Brazil: Bolsonaro Floats Theory Coronavirus Is ‘Chemical Warfare’

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro shake hands during a press statement after their bilateral meeting at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on November 13, 2019. - Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro walked a diplomatic tightrope, as he seeks to boost ties with Beijing and avoid upsetting …
SERGIO LIMA/AFP via Getty Images

The Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned on Thursday remarks by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro suggesting “chemical, bacterial, and radiological warfare” could explain the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, appearing to accuse Beijing of launching an attack.

Bolsonaro did not name China in his remarks Wednesday – and, when challenged to clarify if he meant to accuse China, emphasized, “I didn’t say the word ‘China'” – but asked “which country has had the highest GDP growth” since the pandemic began, a title belonging to China by a wide margin.

Bolsonaro campaigned for the presidency in 2018 as a staunch anti-communist concerned with the growing influence of Chinese communism in the country. As president, he leads an administration that is significantly friendlier to China than what he promised, paving the way for lucrative corporate deals between China and Brazilian companies and allowing Chinese clinical studies on vaccine candidates after initially claiming to protect Brazilians from becoming “guinea pigs” of the Communist Party. Bolsonaro has also allowed the widespread use of Chinese-made vaccine candidates in Brazil and thanked China for sending the country vaccine ingredients.

The Brazilian president has also regularly courted controversy for his stance on the pandemic. Bolsonaro has enthusiastically opposed the use of domestic travel restrictions and business shutdowns to prevent the spread of the virus, in some cases encouraging Brazilians to organize mass events to patronize businesses. As Brazil functions under a federalist system, Bolsonaro’s opposition did not stop some governors from imposing lockdown restrictions in their territories.

Bolsonaro is also a vocal supporter of the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus infections and regularly posted images of himself taking the drug after his personal coronavirus diagnosis. In one bizarre encounter, a journalist photographed Bolsonaro brandishing a bottle of hydroxychloroquine before a rhea, a large flightless bird native to Brazil. Bolsonaro received international condemnation for his promotion of hydroxychloroquine as he has no medical background and no studies have shown the product can help patients recover faster from coronavirus infections.

“It’s a new virus, nobody knows if it was born in a laboratory or if it was born because a human being ate an inappropriate animal,” Bolsonaro commented to reporters at an event at the presidential palace, Planalto, on Wednesday. “But it’s here, the militaries know what chemical, bacterial, and radiological warfare is. Could it be that we are facing a new war?”

He added another question: “Which country saw the greatest increase in GDP?” adding, “I won’t say it for you.” Confronted later to clarify if he was referring to China, he insisted, “I didn’t say the word ‘China.'”

China’s GDP grew 2.3 percent in 2020, according to the Communist Party. Its economy was the only one to document positive growth in 2020, a year marked by sharp economic downturns prompted by governments criminalizing the regular course of business in their countries to prevent the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.

The Chinese coronavirus first began infecting human beings in Wuhan, central China. A leaked Chinese government document obtained by the South China Morning Post showed that Party officials documented the first confirmed case of infection on November 17, 2019. The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) sent a team to Wuhan to explore the origins of the virus in January 2021, long after Chinese officials admitted to destroying key evidence on the spread of the pathogen there, and released a widely criticized report offering no conclusions on how the coronavirus began infecting human beings. It claimed the likeliest scenario of infection was that the first infected person came into contact with an intermediate animal infected by the origin species that had incubated the virus. The study could not identify a single animal carrying the Chinese coronavirus out of tens of thousands of samples taken in Wuhan.

The W.H.O. study declared it highly unlikely the virus escaped in an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a laboratory in the city known to be studying coronaviruses. It explicitly clarified it did not entertain the possibility, raised by Bolsonaro, someone deliberately released the virus from the WIV.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the W.H.O., criticized the W.H.O. report for being insufficiently thorough in researching the possibility of the virus originating in a laboratory.

“The team also visited several laboratories in Wuhan and considered the possibility that the virus entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident,” Ghebreyesus said in March. “However, I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough. Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted to Bolsonaro’s comments on Thursday, accusing him of attempting to “stigmatize” the virus.

“Virus is the common enemy of mankind. The pressing task now is for all countries to join hands in anti-epidemic cooperation and strive for an early and complete victory over the epidemic,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during his regular press briefing when asked about Bolsonaro’s remarks. “We firmly oppose any attempt to politicize and stigmatize the virus.”

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