Bioweapons, cover-ups and dead hotlines fuel US-China distrust

Accusations surface again about Wuhan’s high-security lab amid hotline crisis between China and the US

Allegations of bioweapons and crisis-communication hotlines that just “ring out” illustrate the state of Beijing’s ruptured relationship with the United States and its allies.

Documents uncovered by the US State Department in Washington have reportedly shown that the Covid-19 virus was part of a biological military program.

In one passage, Chinese scientists described coronaviruses, such as SARS, as heralding a “new era of genetic weapons.”

“Officials in the United States obtained the papers, which were written by military scientists and senior Chinese public health officials in 2015, as part of their own investigation into the origins of Covid-19,” The Australian newspaper reported.

In response, China’s state-controlled media called the accusations “embarrassing smears.”

Still, the alleged dossier comes at a time when tension between Washington and Beijing rises amid PLA Navy activity in the South China Sea and around Taiwan.

“I believe there is a general worry of miscalculation, and of incidents and accidents, and I do not think there are effective procedures with China to head these off,” Kurt Campbell, the White House tsar for the Indo-Pacific, told The Guardian newspaper in London last week.

The facts:

  • Nearly 18 months since Covid-19 first surfaced in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the origins of the virus are still unclear.
  • Close to 158 million people have been infected by SARS-CoV-2 with the death toll spiraling towards 3.3 million, according to the World Health Organization.
  • China has also been accused of launching a “disinformation” campaign by the European Union after covering up the initial outbreak.
  • Other flashpoint issues include the South China Sea, with President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party claiming nearly all of the 1.3 million-square-mile maritime superhighway.
  • In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled against Beijing in a row about disputed waters with the Philippines, destroying China’s argument.
  • Human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement have also inflamed the situation with Washington.
  • Then, there is the Taiwan question with Xi’s administration threatening to take the island democracy by force if necessary.
  • The lack of a high-level communication protocol between Beijing and Washington simply adds to the dangers of a conflict.

Silent threat: “China has generally resisted any effective efforts at these kinds of confidence-building, crisis management procedures. In the past, the hotlines that have been set up have just rung, kind of endlessly in empty rooms. So the Chinese have chosen not to go in that direction,” Campbell said.

Alarm bells: “At the same time that they are ramping up these military activities in proximity to US and allied forces [in the South China Sea], they’ve done so without any kind of guardrails or reassurance mechanisms,” Campbell pointed out.

Delve deeper: The Covid-19 crisis has only added to the distrust between China and the West. Even a World Health Organization mission failed to completely rule out a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a high-security state-run laboratory near where the initial infections were officially reported.

Suspicious minds: “We’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that [WHO] report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the CNN network in an interview.

Alternative view: “Theories also exist that the coronavirus may have originated at a US military research institute at Fort Detrick. Chinese experts have been calling for a probe into [these] mysterious bio-labs in order to better understand coronavirus origins. Russian officials [have also] said the US is developing biological weapons in those labs,” Global Times reported.

China Factor comment: It would be naive to believe that China does not have a bioweapons division. A state-run “disinformation” campaign, the cover-up in Wuhan and the fact it took more than a year to get into the city by a WHO team simply poses more questions than Beijing is willing to answer.