China Demands Access to U.S. Military Bases to Probe Coronavirus Lab Leak

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian takes a question at the daily media briefing in Beijing on April 8, 2020. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP) (Photo by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

The United States “should immediately launch a virus origins-tracing study on itself” and grant global scientists access to its military laboratories, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian asserted Thursday.

Zhao made the demand for access to sensitive American military facilities — and, in particular, the U.S. Army biological laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland — in response to mounting global interest in the potential that the Chinese coronavirus originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a biological facility known to have been studying bat coronaviruses at the onset of the pandemic.

In March, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) published a 120-page report based on investigations in Wuhan that concluded the Chinese coronavirus most likely began infecting people after originating in an animal species and passing through a second, intermediate species. The W.H.O., however, notably failed to find a single animal in Wuhan’s Hubei province testing positive for the virus after testing 80,000 samples. The lack of evidence for an animal origin has revived interest in the WIV. This week, the Wall Street Journal published a report, citing an allegedly leaked U.S. State Department document, claiming multiple WIV employees were hospitalized in November 2019 with an unknown respiratory illness.

In January 2020, Chinese officials declared the virus originated with “the wildlife sold illegally in a Wuhan seafood market.” Scientists have largely agreed for over a year that the virus most likely evolved in animals naturally before infecting humans. During this time, the Chinese Communist Party transitioned away from the illegal wildlife theory to formally claiming the virus originated in Fort Detrick. Beijing has dismissed the Wall Street Journal report and all questions regarding the WIV as scurrilous anti-China propaganda.

“[T]he US cares nothing about the facts and truth, neither is it interested in scientific study on the pandemic origins, it just wants to smear and scapegoat China and play political games under the guise of the pandemic,” Zhao, the first Chinese official to float the Maryland conspiracy theory, said Thursday, according to the state-run Global Times. Zhao demanded that the administration of President Joe Biden investigate the origin of the Chinese coronavirus at home, despite no evidence suggesting any cases of infection occurred in the United States before those identified in Wuhan.

“The US should follow China’s lead and immediately conduct a joint virus origins probe with the WHO and launch a comprehensive, transparent, evidence-based international investigation into the US,” Zhao was quoted as saying.

“How many secrets are hidden in the US’ Fort Detrick lab and other biolabs overseas from the rest of the world?” Zhao asked. “What is the truth of the outbreaks of respiratory disease in northern Virginia in July 2019 and the e-cigarette, or vaping, associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak in Wisconsin? The US owes the world an explanation.”

Following Zhao’s initial accusations against the Fort Detrick facility, colleague Hua Chunying accused the United States of hiding cases of coronavirus infection allegedly occurring in Maryland by diagnosing them as lung injuries associated with vaping. Neither Hua nor Zhao have ever offered an explanation as to how that is possible, given the Chinese coronavirus is highly contagious, injuries are not contagious, health workers treating EVALI cases did not follow infectious disease protocol to treat the injuries, and no cases exist of anyone contracting a lung injury from exposure to another patient. Maryland and its surrounding states also did not experience a significantly higher rate of lung injury than other parts of the country. Texas and Illinois documented the highest rates of cases.

American doctors ultimately traced many cases of e-cigarette lung injuries to the use of illicit, low-quality vaping products made in China, a fact both Hua and Zhao have largely omitted from their accusations.

Zhao’s remarks Thursday were the latest in a week of demands on behalf of the Chinese state for the American military to open the doors of some of its most sensitive facilities to international investigators, based on no evidence of coronavirus infection in those places.

“If the U.S. side truly demands a completely transparent investigation, it should follow China’s lead to invite the W.H.O. experts to the U.S., open Fort Detrick and bio-labs overseas to the rest of the world,” Zhao demanded Wednesday, “and disclose the detailed data and information on the unexplained outbreaks of respiratory disease in northern Virginia in July, 2019 and the EVALI outbreak in Wisconsin.”

Zhao did not explain his sudden inclusion of Wisconsin in his demands, which has not experienced any significant outbreak of vaping-related health problems.

The Global Times newspaper, often the most belligerent arm of China’s English-language propaganda apparatus, similarly demanded global access to American military sites on Wednesday in response to renewed calls for investigations into the WIV.

“If they see the ‘lab leak’ theory as one of the directions of the investigation,” the Global Times said of American experts, “the Wuhan Institute of Virology should not be the only one included. Since 2019, the Fort Detrick biolab has shown many signs worthy of attention, and should be included in the first group of targets for investigation.”

“In addition,” it continued, “the U.S. has also built an astonishing number of biolabs in Asia, and investigating them is an urgent project that must be added in the COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] origins-tracing.”

The Times did not list any of the alleged “signs worthy of attention” it claimed the Fort Detrick facility had shown.

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