Chinese State Media Pushes Conspiracy Theory That Coronavirus Escaped From Maryland Military Base

Chinese state-backed newspapers are reviving a conspiracy theory about the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as Beijing faces growing calls to allow a probe into its role in the disaster.

Two government-run newspapers published op-eds on Monday and Tuesday attacking the U.S. response to the pandemic and defending Beijing against allegations of covering up news of the initial outbreak, failing to adequately warn the world, and purposely underreporting the number of infections and deaths in the country.

The Chinese Communist Party is also refusing to allow an international probe into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite growing pressure from Western nations and the World Health Organization.

President Donald Trump initially praised China's response to the COVID-19 outbreak, but his administration has since pivoted to blame China for the pandemic, which to date has infected more than 4.1 million people and killed more than 286,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Trump has claimed with confidence that the virus escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) rather than originating at a wildlife market in the city, which most experts still believe. The president is yet to provide any evidence to support his conclusion.

State-backed newspapers have been a key outlet for the CCP to defend itself and spread disinformation about the pandemic.

On Monday, the China Daily newspaper—owned by the CCP's propaganda department—published an op-ed touching on a conspiracy theory alleging that the virus may have started in the U.S.

The newspaper accused the Trump administration of "trying to dodge some pertinent questions that could be asked of it," including about Fort Detrick—a Maryland military base which for decades hosted biological weapons research programs until such work was suspended in August 2019.

Chinese newspapers and officials have previously claimed that Fort Detrick could be involved in the pandemic, providing no evidence to support the assertion. "What are the circumstances surrounding its shutting down of the army biological warfare lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland last year?" China Daily asked. "Was the laboratory conducting research on coronaviruses? Was there a leak?"

The People's Daily newspaper—the official publication of the CCP—pushed the same line in its Tuesday op-ed. "Why was the main biological warfare laboratory at Fort Detrick, which the U.S. media called 'the center of the U.S. government's darkest experiments,' suddenly shut down?" the publication asked.

"What kind of shady tricks took place there? How much more truth has been concealed by U.S. politicians?"

Neither publication elaborated on the insinuations nor provided evidence that Fort Detrick has any connection to the pandemic, which was first identified in Wuhan.

Both China and Russia have tried to shift focus away from China and the WIV, instead focusing on U.S. research laboratories in America and in former Soviet states. Chinese officials have also blamed the U.S. army for the initial outbreak in Wuhan, again without evidence.

The biological warfare research programs were put on hold last year over fears that a new decontamination system for lab wastewater was inadequate.

Caree Vander Linden—a spokesperson for the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick—said there was no threat to public health, no injuries to employees and no leaks of dangerous material, The New York Times reported. Vader Linden explained that the freeze on activity at the facility would likely last several months.

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This file photo shows personnel working at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland on September 26, 2002. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images/Getty