Beijing has tightly controlled the World Health Organization’s efforts to investigate the origin of the outbreak, rejecting the health agency’s recent request for a second phase of an investigation that would examine laboratory theory in more detail.
China has stepped up its disinformation campaign ahead of the results of an investigation by American intelligence agencies ordered by President Biden. Authorities presented their report on the origin of the pandemic to the president on Tuesday, but have not yet finalized whether the virus occurred naturally or was the result of an accidental leak from a laboratory.
“The point is, really saturate the airwaves with everything that most of the average Chinese can’t see,” said Dali Yang, professor of political science at the University of Chicago. “Much of it anticipates and tries to preventively fend off this potential American study by the intelligence community.”
The Chinese government has argued that Beijing did its part in finding the origin of the pandemic by allowing WHO experts to visit earlier this year, and that scientists should now look at other countries, including the United States. Beijing accuses those pushing for a laboratory test in China to try to undermine the country’s image at home and abroad.
Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, used routine press conferences this week to spread unsubstantiated speculation that the virus had surfaced in the U.S. before the first cases were reported in China. He cited a July 2019 outbreak of a lung disease in Wisconsin that American health officials have already linked to vaping, not Covid. On Wednesday, he said WHO should investigate laboratories at Fort Detrick and elsewhere in the United States that study coronaviruses.
“The United States has accused China of being opaque about tracing the origins of the virus and falsely accused China of using false propaganda,” Wang said Tuesday. “But it has been looking for excuses, carefully hiding secrets, passively avoiding problems and constantly building up obstacles.”
Michael Ryan, a WHO official, criticized China at a press conference Wednesday for promoting such unproven ideas. “It is a bit contradictory when colleagues in China say that the laboratory leak hypothesis in the context of China is unfounded, but we now need to do laboratory leak tests in other countries,” said Dr. Ryan.