Stop China From Getting a Civilization-Killing Pathogen | Opinion

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden issued a statement ordering the U.S. intelligence community to "collect and analyze information" on the origin of COVID-19 and report back to him in 90 days.

A better approach would be for the U.S. to declassify intelligence related to the virus's origins immediately. Assessments prepared by the intelligence community can follow. The U.S. already has enough evidence to begin imposing severe costs on Beijing—and it must do so to establish deterrence.

Biden's statement came just hours after CNN reported that the State Department's Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance had ended an investigation, begun by former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, into the same matter. State denied the report, maintaining that the department was concerned about the "quality" of the work but had in any event completed it. CNN reporting suggests the inquiry was in fact not completed.

The Washington Times mentioned that the State Department investigation was terminated, in the words of that paper, "over concerns the inquiry would upset China."

The Biden-ordered inquiry comes days after the Wall Street Journal reported that three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the Chinese city of Wuhan had been hospitalized in November 2019. The paper said they had symptoms "consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness."

Yuan Zhiming, the current director of the Wuhan lab, issued a denial, calling the Journal story "a complete lie." The American paper's disclosure, nonetheless, seems to have triggered debate on the origins of the disease. Tracing the origins of the virus is all the more consequential because of the Biden administration's belief that the United States should cooperate with China where it can.

Cooperation with China would be appropriate if COVID-19 were the result of a zoonotic—that is, animal-to-human—jump, and if Beijing had done its best to work with the international community to contain it. Cooperation would, however, be reckless if SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen causing COVID-19, was stored in a Chinese lab—or was even a biological weapon—and China tried to hide its origin.

Sean Lin, a microbiologist and former lab director of the viral disease branch of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, told Newsweek that no one has been able to find the reservoir of the pathogen for COVID-19 or the transmission links from animals to humans. "No scientific researcher has been able to identify a progenitor virus for SARS-CoV-2 in any animal samples so far, including samples from bats, pangolins, minks, and cats," he writes. "Without a clear identification of a progenitor virus or an immediate animal reservoir, the zoonotic theory is still missing important proofs."

The absence of supporting evidence for a zoonotic transfer suggests SARS-CoV-2 was developed in a facility, most likely the Wuhan Institute of Virology. There are, in addition to the report of the three sick researchers, troubling indications the pathogen came from that lab.

The lab, for instance, stored more than 1,500 strains of coronavirus, conducted dangerous gain-of-function experiments, failed to adhere to safety protocols and is located just miles from the first identified COVID-19 case. That first case, by the way, has no connection to the Wuhan wet market. Those who believe in the zoonotic theory of transmission point often to the wet market as the place of transmission.

China Vaccine Africa
A nurse prepares a dose of a Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at Tongren Hospital in Shanghai on May 8, 2021. A Chinese official compared China's efforts to send vaccines to Africa with "some countries" who want to wait to vaccinate their own people before they send doses to others. Hector RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images

Beijing has worked hard to suppress information that would have helped the world develop vaccines and stop the spread of the disease. For example, on January 3 of last year, China's National Health Commission ordered Wuhan authorities—and every lab, hospital and other research facility in China—to destroy samples of the coronavirus.

Moreover, Chinese officials did their best to prevent the world from learning about the coronavirus genome, keeping the genetic sequencing from the public as long as they could and punishing the brave Shanghai scientists who released it on their own that month. China's officials stopped those trying to warn the world—disappearing and jailing citizen journalists, like the courageous Chen Qiushi and Zhang Zhan, and coercing the "Wuhan Eight" doctors into silence in January 2020.

Chinese health officials, especially from December 2019 to February 2020, issued statements to the public, especially about the disease's contagiousness and severity, that they had to know were false.

Finally, Beijing in late January of last year sent "China's top biowarfare expert," Major General Chen Wei, to head the P-4 biosafety lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Chen, many speculate, was dispatched to clean up evidence of a lab leak or the existence of a prohibited weapons program. That's a clear signal the disease was not, as Chinese authorities insist, the result of a natural mutation.

The inevitable result of Beijing's actions was that an epidemic, which otherwise would have been confined to central China, spread to the rest of the world, becoming the most deadly pandemic in a century. Chinese leaders acted maliciously.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, on Wednesday said he will propose sanctions on Beijing unless it agrees to an open investigation into the origins of COVID-19.

Beijing hindered, stalled, prevented and blocked World Health Organization missions to Wuhan since the disease surfaced. For instance, Beijing refused to let the WHO mission to Wuhan this year—the third since the disease first surfaced—examine 174 COVID-19 cases. Last week, at the World Health Assembly virtual meeting, China told the WHO's governing body there was no more need to conduct investigations on Chinese soil.

But do we really need to give China another chance? As Graham told Fox on Wednesday, "You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure this out."

The signs are ominous. China's National Defense University, in the 2017 edition of the authoritative Science of Military Strategy, mentioned a new kind of biological warfare of "specific ethnic genetic attacks." Richard Fisher of the Virginia-based International Assessment and Strategy Center told Newsweek, "In a future war, we can expect China to use refined and targeted strains of coronavirus or other pathogens to target certain ethnic groups, certain countries, or certain age cohorts."

Fisher points out that 2020's devastation around the world is a proof of concept that bio weapons work. China's military, with its doctrine of "unrestricted warfare," would have no compunction about using such a weapon, which could be a nation-killer, perhaps even a civilization-killer. China, consequently, might be the only society left standing after the next pandemic.

So there is no point in waiting, as Biden proposes, for 90 days to get an assessment. He should declassify intelligence fast and begin to act at once. After all, how many more people does COVID-19 need to kill before the world takes effective action against China?

Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China. Follow him on Twitter @GordonGChang.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.