On 2nd August 2021, a group of US Republicans released a report that, as per Reuters, states, ‘A preponderance of evidence proves the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic leaked from a Chinese research facility’. Further, as per Reuters, ‘The report also cited “ample evidence” that Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) scientists – aided by U.S. experts and Chinese and U.S. government funds – were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden’.
This report published by US Republicans, comes close on the heels of near completion of the mandate of 90 days that US President had given to USA’s ‘Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information’ to bring US closer to a ‘definitive conclusion’ on the issue of the origin of Covid virus. It would now become extremely difficult for Biden Administration to take a softer approach on China on the issue of their culpability and any indication of the same may become politically costly for the incumbent US President since the Republicans are bound to portray him as being soft on China, an allegation that Republicans have put on Joe Biden for long.
Nevertheless, beyond the acerbic hostility that exists between the Democrats and Republicans, intermitted by bipartisan consensus on some issues, what concerns the world more is whether the death of 4.4 million people and the devastation on economies and societies caused by the spread of Coronavirus was a natural phenomenon or was the handiwork of some vicious minds out there to ravage the world for their own ulterior motives. And if so, would they ever be punished for the same?
First Hints of an Impending Disaster Came as Early as 2015
The issue of something sinister brewing in some laboratories of US and China had been in news since 2015. Hidden among the piles of scientific research reports and difficult jargons, the clear and present danger germinating under the watchful eyes of some scientific minds, did not ring alarm bells across the world, even though there were telltale signs of something apocalyptic was being experimented upon with potentially dangerous consequence. In November 2015, Nature magazine came out with an article titled, ‘Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research’. The article stated the following
‘In an article published in Nature Medicine1 on 9 November, scientists investigated a virus called SHC014, which is found in horseshoe bats in China. The researchers created a chimaeric virus, made up of a surface protein of SHC014 and the backbone of a SARS virus that had been adapted to grow in mice and to mimic human disease. The chimaera infected human airway cells — proving that the surface protein of SHC014 has the necessary structure to bind to a key receptor on the cells and to infect them. It also caused disease in mice, but did not kill them.’
The article future stated,
‘The findings reinforce suspicions that bat coronaviruses capable of directly infecting humans (rather than first needing to evolve in an intermediate animal host) may be more common than previously thought, the researchers say.
But other virologists question whether the information gleaned from the experiment justifies the potential risk. Although the extent of any risk is difficult to assess, Simon Wain-Hobson, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, points out that the researchers have created a novel virus that “grows remarkably well” in human cells. “If the virus escaped, nobody could predict the trajectory,” he says.’
Therefore, from the very beginning, there were apprehensions that the virus was perhaps being manipulated in laboratory to increase its ability to infect humans. In May 2021, in a research article titled, ‘The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?’ published in The Bulletin, Nicholas Wade writes,
‘Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China’s leading expert on bat viruses, Shi Zheng-li or “Bat Lady,” mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses.
Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to “examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs [coronaviruses].” In pursuit of this aim, in November 2015 they created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV). This manufactured virus was able to infect the cells of the human airway, at least when tested against a lab culture of such cells.’
In fact, Ralph Baric had been on record stating, “constant mixing of different viruses creates a great opportunity for dangerous new pathogens to emerge”. Only difference perhaps being that they did not wait for it to happen in cave dwellings but manipulated enough in controlled environment for ‘dangerous pathogens to emerge’ through the chimera they created in the laboratory.
The Dangerous Game of ‘Gain of Function’ Research
The whole concept of genetically manipulating viruses in laboratories to potentially increase their ability to infect human cells, and observe the outcomes, has been a major bone of contention among scientific community, which is essentially divided on this issue. The advocates of this concept justify it to remain ahead of the curve in their ability to anticipate the kind of havoc a mutating virus can wreak on humans in future. On the other hand, many from the scientific community have incessantly voiced their concerns surrounding the devastating impact such manipulated viruses can cause if they were ever to escape from laboratory.
The Indisputable Facts
Nevertheless, two things are clear from what had transpired. That Shi Zhengli-Li had indeed collaborated with Ralph Baric of University of North Carolina on research associated with Sars Coronavirus, and that the technical knowhow of ‘engineering bat coronavirus’ was passed on to Shi Zhengli-Li by Ralph Baric.
As Nicholas Wade writes The Bulletin,
‘Inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Baric had developed, and taught Shi, a general method for engineering bat coronaviruses to attack other species. The specific targets were human cells grown in cultures and humanized mice. These laboratory mice, a cheap and ethical stand-in for human subjects, are genetically engineered to carry the human version of a protein called ACE2 that studs the surface of cells that line the airways. Shi returned to her lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and resumed the work she had started on genetically engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells.’
The fundamental issue is not just about some US Scientists collaborating with Chinese Scientists from Wuhan Institute of Virology. The more shocking part is the fact that whatever was happening in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, under the aegis of China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Shi Zhengli-Li, was being funded by none other than the National Institute of Health (NIH) of United States. On May 25th, 2021, New York Post wrote,
‘The National Institutes of Health earmarked $600,000 for the Wuhan Institute of Virology over a five-year period to study whether bat coronaviruses could be transmitted to humans, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told lawmakers Tuesday. Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told a House Appropriations subcommittee that the money was funneled to the Chinese lab through the non-profit EcoHealth Alliance to fund “a modest collaboration with very respectable Chinese scientists who were world experts on coronavirus.”’
‘Gain of Function Research’; Banned in US, Outsourced to China?
Part of the reason which necessitated the masterminds to outsource the possible ‘Gain of Function’ research to Wuhan Institute of Virology was the ban on the same imposed by Obama Administration in 2014. For the sake of keeping an arm’s length distance from Wuhan Institute, the National Institute of Health (NIH) outsourced the work to EcoHealth Alliance run by Peter Daszak, another controversial figure in the whole scheme of things, who then outsourced the work to Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Peter Daszak’s Potential Conflict of Interest
Interestingly enough, when a statement jointly signed by 27 public health scientists was published in Lancet, to reject the theory of lab-leak from China’s Wuhan Institute, it was eventually found out as per US Right to Know (usrtk.org), ‘Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that a statement in The Lancet authored by 27 prominent public health scientists condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” was organized by employees of EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit group that has received millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funding to genetically manipulate coronaviruses with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology’.
Not just that, it was the same Peter Daszak of EchoHealth Alliance who also later led the WHO probe team to Wuhan Institute to investigate the lab-leak theories, which clearly vindicated apprehensions surrounding serious ‘conflict of interest’ of Peter Daszak and also put the integrity of WHO more in doubt. Later, due to intense public pressure, WHO was forced to ‘recuse’ Peter Daszak from the ‘UN backed Commission’ probing on the origin of the virus.
Does Not Part of Blame Lie with Some US Scientific Researchers as Well?
Therefore, even as the culpability of China is beyond doubt for many a reason, can US put the entire onus on China without pointing some fingers on prominent figures like Dr Ralph Baric, Dr Anthony Fauci and Peter Daszak? Was their conduct beyond doubt?
The more bizarre thing is how US could trust China with money and knowhow to do critical research on something as sensitive as ‘Gain of Function’ research knowing well that China has an infamous history of stealing technical knowhow and using it for its own ulterior motives.
From Chinese J-10 fighter having uncanny resemblance with US Lockheed Martin’s F-16, Chinese Wing Loong High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) drones having distinct similarity with US Predator (MQ-9) Reaper drones, from Chinese H-20 Bombers looking almost a copycat of US B-2 Bombers to China’s much hyped J-20 combat jet alleged to be a ‘poor copy’ US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the imprint of alleged Chinese espionage based technological advancement is too evident to ignore.
And yet the gang of Anthony Fauci, Ralph Baric and Peter Daszak trusted China with knowhow and finance for research on bat coronavirus. In a country where the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have their footprint on every institution worth the name, did they think that the regime would not get its hands on the critical knowhow that can be used to genetically modify viruses to make them more virulent and possibly reserve it in their arsenal as a biological weapon for future warfare?
However, even though some benefit of doubt can still be given to the US Scientists named above for having done the same in good faith, albeit callously, what can simply not be denied is the fact that China may have done something sinister with the knowhow, by design or default, and brazenly denied the same even as the world kept suffering.
China’s Suspicious Conduct Since the Outbreak
What makes the suspicions grow even more is how China behaved time since the news of spread emerged in late 2019. From the very beginning, it was defensive and tried to obfuscate the matter often by misleading the world. By late December 2019, Taiwan had warned WHO about the human-to-human transmissions happening in Wuhan, China. And yet, in January 2020, WHO tweeted the following misleading fact based on falsified information provided by China that led to the world lowering its guard.
What was also intriguing was how Covid did spread from Wuhan to rest of the world and yet within China it did not spread much beyond Wuhan. Not only China for long denied the contagious nature of Coronavirus, but it also did not ban flights from China to rest of the world for long. It also did not give out official figures of the number of people actually got infected there. Further, it tried to deflect attention on Wuhan Institute of Virology by constantly pointing fingers on wet markets
How China Systematically Silenced those who Raised Voice on Covid
There were also various instances of Chinese whistleblowers writing in social media about the government handling of Covid there, being silenced through various means. A Chinese Law Professor named Xu Zhangrun, who was vitriolic in his online write-up on Chinese leadership and its handling of the Covid pandemic, was put under house arrest, had his write-up taken down from internet and all his social media footprints were immediately wiped off.
Then there was the case of Dr. Li Wenliang, who had sent out a message to his medical school alumni about the ‘mysterious new illness’ that was killing people. Chinese authorities came down heavily upon him and warned against speaking on Covid. Later Dr. Li Wenliang died of Covid after having contracted the disease while treating patients.
How China Aggressively Tried to Use the Pandemic to its Own Advantage
In fact, what has also been shocking is how China has been aggressively taking a confrontational approach towards other countries especially at a time when the world has been getting ravaged by the pandemic. Merely for demanding an international investigation into the origin of Covid, China imposed unofficial embargo on a plethora of Australian imports that resulted in a cumulative loss in billions of dollars for Australian exporters and hurt the economy so badly that Canberra started seriously introspecting its overdependence on China for exports.
Not just that, China started a needless border dispute with India that resulted in India being compelled to spend enormously in deploying its frontline troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and spend billions to acquire a new range of weapon systems for mountain warfare at a time when India, like the rest of the world, was in the midst of combating the Covid induced pandemic. China likewise, routinely breached the Taiwanese airspace by sending dozens of its fighter jets that was not just provocative but perhaps a warning sign to Taiwan of the shape of things to come. It was as if China had already planned out all these actions to coincide with the Covid pandemic peaking across the world.
Also, China took the advantage of the world embroiled with Covid, to impose National Security Law on Hong Kong and completed its stranglehold by brutally crushing proponents of democracy, arresting scores of prominent faces of Hong Kong’s democratic protest against Beijing’s imposition of National Security Law including the owner and founder of Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai.
The Chinese Military Documents that Spilt the Beans
In May 2021, an Australian publication named The Weekend Australian came out with a report mentioning about a Chinese PLA document written almost five years before the outbreak of Covid that talked about weaponizing Covid virus. The Document was titled, The Unnatural Origin of Sars and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons.
Later, Dr Li-Meng Yan, a Chinese virologist, who had authored four critical research papers where she made strong arguments that the Covid or SARS-CoV-2 did not have a natural origin and that it was developed in laboratory, came out with some explosive tweets on 8th May 2021 where she mentioned about the same PLA documents that predicted World War III as biological war and tweeted some of the translated versions that were alarming to read.
The PLA documents specifically mentioned about coronaviruses that could be “artificially manipulated into an emerging human disease virus, then weaponised and unleashed in a way never seen before.”
Would US Maintain Status Quo or Take Punitive Action Against China?
By the end of August, when the US Intelligence Community would be submitting its report to President Joe Biden, it would be interesting to see if Biden Administration would take any action against Ralph Baric of University of North Carolina, Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, and Dr Anthony Fauci, who incidentally now is the Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden, for their alleged complicity.
Also, it would be interesting to see what action Biden Administration initiates against China. Even as Biden Administration has been taking major initiatives to strength alliance between US and Europe, and reinvigorate NATO, can US companies and their European counterparts do away with their compulsive obsession for Chinese market? Can American companies remain competitive without outsourcing of production to China or sourcing of critical subcomponents from China?
Even as US withdraws from Afghanistan, leaving behind a dangerous void and pushing the region into a bottomless pit of cycle of violence and revival of Taliban, and even as US withdrawal has been justified as means to focus more on South China Sea, can Biden Administration take on China head on? Even though some sanctions have been imposed by US on some Chinese technology companies and a few others especially, those sourcing raw materials or finished products from Xinjiang province, they hardly seem to have any impact on China, which on the contrary seems to be eager to decouple from the US economy and especially its dependence on US for semiconductors.
There is also the question of how many countries can actually stand up against China given the fact that many of the smaller ones are already heavily indebted to China, thanks to China’s ‘debt trap diplomacy’ through Belt and Road Initiatives or the lure of access to Chinese market, which is conditional to countries not taking any stand against the Chinese Government or the Chinese Communist Party. Barring India, Australia and to some extent Japan, apart from US, not many have shown conviction and determination to stand up against China.
Is US an Hour Late and a Dollar Short?
For more than a year now, American warships have been routinely sailing in the South China Sea. More is expected in the coming months. But, would those be enough? Would ever the world take a strong stand against China on alleged Wuhan Lab-leak that has already led to millions having lost their lives? Till now it has been business-as-usual for China with nothing much having changed for it. On the contrary, as a result of Covid pandemic induced lockdown across the world, the only country which benefitted immensely by having its production running smoothly twenty-four-seven and economy growth remaining high as a result of that, has been China. Not just that, China has used its Covid vaccine to silence many countries who otherwise would have been vocal against China but were desperate for vaccines and thereby preferred a trade-off; Chinese vaccines in lieu of not speaking against China.
The next few months would show if US still has the appetite to stand up for the world for a righteous cause or whether US is no more in a position to serve anything beyond its own interests. Nevertheless, if the world has to prevent the repeat in future of the devastation which ravaged the world in the last 18 months, then it has to know where it emerged from. Whether those who have been responsible for unleashing it would ever be punished or not, only time would reveal the answer.