Rejecting Covid Inquiry, China Peddles Conspiracy Theories Blaming the U.S.
Category: News & PoliticsVia: s • 2 weeks ago • 2 comments
When a conspiracy theory started circulating in China suggesting that the coronavirus escaped from an American military lab, it had largely stayed on the fringe. Now, the ruling Communist Party has propelled the idea firmly into the mainstream.
This week, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman repeatedly used an official podium to elevate unproven ideas that the coronavirus may have first leaked from a research facility in Fort Detrick, Md. A Communist Party publication, the Global Times, started an online petition in July calling for that lab to be investigated and said it gathered more than 25 million signatures.
Officials and state media have promoted a rap song by a patriotic Chinese hip-hop group that touted the same claim, with the lyrics: “How many plots came out of your labs? How many dead bodies hanging a tag?”
Beijing is peddling groundless theories that the United States may be the true source of the coronavirus, as it pushes back against efforts to investigate the pandemic’s origins in China. The disinformation campaign started last year, but Beijing has raised the volume in recent weeks, reflecting its anxiety about being blamed for the pandemic that has killed millions globally.
These theories, promoted by officials, academics, central propaganda outlets and on social media, have gained wider currency in China. They risk further muddying inquiries into the source of the virus and aggravating already frayed relations between the world’s top two powers at a time when cooperation is badly needed.
“This not only contributes to the further deterioration of U.S.-China relations but also makes it even less likely for the two countries to work together to face a common challenge,” said Yanzhong Huang, director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University. “We haven’t seen any bilateral cooperation over the vaccines, tracing the trajectory of the virus or mutations, any of these kind of things.”
Understanding the origin of the virus could help scientists prevent another pandemic. Virologists still largely lean toward the theory that the virus jumped from infected animals to humans outside a lab, but calls are growing to also investigate the possibility that the virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak...
Wang Wenbin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, has used routine news briefings this week to air baseless speculation that the virus had emerged in the United States before the first cases were reported in China. He cited an outbreak of lung disease in July 2019 in Wisconsin that American health authorities have already connected to vaping, not Covid. On Wednesday, he said the W.H.O. should investigate labs in Fort Detrick and elsewhere in the United States that research coronaviruses...
Never mind that such claims have been widely dismissed by scientists. (“I don’t think there is any validity to those accusations,” said Prof. Huang of Seton Hall University.) They have been given prominent play in China. This month, the state broadcaster carried several segments on what it called Fort Detrick’s “dark history.” The People’s Daily has recently run a 16-part series on American failures in controlling the coronavirus, with repeated questions about the Fort Detrick conspiracy.
“Why has the United States not invited the W.H.O. to visit Fort Detrick?” the newspaper wrote in an Aug. 6 commentary. “On the issue of traceability, if you can come to China, why can’t you go to the United States?”
The efforts to emphasize American malfeasance have sometimes backfired. After Chinese state media quoted a Swiss biologist who warned that the W.H.O. effort to examine the origins of the pandemic would become a tool of the United States, the embassy of Switzerland in China said the expert appeared to be fictitious.