What does China want the narrative to be? The ideal outcome would be that the virus originated outside of China... There is one outcome that would be unacceptable to the Chinese Communist Party: China will do almost anything to keep the U.S. from concluding that the virus was developed in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Pictured: Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology on February 3, 2021 in Wuhan, China. (Photo by Hector Retamal/AFP via Getty Images)
On May 26, 2021, President Joe Biden announced that he had asked the U.S. intelligence community to redouble its efforts to determine the origins of the COVID-19 virus. The U.S. findings are expected in about 90 days. So now we know what the Biden administration is doing, but what will the Chinese government, or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), do? In light of China's obfuscation so far, it is absurd to imagine that it will be cooperating with the U.S. investigation. Neither will it be sitting idly by waiting to learn of the U.S. intelligence community's conclusions. Instead, the CCP will be doing everything it can to shape the report and ensure that the findings will be released in a context saturated by Chinese propaganda.
What does China want the narrative to be? The ideal outcome would be that the virus originated outside of China. Failing that, an acceptable outcome would be, as highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article, that the virus "that killed millions of people and shattered the global economy" would be "among the world's most consequential mysteries."
There is one outcome that would be unacceptable to the CCP: China will do almost anything to keep the U.S. from concluding that the virus was developed in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The CCP is already taking steps to encourage the U.S. to reach "the right" judgment, and it appears to have people in the West, including in the U.S., who are willingly supporting those efforts.
On July 5, 2021, The Lancet published "Science, not speculation, is essential to determine how SARS-CoV-2 reached humans." This letter was written by the same "reputable" experts who in early 2020, shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic, hurried to state -- despite egregiously insufficient evidence -- that the virus developed naturally and could not have been manufactured in a lab. That false narrative set the tone for more than one year.
Now, one-and-a-half years later, The Lancet has again come out with an unjustified dismissal of the lab leak theory, couched in support for the G7's call for a new COVID origins study, led by the World Health Organization (WHO). Among repeated affirmations of "solidarity... with those in China who [have] confronted the outbreak," the letter piously cautions that "it might take years of field and laboratory study to assemble and link data essential to reach rational and objective conclusions..." This type of delay, strategically accompanied by a strong but carefully hedged reassertion of the original claim that "we believe the strongest clue from new, credible, and peer reviewed evidence in the scientific literature is that the virus evolved in nature, while suggestions of a laboratory leak source of the pandemic remain without scientifically validated evidence that directly supports it in peer-reviewed scientific journals," is exactly what the WSJ warned might happen. More significantly, it is exactly what China wants. Nothing could be better for China than having The Lancet as the messenger, lending scientific credibility to what the CCP wants the world to believe.
There is little doubt that The Lancet is being used, whether it realizes it or not, as a cog in the CCP propaganda machine. It may have its own interests or the interests of the letter's signatories to protect. Some of these individuals may have been involved in the study of viruses, gain of function, collaboration with the Chinese scientific community, and maybe even with the Wuhan lab. At any rate, it is difficult not to question their objectivity.
At the same time, the WHO is retesting samples in Italy. Naturally, the CCP claims that this demonstrates that the WHO is now exploring the possibility that COVID-19 may have developed outside of China. Some researchers have argued that studies of the origin of the virus should explore other areas outside of China, including the U.S., Spain and Brazil.
The July 5 publication of the letter in The Lancet is a strong signal that the CCP has launched an active disinformation campaign. The CCP will continue to spare no effort in ensuring that the COVID-19 virus appears to have originated somewhere other than China, or that there is so much uncertainty that it will always be one of world's biggest mysteries -- like "Where is Jimmy Hoffa buried?"
Pete Hoekstra is a former Representative in Congress from Michigan. He served as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. More recently he was U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.