In July, the WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said it was “premature” to rule out the possibility of a lab leak, saying the world needed “direct information on what the situation of these labs was before and at the start of the pandemic.”
Instead, to defer attention, official Chinese media revved up its long-running conspiracy trope that the virus originated at Fort Detrick, an Army biological research facility in Maryland. There is zero evidence for such a claim.
I got a sense of the Chinese operation from Ben Dubow, founder of Omelas, a company that analyzes how states manipulate the web to achieve geopolitical goals.
“After the WHO said it would investigate, Chinese official propaganda outlets went all out with (the Fort Detrick theory), 10 articles a day,” Dubow said.
The evidence-free claim of a U.S. bioweapon has been regurgitated by Iranian and Venezuelan officials — and by Russian state outlets. “China and Russia have formed an opportunistic propaganda alliance to blame the U.S. for COVID-19,” Dubow writes in a fascinating article for the Center for European Policy Analysis, where he is a fellow.
If COVID-19 occurred naturally, probably jumping from bat virus directly to human or via an intermediate animal, this calls into question China’s surveillance programs. It indicates the government can’t stop the next pandemic. If the virus originated from a careless lab accident, lab safety must be rectified.
Whether from nationalism or fear of embarrassment, China is trapping itself with these fake narratives that prevent the world from discovering the true origins of the virus. But the world is trapped, too.
President Joe Biden has ordered a 90-day intelligence community review of the pandemic’s origins that should be completed this month. But, absent critical Chinese data, that report won’t be definitive.
Permitting China to hide the origins of this coronavirus boosts the chance of another pandemic. Moreover, to let China and Russia spread a lie about a U.S. bioweapon presents other dangers. “If we allow it without challenge, they will convince large swaths of the (developing) world that the U.S. is the source of the virus,” says cybersecurity expert Clint Watts.
Even as the administration fights misinformation about COVID-19 on the home front, Biden must figure out how to fight China’s Big COVID Lie and press Beijing to come clean.