Joe Biden Believes China Hiding COVID-19 Origin Info, China Warns 'Political Virus' Spreading

President Joe Biden and his officials believe China is hiding information regarding the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, a contentious issue that the U.S. administration warns it will pursue in spite of protests from Beijing, which has accused Washington of politicizing the investigation.

"This virus originated in China and China has information that it has not shared with the global community about its origins," a senior administration official told Newsweek, "and that is information that we all need access to in order to prevent the next pandemic."

The remarks came two days after Biden issued a statement in which he offered an update on a U.S. Intelligence Community report he commissioned in March on the origins of COVID-19, "including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident."

In a rare insight to the ongoing probe, the president said Wednesday that the U.S. Intelligence Community "has 'coalesced around two likely scenarios' but has not reached a definitive conclusion on this question." Out of the possibilities of an animal-to-human transmission or a laboratory accident, he revealed the latest analysis as determining: "while two elements in the IC leans toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter – each with low or moderate confidence – the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other."

The comments marked the most dramatic shift yet in the administration's narrative on the theory that the novel coronavirus escaped from a scientific institution, most usually cited as the Wuhan Institute of Virology, an esteemed facility that deals with coronavirus research and is located in the city where the disease was first detected late last year. Most experts had previously dismissed the scenario as far-fetched, and many still do.

In Beijing, Biden's announcement sparked anger as Chinese officials have downplayed the lab leak hypothesis as unfounded, and accused those promoting it of bearing ill-intentions.

"Lately, some people have played the old trick of political hype on the origin tracing of COVID-19 in the world," a spokesperson at China's embassy in the United States said in a statement sent to Newsweek. "Smear campaign and blame shifting are making a comeback, and the conspiracy theory of 'lab leak' is resurfacing."

The spokesperson pointed to what was perceived to be a plot to assign fault to Beijing as the disease first ravaged the world, hitting the U.S. worst of all as China managed to curb the spread relatively quickly.

"Since the outbreak of COVID-19 last year, some political forces have been fixated on political manipulation and blame game, while ignoring their people's urgent need to fight the pandemic and the international demand for cooperation on this front, which has caused a tragic loss of many lives," the spokesperson said.

As the pandemic continues to inflict sickness and death globally, the Chinese embassy spokesperson reflected on the "lesson" learned from last year's geopolitical battle launched against China by Biden's predecessor, former President Donald Trump, over the handling of the disease.

"We cannot but wonder, have they already put that bitter lesson behind them, so soon? Or do they want to see a replay of tragedies?" the spokesperson asked rhetorically "With such irresponsible behaviors, how can they face up to their own people? How can they face up to the international community? And how can they face up to human conscience?"

The Chinese embassy spokesperson said Beijing has called "for international cooperation on the basis of respecting facts and science, with a view to better coping with unexpected epidemics in the future." Such an investigation would examine "all early cases of COVID-19 found worldwide and a thorough investigation into some secretive bases and biological laboratories all over the world," suggesting an effort to explore the possibility that the disease did not originate in China.

On the other hand, "To politicize origin tracing, a matter of science, will not only make it hard to find the origin of the virus, but give free rein to the 'political virus' and seriously hamper international cooperation on the pandemic," the Chinese embassy spokesperson said.

But despite China's messaging, the Biden administration intended to press on with its investigation that's set to conclude in 88 days.

"We are not going to allow Chinese obfuscation to dictate the work that we need to do to protect the public health of the American people," the senior administration official told Newsweek.

WHO, team, investigates, COVID-19, origin, China
Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, wearing protective gear are seen during their visit to the Hubei Center for animal disease control and prevention in Wuhan, China's central Hubei province on February 2. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

The international spat plays out after the World Health Organization conducted its own investigation into the origins of COVID-19, an effort that included a visit to China roughly coinciding with the anniversary of the disease being declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The joint WHO-China mission determined in March—the same month Biden was briefed on U.S. intelligence findings—that the lab leak theory was "extremely unlikely" and called for a focus on the hypothesis that the disease was transferred to humans through contact with a bat, an animal known to carry coronaviruses.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus later affirmed in April the lab leak theory was the least likely, but broke with the findings in saying that more evidence was needed to entirely rule out the lab leak theory.

Tedros' comments drew the ire of Chinese officials. Earlier this month, WHO representative in China Gauden Galea told Sky News that the agency had "not been invited to join" China's national investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

As the Biden administration pursues its own probe, the White House has so far declined to release any more preliminary findings.

"Look, we do not comment on intelligence, as you can imagine," White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday. "We're going to continue to look at the intelligence. We believe there's more work to do, hence the 90-day review."

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian assailed the Biden administration's latest comments surrounding efforts to get to the bottom of where COVID-19 truly came from.

"Origin-tracing is a serious scientific issue, and yet the U.S. intends to let its intelligence service play a leading role in conducting the research," Zhao told a press briefing on Friday. "This only shows that facts and truth is the last thing the US side cares about. It has zero interest in scientific research, but is only seeking political manipulation for the purpose of scapegoating."

Zhao highlighted the findings of the joint WHO-China team's initial report as well as what he referred to as the U.S.' own possession of "the largest scale and the highest number of bio-labs in the world with media coverage of virus leak at the bio-chemical research base Fort Detrick."

The Maryland military base historically hosted the U.S. biological weapons program from World War II through 1969, but a lab dealing in sensitive diseases remains and two breaches were reported in 2019, forcing the facilities to temporarily halt work.

Zhao also called for U.S. explanations and international investigations regarding "the unexplained respiratory diseases in Northern Virginia in July 2019 and large-scale EVALI [E-cigarette or Vaping Use-Associated Lung Injury] outbreaks in Wisconsin" around this same time.

No evidence has yet been produced to suggest a link between any of these three events and COVID-19.

In China, a number of officials have been fired, demoted or otherwise disciplined for negligence over the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan and subsequent infections that have occasionally emerged elsewhere throughout the country over the past year.

Earlier this month, Chinese embassy in the United Kingdom Minister Ma Hui revealed "an incomplete list of positions" affected by the blowback, whose former occupants were then identified by Newsweek through gathering public reports.

The Chinese diplomat said this demonstrated the country had handled the crisis in an "accountable" matter rather than "authoritarian" as critics have alleged.

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