China responds with fury to US intelligence hunt for COVID-19 lab leak evidence

Amber Wang, South China Morning Post

Posted at Aug 11 2021 06:49 AM | Updated as of Aug 11 2021 07:07 AM

A security guard stands outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where the coronavirus was detected in Wuhan on January 24, 2020. Hector Retamal, AFP/file
A security guard stands outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market where the coronavirus was detected in Wuhan on January 24, 2020. Hector Retamal, AFP/file

A report that US intelligence agencies are working through a vast catalogue of genetic data obtained from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in their hunt for the origins of the new coronavirus has met with a furious response from Beijing.

A foreign ministry statement on Monday accused the US of an obsession with political manipulation over the origins of the pandemic, along with a raft of counteraccusations centred on the Fort Detrick Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland.

The ministry spokesperson accused the US intelligence agencies of hyping the "so-called laboratory leak theory" which it described as a "political farce from beginning to end".

CNN reported on Friday that the US intelligence community had obtained the data, including genetic blueprints drawn from virus samples studied at the Wuhan lab, through unknown means. It is part of a 90-day investigation into the pandemic's origins ordered by President Joe Biden.

China has repeatedly said that tracing the source of the virus is a complex scientific issue which should be carried out cooperatively by scientists from around the world, the ministry spokesperson said. "But what everyone sees is that the US still ignores science and facts."

The statement pointed out that the "lab leak" theory had been deemed "extremely unlikely" by the WHO-backed team of experts which reported in March after an investigation with Chinese scientists which included a visit to Wuhan.

A counter "lab leak" theory based around the Fort Detrick facility in the US has been gaining traction in China, thanks to multiple calls - led by foreign ministry officials and diplomats - for an investigation into the Maryland lab as a possible source for the virus.

Chinese state media has reported that at least 25 million people have signed a petition calling for an investigation into Fort Detrick, which was the original home of the US biological weapons programme.

In its statement, the foreign ministry urged the US to investigate its own laboratories as possible sources for the virus, including the Fort Detrick biolab and more than 200 of its overseas bases. It also called on the US to "clarify the real situation" behind a number of claims which have circulated about the facility.

The statement went on to detail various aspects of the Fort Detrick claims which have been pushed by Chinese officials and state media since March 2020. These included references to a "large-scale outbreak of e-cigarette pneumonia" in Wisconsin in July 2019 and "unexplained respiratory diseases" in Virginia.

The statement also called for details of a coronavirus study by the University of North Carolina as well as information on cases of illness among US soldiers who took part in the Wuhan military games in October 2019 - two further origin theories which have been pushed by China.

The statement said the US should not be a blind spot for global traceability. "The US practice of using traceability to engage in political manipulation has been widely opposed by the international community," it said, adding that 73 countries had opposed the politicisation of traceability issues in multiple ways, while stressing that the China-WHO joint research report should be maintained.

"This reflects the justice of the international community, which the United States cannot and should not selectively ignore the objective and fair voice of the international community."

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