Saturday, 18 September, 2021

COVID-19 Origin-Tracing Refuses American Exceptionalism

COVID-19 Origin-Tracing Refuses American Exceptionalism
LI Jiming

Many US politicians have been insistently smearing China ever since the outbreak of this pandemic. Not only former President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the misleading terms ‘Chinese Virus’ and ‘Wuhan Virus’, even the incumbent President Joe Biden points his fingers at China by directing the US intelligence community to take charge of the COVID-19 origins-tracing probe in China.

On August 27th, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the US released a summary of the intelligence community assessment on COVID-19 origins, which does not rule out either natural exposure or laboratory accident as the origins of SARS-CoV-2. The report wrongly claims that China "continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries".

Being suggestive as anticipated, the report frequently mentioned “a laboratory in Wuhan” and “the Wuhan Institute of Virology”. And it naturally hasn’t forgotten to slander that “Beijing, however, continues to hinder the global investigation, resist sharing information and blame other countries, including the United States.” It also falsely accused “China’s uncertainty about where an investigation could lead,” and openly seduced the international community “using the issue to exert political pressure on China.”

While the report arbitrarily claimed that “Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China”, a statement by the White House issued on the same day also purported that China tries to hold back international investigation and rejects calls for transparency. It urges “like-minded partners” to “press the PRC.”

It is not astonishing at all, and from the aforementioned, it should not take a genius to tell what is the true intention of the US government to absurdly use its intelligence agencies to take charge of virus origins-tracing job that is supposed to be a scientific work. People shall not forget that, the US intelligence groups have a notorious track record, and are good at collecting, or even inventing when necessary, “evidence” to support an intentional goal preset by the US politicians.

As the world has learnt a long time ago, Mr. Pompeo even boasted, "I was the CIA director, we lied, we cheated, we stole. We had entire training courses. It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment." Mr. Pompeo means what he says.

In 1964, the US intelligence community fabricated a faulty and misinterpreted report that North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the U.S. Seventh Fleet, which led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and escalated the Vietnam War.

In 2003, then US Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powell took a vial of washing powder to the UN Security Council as evidence of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). Iraq was then invaded, and needless to say, the WMD has never been found.

Now when the US is failing to control its domestic pandemic and losing its “position of strength” in various fields, it is no surprise that US intelligence groups are commanded to stick their eyes on China. The motive and purpose of the US-driven "investigation" relying on its intelligence apparatus is crystal clear.

By slandering China, however, the US government cannot whitewash itself. It is the US that first starts research in recombinant virus and possesses unrivaled strength in that area. And it is well documented that Professor Ralph Baric of the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine started researching recombinant coronaviruses back in 1990. He said in an interview with Italian media outlet PresaDiretta in September 2020 that “it is possible to engineer a virus without leaving a trace”.

Meanwhile, incompatible with its cutting-edge ability in recombining coronaviruses, the US keeps the world's worst bio-lab safety records. From January 2015 to June 2020, the UNC reported 28 lab incidents involving genetically engineered organisms to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Six of these incidents involved coronaviruses including SARS and MERS, many of which had undergone genetic engineering. Altogether eight researchers may have got infected.

In the fall of 2019 before the outbreak of COVID-19, the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) based at Fort Detrick was temporarily shut down after an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found serious safety incidents there. Later on, outbreaks of respiratory diseases occurred in nearby communities.

It is a really creepy “coincidence” that the USARMIID, together with the Integrated Research Facility also based at Fort Detrick, has close collaboration with aforementioned Prof. Baric to use his rich coronavirus resources and modification technique. In fact, the time line of the COVID-19 outbreak in the US has been constantly revised to earlier dates, with the connection between Fort Detrick bio-labs and coronavirus shrouded by suspicions. So far, the US government has been dodging these questions and remains reticent.

Given that the Fort Detrick base and Prof. Baric both have a long history of boasting coronavirus research as well as poor safety records, if someone in the US government insists on the lab leak hypothesis, then it's incumbent on the US to open up Fort Detrick to international investigation. In the same vein, if someone in the WHO Secretariat believes that the possibility of a lab leak cannot be ruled out, then it's incumbent on the WHO to investigate Fort Detrick. Regrettably, we still haven't heard about any plan in this direction yet.

No wonder, on August 24th, Ambassador Chen Xu, Permanent Representative of China to the UN Office at Geneva and other International Organizations in Switzerland, wrote to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and submitted two non-papers titled "Doubtful Points about Fort Detrick (USAMRIID)" and "Coronavirus Research Conducted by Dr. Ralph Baric's Team at University of North Carolina", and an open letter signed by more than 25 million Chinese netizens calling for an investigation into the Fort Detrick base.

Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, when asked about a relevant question the other day, said that all hypotheses regarding the origins of SARS-CoV-2 are still on the table, adding that China's call for an investigation into Fort Detrick is a "contradiction", as Beijing has fiercely pushed back against the lab-leak theory.

My explanation to him would be, we should leave no room for American Exceptionalism in the course of scientific virus origins-tracing. By calling for an investigation into Fort Detrick and the UNC, China hopes to show the world with facts whether the lab leak theory claimed by those in the US is tenable and credible. With this call, we also hope to free global origins study from the disruption posed by US politicization, so as to create enabling conditions for further science-based origins research.

In fact, China's position on the issue of global origins study is consistent and clear. Tracing the origins of the virus is a scientific issue. China always supports and will continue to participate in scientific origins study. It is extremely unlikely that the novel coronavirus was leaked from the WIV -- this is the clear conclusion of the WHO-China joint study report. Those who insist that the possibility of a lab-leak cannot be ruled out should investigate Fort Detrick and the UNC in the principle of fairness and justice. If they are bent on insisting the lab-leak theory, they should start with inviting WHO experts to launch a probe into Fort Detrick and the UNC.

The US action of scapegoating has aroused antipathy from the science community. Recently, among others, The Lancet and Cell published articles co-authored by dozens of scientists from various countries in support of the WHO-China Joint Report conclusions, and call for avoidance of political speculation in the course of origins-tracing research.

“The discussion over the origins of the pandemic has become politicized and heated, and we felt the time was right to take a critical look at all of the available evidence. Preventing future pandemics requires the political will to cut off the routes by which these viruses enter the human population. Focusing in the wrong direction will preclude those efforts from occurring,” the scientists said.

Given the points, rational people with common sense may come to the conclusion that, the US intelligence report is totally untenable. However, the report is not 100% useless. At least, it provides us a clear trace of a “political virus” that we shall truly be aware of and be alert to. Once infected with this “political virus”, the world would suffer from the syndrome of distrust and division.

As consequences, the momentum of global collaboration to fight the pandemic would be frustrated, and the focus on higher priorities like equal access to vaccines would be blurred. It will be the least developed countries and developing countries that bear all the brunt. Furthermore, should the first reporters of newly identified viruses be stigmatized as trouble makers, would any country dare to alarm the world when the next lethal pathogen comes? 

The world is at a crucial moment as new waves of pandemics caused by the mutation of the virus are sweeping throughout many countries. It is time for the US to stop using the origins study to seek political manipulation. The whole world including China and the US need to stay beyond narrow politics and focus on something bigger. The people of China and Bangladesh shall further join our hands tightly at both bilateral and multilateral levels, to accelerate vaccine production, secure equitable distribution of the vaccines, restart our economy, defeat the pandemic, and restore our health and prosperity at an early date.


The writer is the Ambassador of China to Bangladesh