China's 'Bat Woman' Calls Claim Country Tried to Steal U.S. COVID-19 Vaccine Data 'Nonsense'

A virologist at the centre of China's coronavirus research has said it is "nonsense" to suggest the state has tried to steal other nations' vaccine data. Dr. Shi Zhengli, who leads a unit at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) and was coined "bat woman" due to her expertise on diseases linked to the mammals, has rejected claims that China had spearheaded vaccine-related attacks against the U.S. following accusations last month.

"It is nonsense," the researcher reportedly said during an interview with CGTN, a state-controlled media outlet. The voiceover was narrated by the website.

Suggestions that hackers aligned with the Chinese government had been targeting virus research surfaced in recent weeks, including from the U.S. federal government. Experts say that Russia-linked adversaries are conducting similar cyber-operations.

In late July, Reuters reported that hackers with ties to the Chinese state had attempted to infiltrate U.S. biotech company Moderna in an effort to hijack its COVID-19 data. The accusation was called "baseless" by a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.

Earlier the same month, the U.S. Department of Justice unveiled an indictment naming two suspected hackers with ties to China's Ministry of State Security, or MSS.

A media release at the time, which described the pair as being a "prolific threat to U.S. networks" said the suspects had "probed for vulnerabilities in computer networks of companies developing COVID-19 vaccines, testing technology, and treatments." It remains unclear if any attacks have been successful.

In the CGTN interview, released online August 21, Shi appeared to reject the claims of state involvement, although conceded that she was unaware of the evidence held by the U.S.

Experts have previously told Newsweek such hacks are fairly common.

"China's vaccine research is currently at the forefront," Shi said. "We isolated the virus strain all on our own and the whole research procedure is being conducted by the Wuhan Institute of virology and Wuhan Institute of Biological Products Company.

"The vaccination is being researched by [academic] Chen Wei's team, which has their own intellectual property too. I don't know if there's any evidence at all for the U.S. to claim that we steal their research."

Previously, the Chinese virus expert told Science that president Trump should apologize to the Wuhan virus institute for alluding to a conspiracy theory that claimed the outbreak started at the lab, which is based in the city where COVID-19 originated.

"There is no evidence for what they've said. They are lying. They are lying for political reasons," Shi said in the most-recent interview, according to CGTN.

In recent weeks, Trump has taken a trade dispute with his Beijing counterparts to a new level by issuing orders promising to restrict services including TikTok and WeChat.

In May, the president said China's "pattern of misconduct" was "well known" and accused the foreign state of orchestrating a "cover-up of the Wuhan virus" that allowed the infectious disease to spread. "For years, the government of China has conducted illicit espionage to steal our industrial secrets, of which there are many." Trump said.

 Shi Zhengli
Chinese virologist Shi Zhengli is seen inside the P4 laboratory in Wuhan, capital of China's Hubei province, on February 23, 2017. - The P4 epidemiological laboratory was built in co-operation with French bio-industrial firm Institut Merieux and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty