The renewed U.S. attempts to blame China for the Covid-19 emergence propelling ‘lab leak’ theory has provoked the Chinese embassy in the U.S. to blast Biden’s administration, comparing their moves with how the George W. Bush administration pushed the false claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.
Bush administration propelled and used the claim that Saddam Hussein possessed a clandestine advanced WMD program and posed an imminent to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The accusations were later proven false, but were initially endorsed uncritically and enthusiastically by the U.S. media establishment, the institution that is supposed to keep politicians in check by digging for the truth.
“The origin of Covid-19 is a subject of scientific inquiry that should not be politicized. The campaign to politicize the study of origins and smear China is no different from the lies about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) 12 years ago,” embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu tweeted.
Pengyu was evidently referring to the origin hypothesis that the virus causing Covid-19 did not emerge naturally but was rather a product of gain-of-function experiments at a virus laboratory in Wuhan, China, but managed to escape, starting the devastating pandemic.
Proponents of the theory believe that China obstructed the investigation and pressured the World Health Organization for an exculpatory report. WHO also investigated the origin of Covid-19 but said there’s not much evidence to back the ‘lab leak’ theory and that natural evolution was more plausible.
The ‘lab leak’ theory was favored by former U.S. President Donald Trump but the U.S. press and the Democrats discarded it at the time as a conspiracy theory, but made a U-turn after President Joe Biden ordered the U.S. intelligence community in late May to produce a report on the issue.
The Wall Street Journal published an article last Sunday, arguing that the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus carries clear markers of splicing, which means it had been produced in a lab.
“Proponents of zoonotic origin must explain why the novel coronavirus, when it mutated or recombined, happened to pick its least favorite combination [of genes]. Why did it replicate the choice the lab’s gain-of-function researchers would have made?” the opinion piece by physician Steven Quay and professor of physics Richard Muller said.
The situation gets higher level of complexity due to the fact that the gain-of-function research conducted in the Wuhan Institute of Virology was funded by U.S. money, partly from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is headed by Anthony Fauci.
This type of research is aimed at producing dangerous strains of infections in a lab and finding ways to counter them before they can emerge naturally, but some experts consider it highly dangerous because of the potential for accidental release or even bioterrorism.
Many people have called the treatment of the lab leak theory this generation’s ‘Iraqi WMDs moment’, though some believe the failure was in dismissing the claim just because journalists loathed Trump.
“The question of whether a lab accident was the origin got stuck in this hyper-politicised context. When Trump was instrumentalising the issue as part of an anti-China and anti-Asia campaign, people didn’t want to associate with that. And so they kept their distance,” J Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says.
According to Mathew Burrows, the Atlantic Council director of Foresight, Strategy and Risks Initiative, the decision to release a statement calling for further investigation on ‘lab leak’ theory serves a domestic purpose for Biden – to not appear “weak on China” and head off Republican criticism going into Congressional midterm elections in 2022. He also pointed that releasing the statement during the World Health Assembly also puts Beijing and the WHO – on notice.
“The U.S. is again a player in the WHO. So I think they want to stiffen the WHO against bending too much towards China,” Burrows added.