'Outlandish': China's conspiracy theory linking US military to Covid-19 origins sparks battle of narratives

Chinese officials and press have begun trumpeting what sections of the Western media call an "outlandish conspiracy theory" linkin...

Chinese officials and press have begun trumpeting what sections of the Western media call an "outlandish conspiracy theory" linking the origins of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) to a US military lab in Maryland.

China's targeting of the US over the origins of the disease that has killed over 4.2 million people globally comes at a time when Beijing is facing tough questions over a possible leak of the virus from a lab in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the viral infection was first reported in December 2019.

Over the past weeks, Chinese officials and media have harped on the theory that the US military could be linked to the outbreak, in what appears to be a desperate attempt to change --- or at least dent --- the narrative demanding transparency on Beijing's part and a detailed probe into the Wuhan lab.

A recent report by Republican lawmakers in the US says there is evidence that the virus leaked from the Wuhan research facility, where scientists were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans. US investigators have not validated the findings.

China has denied any wrongdoing or cover-up but pushed back against what many have called the second phase of the probe into the Wuhan lab. The first phase did not find any evidence corroborating the lab leak theory after a World Health Organization (WHO) team visited the Wuhan facility earlier this year.

It is in this backdrop that China's theory casting suspicion on the US began appearing frequently in state-run media.

The Chinese reports promoting this theory call for an international probe into Fort Detrick, a US military facility in Maryland that conducts research on infectious diseases, and say the lab was temporarily shut in 2019 after a regulatory inspection. The justification that infrastructure issues and wastewater decontamination prompted the closure is not persuasive enough, the theory concludes.

"On the origins-tracing work, the Chinese Foreign Ministry recently said the US should start with four things, including publishing and examining the data of its early cases, inviting WHO experts to investigate Fort Detrick and its 200-plus Biolabs overseas, inviting WHO experts to investigate the University of North Carolina and release the data concerning the sickened American military athletes who attended the world military games in Wuhan," a report in state-run Global Times said.

The report sought to argue that the laboratory at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill, "led by the renowned US coronavirus expert Ralph Baric, is becoming, together with the infamous Fort Detrick lab, the focus of public suspicion in the search for the origins of the virus".

In another article, Global Times said there was a possibility "that some of the patients of the mysterious vaping-related lung disease that swept through all of the 50 US states in 2019 were actually COVID-19 patients". It cited a group of Chinese scientists and radiologists, who apparently reviewed "some 250 chest CT scans from published papers".

The US media says though such a theory has been floating around since March, Chinese diplomats and media have ratcheted up the rhetoric over the past few weeks.

CNN reported that Chinese state broadcaster CCTV recently aired a 30-minute report on Fort Detrick and that it became a top trend on Weibo, a censored Twitter-like application in China.

"On social media, some government and state media accounts promoted yet another groundless theory from an obscure Italian tabloid, which alleged the US military had spread the coronavirus to Italy through a blood donation program," said the CNN report that called it a "concerted propaganda".

The origin of the Covid-19 pandemic has been a matter of intense debate with claims that the Sars-Cov-2 virus was leaked (accidentally or otherwise) from the Wuhan lab. In the initial days of the pandemic, this suspicion was discarded by a large section of scientists as a conspiracy theory. At the same time, it was suspected the virus spread from a seafood market in Wuhan that sold exotic animals, but there had been no evidence to confirm this.

A section of scientists believes that the virus outbreak could be linked to bats and might have passed through another mammal before jumping on to humans. But the missing link has yet to be established.

Hence, demands have grown in the West for a probe into the lab leak theory. China, which is facing criticism over its secretive approach, has accused the US of spreading disinformation and politicising the matter. US President Joe Biden has tasked his intelligence officials with probing the matter.

A joint report by Chinese scientists and WHO, which sent a team to Wuhan, did not draw any firm conclusion on the origins of Sars-Cov-2, though the experts said the chances of the virus leaking from a lab was “extremely unlikely”. But later, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said all theories remained on the table. China has rejected WHO's plans for the second phase of a probe.

"One big outstanding question is what type of work was actually going on in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Shi Zhengli, the top bat coronavirus researcher at the lab, said in a March 2020 article in Scientific American that the genetic code of the virus that causes Covid-19 doesn’t match any of her lab’s samples. She also told the WHO team that all staff had tested negative for Covid-19 antibodies," said a Bloomberg article.

But still, the article added, researchers did not get access to all "coronavirus isolates and genomic sequence data held at Wuhan labs" as well as logbooks and records.

A Wall Street Journal report that three researchers from Wuhan lab got sick in November 2019 and sought hospital care, and media reports that China has restricted access to a copper mine from where scientists collected coronavirus samples after six miners fell ill (three of them died) in 2012 have added to the mystery.

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India World News: 'Outlandish': China's conspiracy theory linking US military to Covid-19 origins sparks battle of narratives
'Outlandish': China's conspiracy theory linking US military to Covid-19 origins sparks battle of narratives
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