China Pushes Own 'Lab Leak' Conspiracy As Biden's COVID Report Draws Near

The Chinese government has ramped up efforts to promote its own version of the COVID-19 "lab leak" theory this week in a bid to cast doubt on the upcoming report by the U.S. Intelligence Community into the origins of coronavirus.

A U.S. Army base in Maryland is at the center of obscure and coordinated propaganda efforts by China's Foreign Ministry and state-owned media outlets, but the alternate theory may not have been designed with the primary objective of convincing foreign audiences.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on Monday that the report commissioned by President Joe Biden would be ready by its 90-day deadline on August 24, with an unclassified version to be released sometime thereafter.

Announcing the intelligence review in May, Biden said there was no consensus among agencies regarding the origins of the virus that has now claimed more than 630,000 American lives.

The report "could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion," he said through a statement at the time.

Beijing has openly criticized the report since the day it was ordered, describing it as U.S. political manipulation of the origin-tracing process.

On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin called the Biden administration's review "anti-science," saying it "would not be based on truth."

"Origin studies require science, not some intelligence report," he told reporters at a regular press conference in Beijing.

China Pushes Alternate COVID-19 Theory Against U.S.
File photo: The sign of the World Health Organization, with its Chinese name underneath, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Fabrice COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration has inherited the hot topic of competing hypotheses surrounding the origins of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Trump administration, especially former Secretary Mike Pompeo, has favored the theory that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)—accidentally or intentionally—since at least last spring.

Once considered a fringe conspiracy theory, the possibility of human error is now being treated as a legitimate line of inquiry by the World Health Organization, alongside the "natural origins" theory, which leading scientists appear to believe is more probable given the history of recent outbreaks of a similar nature.

In the past weeks, the WHO has tried and failed to convince Beijing to sign up to the next phase of its origin-tracing plan, which, among other steps, involves another look at the city of Wuhan and its surrounding area, including the WIV, where coronavirus research was taking place.

The Biden administration has thrown its weight behind the WHO and its director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has repeated calls for more transparency and cooperation from China. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said it is fundamentally in China's interests to do so.

China, meanwhile, has already rejected the WHO's proposal, saying it would not agree to any study that involves the lab leak hypothesis.

It is sticking by the findings of a WHO-China joint report, which concluded that the theory of possible virus leakage from the WIV was "extremely unlikely," despite the UN health body claiming a lack of access to raw data during the four-week mission between January and February.

Now, with Biden's intelligence report on the horizon, Beijing is pushing back by highlighting its own lab leak theory, which, tellingly, has not gained any support from the country's top epidemiologists or leading scientists but has gained traction among the Chinese public.

On Monday, Wang, from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, called for an investigation into Fort Detrick, the U.S. Army base in Maryland where scientists conducted biomedical research into Ebola and smallpox.

China's state-run news organizations have picked up the alternate theory and publish related content on a near-daily basis. This comes in the form of quoting the Foreign Ministry, releasing comics or starting petitions for the WHO to investigate the U.S. facility.

Beijing's own lab leak theory attractions little attention outside the country and would be easily missed by those who do not follow closely the government's daily pronouncements.

However, the obscure scrutiny of Fork Detrick may not have been conceived with foreign audiences in mind at all, but rather could be aimed at casting doubt on the U.S. report before it is published.

It is difficult to measure the propaganda campaign's effectiveness among users of highly regulated social media platforms in the country, but each new reference to Fort Detrick is successfully amplified online thanks to state-run media publications and carefully curated trending hashtags.

The coordinated effort may not have supporters within China's otherwise prestigious scientific community, but it could help sow enough doubt to discredit any future U.S. or WHO findings.