China Likens Lab Leak Momentum to U.S. 'Hyping Up' Weapons of Mass Destruction Ahead of Iraq War

China called into question the validity of America's push for looking into the possibility that COVID-19 originated in a lab by relating it to the conversations that were happening ahead of the Iraq War.

A theory that was once dismissed as a fringe conspiracy, America's intelligence community hasn't ruled out the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a starting point. Since the outset of the pandemic, China's firmly pushed back on the theory as running contrary to science, a means of slandering Beijing and a political maneuver on the part of the United States.

During a Thursday briefing, foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the "vigorous hyping up" of the lab leak theory on the part of American politicians reminded him of the early 2000s when Americans were "hyping up the assertion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction."

"Its modus operandi remains unchanged: disregard authoritative international institutions' views, apply presumption of guilt and try to mislead the public with allegations without factual basis from some officials and intelligence officers," Wang said.

The belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction helped pave the way for the Iraq War. Having never found the weapons, the Bush administration faced heavy criticism and some coined the phrase, "Bush lied. People died."

china wmd iraq war lab leak
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin related American politicians interest in the lab leak theory to the U.S. "hyping up" weapons of mass destruction ahead of the Iraq War. Above, Wang takes a question at the Foreign Ministry briefing in Beijing on November 9, 2020. Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

In a memoir released in 2010, former President George W. Bush defended his belief that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as a "universal consensus," both within Congress and around the world. Ari Fleischer, Bush's former press secretary, acknowledged that the intelligence community "turned out to be wrong" about Saddam's possession of weapons of mass destruction but said that is "very different from lying."

"The fact is that President Bush (and I as press secretary) faithfully and accurately reported to the public what the intelligence community concluded," Fleischer posted on Twitter.

At the time, the media also faced criticism for reporting the narrative that was coming from the White House. Wang pointed out that one of the reporters who took significant flak for a story on Hussein's believed possession of dangerous weapons was Michael Gordon. People were critical of his citing of anonymous sources, but, years later, he stood by his decision to write the piece.

He told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that he didn't regret writing it because the job of a journalist is to write what they know at the time and what he wrote was what he knew when the piece was published.

"It was a complicated series of events to be sure, and a lot of people in hindsight...see their position as different than it was at the time," Gordon said.

Years later, Gordon co-authored an article for the Wall Street Journal about a U.S. intelligence report that found that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were hospitalized in November 2019. Gordon and his co-authors acknowledged that current and former officials varied in the weight they gave the report, with one calling it "potentially significant" and another saying it was of "exquisite quality."

The report helped fuel mounting skepticism of the Wuhan lab, which some have been suspicious of as it is located in the same place where the first cases were identified and conducts gain-of-function research. Some blame the controversial research, during which a pathogen is manipulated to become more dangerous to humans, for the start of the pandemic.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has denied anyone from its lab was ever sick with COVID-19 and Wang called Gordon the "author of disinformation in both cases."

"Given the fact that the US waged war on Iraq with a fictional WMD threat in order to realize its geopolitical goals, we cannot help but ask, what is it up to this time by hyping up the utterly unfounded 'lab leak theory' and calling for 'investigations' in China?" Wang said.

Newsweek reached out to Michael Gordon for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.

President Joe Biden told the Intelligence Community to "redouble" efforts to collect and analyze information that could draw a more definitive conclusion as to the origin of COVID-19. The president gave the group 90 days to complete the analysis, which will likely include "specific questions for China."

China took issue with Biden's 90-day deadline as being insufficient, saying origin studies can take "years or decades."