A microbiologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences implied on Thursday the United States will remain a potential origin of the Chinese coronavirus until American officials prove otherwise.
The alleged scientist, Shi Yi, claimed that American officials had “not given any public response” on the issue of a Chinese Communist Party conspiracy theory that a U.S. Army laboratory in Maryland was the origin of the virus. China has offered no evidence supporting this claim, but Shi said he could not comment on it – or the lack of evidence backing the theory – until the United States engages in “mutual corroboration of the abundant biological information and epidemiological evidence available.”
“Responding to viral reports alleging that the novel coronavirus was leaked from a US military biochemical laboratory, Chinese scientists said that they could not make a judgment on the allegation, as the US had not given any public response on the issue,” the Global Times, a Chinese state propaganda outlet, reported on Thursday.
Shi reportedly insisted that “the origin of the virus is a scientific issue requiring a long period of research and involves a great deal of uncertainty,” despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that the virus originated in China.
“Figuring out the origin of the virus will help prevent a similar pandemic and protect human society, and provide scientific support for humans to take targeted protective measures against the virus,” Shi reportedly said. “Scientists from various countries around the world have been committed to the work … However, the research requires mutual corroboration of the abundant biological information and epidemiological evidence available, which will take a long time and is full of uncertainty.”
The Global Times did not indicate that Shi mentioned the U.S. Army conspiracy theory – first floated by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, later by the Global Times – in any of his remarks. Yet the newspaper itself linked Shi’s press statements to “circulating reports alleging that the Fort Detrick laboratory, which handles high-level disease-causing materials such as Ebola, in Fredrick, Maryland, may be the origin of the deadly novel coronavirus.”
“Some other posts on social media platforms also alleged that a U.S. armed diplomatic driver and cyclist who was in Wuhan in October 2019 for the cycling competition in the Military World Games, could be patient zero for COVID-19 in Wuhan,” the Global Times asserted, linking to the “other post” that fabricated this theory, the Global Times.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian first raised the unsubstantiated claim of the United States infecting Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus originated, with the virus on Twitter in March.
“When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” Zhao wrote.
China has made it illegal for its citizens to use Twitter, though its senior propagandists at the Chinese Foreign Ministry and Global Times freely publish misinformation on the platform.
The Global Times followed up on Zhao’s allegation by identifying a U.S. Army facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland, as the alleged source of the virus. The Times used the fact that the facility studied Ebola, a virus with a very different genetic composition than the coronavirus family and a much less contagious one,
“The Fort Detrick laboratory that handles high-level disease-causing material, such as Ebola, in Fredrick, Maryland was shut after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a cease and desist order to the organization in July, 2019 according to local media,” the Global Times noted.
Chinese outlets such as the Arabic-language China Global Television Network (CGTN) have also promoted speculation about the Maryland laboratory.
The Global Times published another article Thursday citing a Wuhan University scientist insisting that Wuhan could potentially not be the origin location of the Chinese coronavirus. The article linked comments by Yang Zhanqiu stating that the virus “may have multiple birthplaces” to the revelation that California had community spread of Chinese coronavirus as early as February. The first confirmed case of the virus is believed to have been documented in November in Wuhan.
The article also cited reports that community spread occurred earlier than believed in Lombardy, Italy, to indicate that the virus may not have originated in China, without noting the large population of Chinese immigrants from Wuhan in the region.
The Global Times‘ insinuations contrasted significantly with the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Daily, which published two articles on Wednesday and Thursday insisting that the Chinese coronavirus was not “artificially engineered” and did not originated in any laboratory.
“After analyzing the public genome sequence data from SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses, scientists found no evidence that the virus was made in a laboratory or engineered in any way,” the People’s Daily insisted.
“Finding the origin and source of the virus is essential for mankind to fight the global war against the virus. Science-related issues must be solved in science-based approaches and professional questions need to be answered by professionals,” another People’s Daily article insisted.
The People’s Daily scolded “the fallacies and conspiracy theories accompanying the spread of the pandemic” as “not only unhelpful for countries to fight the pandemic, but also breed mistrust, and eventually disrupt the joint anti-virus efforts and disturb global solidarity and cooperation.”