Chinese Chutzpah

Earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lijian Zhoa promoted the notion that the coronavirus plaguing the globe today did not originate in China but rather was brought there by the U.S. Army.

On March 12, the official posted a tweet saying: “It might be the U.S. army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan.” Despite widespread criticism over the unsubstantiated claim, Zhao continues to blame Washington.

Articles echoing the libel were subsequently shared across China’s tightly-controlled internet.

Some of the pieces claimed that the U.S. army brought the virus to China during the Military World Games held in Wuhan in October of last year, citing conspiracy theorist George Webb, who, without any evidence, theorized that the virus was manufactured in a U.S. military lab and brought to China by a cyclist who took part in the sports event.

State media called for an “inquiry” into the effective poisoning of the Chinese well.

COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new pathogen, was first detected in late December in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, and spread rapidly across the world, infecting more than 465,000 people and killing more than 21,000 as of last week. The World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations, and leading medical experts insist that it jumped from an animal in Wuhan’s large live-animal marketplace to a human, who then inadvertently started it on its global spread.

WHO stressed that any suggestions that the pathogen did not have a natural origin are “dangerous” to the effort to contain the pandemic.

Coming from the representative of an authoritarian Communist government that has shown little regard for the human rights of its citizens or the intellectual property of those of other countries, much less for truth or accuracy, China’s wild assertion was strongly condemned by our government.

U.S. officials were skeptical from the start about information coming from China, including the number of cases it has publicly reported, but the latter’s accusation of the former’s responsibility for the outbreak, now a pandemic, has ratcheted the distrust to an entirely new level.

In the wake of China’s efforts to shift blame from itself to the U.S., President Trump, who had previously and often praised Chinese President Xi Jinping, has now taken a more critical tone regarding Beijing’s handling of the pandemic’s outbreak.

As well he should.

China initially suppressed news of the beginning of the virus’ spread, silencing whistleblower doctors and other citizens who sought to share information from Wuhan during the peak of the outbreak.

Officials in other countries likewise pointed to China’s irresponsibility. “First [China] tried to suppress the news,” Woody Johnson, U.S. ambassador to the U.K., wrote in an opinion piece in the London Times. “Then, it worked to protect its own population while selectively sharing critical information, such as genetic sequence data, and continuing to stonewall international health authorities that were offering assistance, requesting access and seeking more information.”

The Chinese government did not create the coronavirus, but its prevarications and missteps in December and January played a major role in COVID-19’s rapid and controlled spread, and the resultant sickness and deaths.

Communist China’s leaders, of course, are accountable only to themselves, not to their country’s citizens. And so they have never endeavored to effectively ensure the safety and cleanliness of food and food markets — even since 2008, when tens of thousands of Chinese babies were sickened by contaminated milk.

China apparently feels sufficiently emboldened to accuse the U.S. of being the source of the coronavirus because the Communist nation has — or, at least has claimed to — largely stemmed the spread of the virus among its populace. For the first time in three months, it recently reported, there were no new local infections in the central province of Hubei, where more than 60 million people remain confined to their homes.

Dr. Matthew Kroenig, a former Defense Department and CIA official who now works as a professor at Georgetown University, told CNN that, “many people, when the pandemic first started, thought [that] this is an opportunity for global cooperation.”

What we’ve seen instead, he continued, is the pandemic becoming just another weapon in a “great power rivalry.” China, he asserted, is using disinformation to try to advance other geopolitical goals, trying to position itself as a responsible global leader.

When the first intimations of a conspiracy theory linking the U.S. to the virus’ origin came to light but had not yet been embraced by the Chinese government, China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, in an interview with the news website Axios, dismissed the notion as “crazy.”

He was right.