Chinese press and netizens to take down posts featuring the disputed biologist, saying it is likely a case of “fake news.”

A team of WHO experts carried out a probe in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected, earlier this year. The investigation report said the theory that the virus leaked from a lab was “unlikely.” Critics have questioned whether the team was given access to all available data by China. Beijing has since rejected plans for the probe’s second phase.

Erasure

As of Wednesday, CGTN, People’s Daily and China Daily all appeared to have removed references to Edwards and his statement from their articles, while the Global Times pulled an article by CGTN from its site altogether.

The removed article, entitled “Covid-19 origin tracing: Claim emerges of ‘intimidation’ from the US,” was last accessible on the Global Times on Tuesday afternoon. Copies were still available via Google’s cache tool.

HKFP has reached out to the outlets for comment.

The debacle is the latest development in an ongoing dispute between China and the US over a probe into the origins of the coronavirus, in which both sides have claimed the virus was leaked from a lab on the other’s soil.

File photo: GovHK.

This is not the first time Beijing has relied on Western “expert” personas to bolster its narrative.

In April, a CGTN article written by a French journalist by the name of Laurene Beaumond disputed reports of mass human rights abuses against Uighur muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang region. Beaumond had allegedly lived in the region for years.

French paper Le Monde later ran an article saying that no French reporter by that name existed. In response, the Global Times published a piece asserting that the journalist was a real person who was using a pseudonym, and demanded the other paper apologise.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.