The Chinese city of Wuhan, which is under an absolute military lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, hosts two laboratories linked to China’s clandestine bio-weapons program — labs that also happen to lead China’s coronavirus research and prevention efforts.
The purpose and location of these facilities are facts — not elements of a conspiracy theory. Yet reporting this information and wondering about a possible link between the labs and the coronavirus outbreak have been mocked by the mainstream media as rightwing nutjob stuff.
If that characterization is true, a lot of extremely smart nutjobs are awfully concerned.
Radio Free Asia (RFA), a private radio station established by Congress and funded by the U.S. federal government, recently rebroadcasted a local Wuhan television report from 2015 that described the Wuhan Institute of Virology as China’s most advanced virus research laboratory, and the only declared site in China capable of working with deadly viruses. The lab has long studied the most high-risk coronaviruses, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and H5N1, also known as the Asian Bird Flu. Experts say Wuhan scientists have worked with Eboli and anthrax as well.
The Chinese government’s official explanation for how the outbreak began is that the coronavirus likely jumped to humans from infected wild animals, which are openly sold at the uncleanly and crowded Wuhan Seafood Market. Chinese officials say the market is ground zero for the outbreak. The second lab, The Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, is located just 20 miles from the market. It’s believed that SARS vaccine is produced there.
China’s reaction to the outbreak — first threatening doctors who tried warning the public, then quarantining a sprawling city of 11 million people shortly thereafter — is odd even for a communist government that will lie about anything. Could the new virus be a weaponized version of SARS or another coronavirus that somehow leaked from the lab? There’s no evidence to date supporting that, but it has happened before.
In 2017, U.S scientists raised alarms that a SARS-like virus could escape one of the Wuhan labs. In fact, the SARS virus had “escaped” multiple times from a lab in Beijing, according to a 2017 article in the magazine Nature.
China denies having any offensive biological weapons and is a signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention. But the annual U.S. State Department report on arms treaty compliance alleges that China still supports biological warfare.
Many bioweapons experts don’t believe China’s claim. They say the Wuhan labs are dual-use facilities that conduct medical research but also support the Chinese military’s secret bioweapons program.
The Washington Times recently published an interview with an Israeli biowarfare expert who has long followed China’s clandestine bioweapons program. The story was written by the venerable journalist Bill Gertz, an award-winning China expert who has written seven books on national security, including “The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America.”
Gertz, who has long been a thorn in the side of the Chinese government, does not traffic in conspiracy theories. The expert, Lt. Col. Dr. Danny Shoham, holds a doctorate in medical microbiology and for more than two decades was a senior bioweapons analyst with Israeli military intelligence.
Shoham said the Wuhan Virology Institute is linked to Beijing’s covert biological weapons program. He recalled how suspicions were raised about the lab when a group of Chinese virologists working in Canada improperly sent samples to China of what were some of the deadliest viruses on earth.
Shohan was not certain if coronaviruses are part of China’s bioweapons program. But he told the newspaper that it would be feasible that the new virus — perhaps a modified version of SARS or another coronavirus — may have accidentally leaked from one of the labs.
“In principle, outward virus infiltration might take place either as leakage or as an indoor unnoticed infection of a person that normally went out of the concerned facility,” Shoham explained. “This could have been the case with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but so far there isn’t evidence or indication for such incident.”
Rutgers University microbiologist Dr. Richard Ebright concurred with Shoham. “At this point there’s no reason to harbor suspicions,” he told London’s Daily Telegraph, Rutgers. But he was quick to note that researching coronaviruses requires injecting the virus into animals.
In China, research using primates costs less and is less regulated than in western countries. This gives scientists opportunities to perform faster and cheaper research. Ebright warned that the unpredictability of monkeys can be extremely dangerous in an infectious disease setting. “They can run, they can scratch, they can bite,” he said, “and the viruses would go where their feet, nails and teeth do.”
Long before the recent coronavirus outbreak, western scientists familiar with the Wuhan labs worried about an accidental virus for reasons that now seem prophetic.
Tim Trevan, a Maryland biosafety consultant, explained to Nature magazine in 2017 that China’s repressive government itself posed a safety risk at the Wuhan labs. That’s because a fear of draconian punishments for accidents can lead honest scientists to engage in dangerous coverups instead of rallying together for a critical team effort. “Structures where everyone feels free to speak up and openness of information are important,” Trevan said.
Fast forward to today and Trevan seems like Nostradamus.
Chinese authorities threatened to jail the doctors who were discussing a possible virus outbreak in a private, online chatroom. Yes, Chinese censors even spy on doctors chatting with old classmates. In a sad irony, the doctor who warned his peers, Dr. Li Wenliang, died from the coronavirus.
As the Chinese government lied to the international community about the scope of the outbreak, it also chastised any country that questioned its containment effort.
When the U.S. government barred foreign nationals who traveled to China from entering the country, China accused the United States of trying to cause global panic. After the Washington Times story appeared, China’s envoy to Israel compared the Jewish nation’s travel ban to The Holocaust. A classic case of “thou doth protest too much.”
One ominous sign, a U.S. official told Gertz, is the disinformation chatter intel agencies have monitored coming out of China. Since the outbreak began several weeks ago, false rumors have begun circulating on the Chinese Internet claiming the virus is part of a U.S. conspiracy to spread germ weapons.
The Russian government, China’s most powerful anti-U.S. ally, has a launched multi-language, social media smear campaign claiming that the U.S. spread the coronavirus to damage China’s economy. Russian news agencies and government promulgated social media accounts are buzzing with claims that the People’s Liberation Army, China’s armed forces, believes the coronavirus is a U.S. bioweaponry reconnaissance operation probing the capabilities of Chinese bioweapons defenses.
Chinese internet censors — the same thought cops who police rumor mongering — have let the rumors run rampant. Perhaps they wrote them. Why? “That could indicate China is preparing propaganda outlets to counter future charges the new virus escaped from one of Wuhan’s civilian or defense research laboratories,” the official said.
All we know for sure about the outbreak is that China’s systemic aversion to transparency has killed people over the world. To the communist government, suppressing and falsifying the truth about how the outbreak started is as important as finding a cure. A Chinese scientist who refuses to toe the line would be better off contracting the virus.