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April 9, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Coronavirus lab escape theory advances
For weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak began, mainstream media outlets, reflecting propaganda themes voiced by the Chinese government, have sought to label public discussion about a laboratory origin of the coronavirus as an unfounded conspiracy theory.

China’s government and many scientists insist that the virus resulted from a naturally occurring mutation from bats to humans, with a possible wild animal host as an intermediary carrier.

Further, critics of the lab escape theory deceptively have conflated the idea that China bioengineered the virus as a weapon together with the possible inadvertent escape of a bat coronavirus.

As reported by The Washington Times, China has discovered some 2,000 viruses, including deadly bat coronaviruses, in the past 12 years, carrying out the research at a less secure laboratory in Wuhan some 3 miles from the suspected center of the outbreak, the Huanan Seafood Market, which traffics in wild animals. That laboratory and a key researcher, Tian Junhua, have been working on bat coronaviruses in a search for vaccines to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that first broke out in 2003.

A March article in The Washington Post ridiculed the idea that the virus escaped from a lab as a “fringe” theory. Likewise, The New York Times labeled lab origin a “conspiracy theory.”

The Post’s David Ignatius, however, surprised many last week with a column pointing out questions about claims that the outbreak originated at the wild animal market in Wuhan. No bats were sold at the market.

Mr. Ignatius, a frequent source of leaks from liberal U.S. intelligence analysts, reported that American intelligence agencies do not think the coronavirus outbreak is deliberate wrongdoing by the Chinese. But they have not ruled out an accidental release of a virus that had been gathered for scientific study.

The reception of the theory of an accidental leak is changing among scientists as well.

Last month, the authoritative Nature Medicine published new information from a group of top U.S. scientists who have studied virus. The authors include Kristian G. Andersen, Andrew Rambaut, W. Ian Lipkin, Edward C. Holmes and Robert F. Garry, who have all written on the new virus.

The scientists acknowledged in a letter that the origin of the virus is not known but said there was strong scientific evidence it was not manipulated in a laboratory. They believe the virus jumped through “natural selection in humans following zoonotic [animal] transfer.”

But there is a second theory based on China’s known work on bat coronaviruses at level two security laboratories — far lower than the high-security level four lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. China has experienced lab escapes of viruses in the past, including the SARS virus. Thus, the new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, could have leaked.

“We must therefore examine the possibility of an inadvertent laboratory release of SARS-CoV-2,” the scientists stated.

The Epoch Times went further in a detailed investigation of the origin of the coronavirus broadcast Tuesday in an online documentary.

The newspaper’s investigation uncovered evidence — a Chinese scientific paper published on Jan. 7 in Nature — indicating that the new coronavirus is closely related to two SARS-like virus samples from bats obtained by the People’s Liberation Army and studied at a military research center in Nanjing, China.

China’s government this week renewed calls for greater cooperation in dealing with the pandemic. Beijing, however, has not disclosed what it knows about the origin of the virus or its extensive bat coronavirus research done at the Wuhan laboratories.

Congress is stepping up calls for China to be held accountable for the pandemic causing mass death and global economic dislocation.

“The world should send a bill to China,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “Without Chinese misconduct, there would be no pandemic, and they need to pay a price.”

Noting that the deadly virus spread is the third time China has caused a pandemic, Mr. Graham said China should pay “big time.”

Mr. Graham wants to end U.S. reliance on pharmaceutical supplies from China and sharply curtail trading relations by the United States and the rest of the world. He also wants China to close its “wet markets,” the wild animal markets that are suspected of being a source of the coronavirus outbreak.

“When they give us stuff, it’s like an arsonist who set a fire giving us a bucket of water. You shouldn’t be grateful because without the arsonist there would be no fire,” he said in interviews this week on Fox News Channel.

Rep. Jim Banks, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, this week called on the State and Justice departments to sue China for damages caused by the coronavirus in the U.N. International Court of Justice.

“If China’s leaders hadn’t become embarrassed by the outbreak and tried to cover up its spread, the world may have had a better chance to prepare for this or even contain it in Wuhan or China,” the Indiana Republican said.

“Instead, we have a pandemic. China shoulders most of that blame. Rather than succumb to the propaganda and spin of Chinese officials, the world must hold them accountable for mishandling this outbreak. If the United Nations cannot even do that, it has completely lost its purpose.”

Mr. Banks wants Beijing to pay reparations for failing to alert the world to the virus outbreak.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, also is advocating for forcing China to pay damages. Ms. Blackburn has called for China to waive some of the nearly $1 trillion debt of the U.S. government.

Chinese diplomats are known for going to great lengths when it comes to the work of foreign embassies, recalling English author and diplomat Sir Henry Wotton’s description of a foreign ambassador as a gentleman “sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.”

Critics have described Chinese diplomats as akin to mafia lawyers sent out to defend criminal clients — the leaders of the Communist Party. Around the world, China is deploying its diplomats to write articles and letters to defend Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, Australia’s Daily Telegraph did a journalistic takedown of a letter to the newspaper sent by the Chinese consulate general in Sydney, a letter that was sharply critical of the paper’s pandemic coverage.

The Chinese official, who signed the letter but was not named by the paper, characterized The Daily Telegraph’s coverage as being “full of ignorance, prejudice and arrogance.”

In response, columnist Tim Blair wrote, “If a state-owned newspaper in China received this kind of complaint, subsequent days would involve journalists waking up in prison with their organs harvested.”

On the origin of the virus, the consulate said that subject was an issue requiring professional, science-based assessment.

“Sure it does. How professional and science-based was the claim published on March 12 by China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian that ‘it might be U.S. Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan‘?” Mr. Blair wrote.

The consulate then asked for the real motive behind critics who link the virus to China and state the virus was made in China.

“Our motive is accuracy,” Mr. Blair said.

The people of Wuhan made a huge effort and personal sacrifice to stop the epidemic, the letter said.

Mr. Blair retorted: “Wuhan’s Dr. Li Wenliang indeed made a huge effort to warn people about the coronavirus outbreak. Then, as The New York Times reported: ‘In early January, he was called in by both medical officials and the police, and forced to sign a statement denouncing his warning as an unfounded and illegal rumor.’

“And now he’s dead, so that’s ‘personal sacrifice’ covered as well,” he wrote. Dr. Li died of COVID-19 complications.

The consulate letter noted China’s epidemic prevention and control was part of “the people-centered philosophy of the Communist Party of China and the strong advantages of the Chinese system.”

In 2018, Amnesty International reported that China executed more citizens than the rest of the world combined, Mr. Blair noted.

“Please tell us more about your ‘people-centered philosophy’ and how many bullets it requires,” he said.

The consulate concluded that the newspaper’s articles have “wantonly attacked and smeared the CPC and the Chinese government with vicious language.”

“And yet we haven’t been jailed or shot! Where’s the justice in that?” Mr. Blair said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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