Who’s to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic?

Of the reactions to the outbreak of disease caused by the COVID-19 virus, then-president Donald Trump’s is certainly the best known and that of Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli of the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) the least.

In mid-March 2020, Mr. Trump began calling the disease the “Chinese flu,” for which he was called a racist (among other things). Two months later, when he said that there was strong evidence that the virus had been released from WIV, the media ridiculed the idea. They only did so because the idea came from him. 

According to a Scientific American article published in June 2020, Dr. Shi received a call from her boss, the director of WIV, on Dec. 30, 2019 in which he directed her to drop everything and examine samples received from the nearby Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It had detected a novel coronavirus in some patients and wanted WIV to help determine what it was. 

If coronaviruses were the cause of the disease, the article quotes Dr. Shi as having recalled thinking, “Could they have come from our lab?” (Dr. Shi, probably under instructions from her political boss, later claimed the coronaviruses were not from WIV.)

Obviously the coronaviruses that caused that outbreak could have come from WIV. Dr. Shi had, for years, been engaged in what virologists call “gain of function” research which manipulates the composition of viruses to discover, for example, how to make them resistant to vaccines and thus deadlier to humans. From 2015 and 2020, WIV received about $600,000 in U.S. funding to investigate the dangers of coronaviruses to humans. 

As part of that work, Dr. Shi reportedly spliced two coronaviruses together to create a version that could infect humans. Was that version COVID-19?

We don’t know whether Dr. Shi created the COVID-19 virus or whether it was released, accidentally or not, by WIV. The reason we don’t know is that China — with the help of the World Health Organization — has been stonewalling any serious investigation of WIV.  

Last Nov. 5, I wrote on this page about China’s major effort to develop biological weapons especially by DNA manipulation. The theoretical basis for these efforts began with a 2010 book titled “War for Biological Dominance,” by a professor at China’s Third Military Medical University and continued with a 2015 essay by Gen. He Fuchu then-president of China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences. (WIV falls under the command of the Academy.) In that essay, Gen. He argued that biotechnology will become the new “strategic commanding heights” of national defense. 

Those theoretical statements were made into Chinese war doctrine in the 2017 edition of a PLA National Defense University textbook which debuted a section about biology as a domain of military struggle. It mentioned the potential for new kinds of biological warfare to include “specific ethnic genetic attacks,” i.e., using viruses tailored to the enemy’s DNA.

All of these efforts are in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention, a part of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits the development and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons.

Despite Dr. Shi’s reported remarks and the other evidence pointing to WIV as the creator of COVID-19, China still insists that it isn’t responsible for creating the virus and that it was created by the U.S. military or was naturally passed from animals to humans.

A recent scientific paper, authored by British Professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr. Birger Sorensen and published by a British newspaper, claims that the COVID-19 virus was created by the WIV and then re-engineered to a form that could have been transmitted to humans by bats. Possibly as a result of that paper, British intelligence agencies are reportedly reassessing their earlier discounting of the possibility of a leak of COVID-19 from WIV. 

Far more important, and nearly conclusive, are the work done by Dr. Shi’s team and her remarks upon discovery of the disease. She knew that her work could have created the COVID-19 virus and that it could have been leaked. WIV leaked the SARS virus twice in 2004. According to former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb, such leaks happen “all the time,” even in the U.S.

There is virtually nothing that the Chinese will say — or have said — about COVID-19 that we can believe. They have underreported the COVID-19 cases and the deaths of Chinese citizens and refused to admit the latest SARS leak from a lab. Their insistence that the virus was a natural occurrence and was passed from animals — probably bats — to humans is, at this point, pretty far-fetched.

China’s stonewalling is easily understood. To admit that the Wuhan Institute of Virology is working, as part of China’s bioweapons program, to develop pathogens that can be used as weapons would be a clear admission of violation of the Biological Weapons Convention. Its surge in research into biological weapons proves that violation. The use of any such weapon would be a war crime, not that China cares.  

On May 26, President Biden ordered the U.S. intelligence community to investigate the origins of COVID-19 and report their conclusions to him within ninety days.  He ordered that the report should include specific questions for China. Whatever those questions are, Mr. Biden won’t get any straight answers from China. 

• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”

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