While the world is experiencing a renewed interest in investigating a “lab leak” theory of the origin of COVID-19, Chinese media like state-run newspapers XinhuaNet, Global Times, and China Daily have been scrambling spin to undermine that theory. Chinese media is portraying the “lab leak” theory as: 1) originating from U.S. intelligence and politicians with bad faith intentions to malign China; 2) orchestrated by the U.S. to deflect against the U.S.’ domestic problems and its own biological warfare research; and 3) a catalyst for hate crimes against Asian Americans. Additionally, China uses the “lab leak” theory to pivot towards applying pressure on the United States. Chinese media mainly do this by accusing the U.S. of obstructing honest inquiry into COVID-19, and calling for the US to be investigated, while painting China as acting in good faith.
The U.S.’ Lab Leak Theory is Based on Bad Intentions
Chinese media portrays any “lab leak” theory as being a product of dishonest US intelligence. One Global Times article brings into doubt any US intelligence effort to trace the origins of COVID-19 as “the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies have a long record of fabricating lies for political purposes,” citing the Iraq War as evidence. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian states that “the US intelligence community has no credibility” and is “untrustworthy” in an earlier Global Times article. According to China Daily, a recent undisclosed US intelligence report into COVID-19’s origins, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, was a “malicious instigation” and based on a “presumption of guilt.”
Similarly, Chinese media discredit any “lab leak” hypothesis as not credible as it comes from U.S. politicians, who are similarly portrayed as dishonest and, well, politically motivated. An article in XinhuaNet, citing unnamed “multiple American officials and experts,” states that the lab leak theory is “fundamentally rooted in politics.” One editorial in China Daily asserted that American politicians are “driven by a desire to spread political virus.”
Chinese media also minimize any “lab leak” hypothesis as a U.S. tool to defame China. An editorial in China Daily accused the U.S. of having “an ulterior motive…to defame China by taking advantage of the epidemic.” An article in Global Times, quoting Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, stated that the U.S. is using the lab leak theory to “smear and scapegoat China and play political games under the guise of the pandemic.”
The US is Deflecting Attention from Its Domestic Problems
China’s media seeks to minimize any “lab leak” inquiry by claiming the U.S. is placing blame on China for COVID-19 in order to deflect from the U.S.’ domestic problems. One editorial in China Daily asserts that “[t]he incompetent epidemic response of the US, the world’s largest economy known with the most advanced medical resources, has exposed a series of deep-rooted problems in American society including racial injustice, widening gap between the rich and the poor, high incidence of violent crimes and governance failures, and dealt a heavy blow to America’s image as a ‘beacon of democracy.’” That same editorial criticized American politicians for blaming China in order to “divert people’s attention away from [American politicians’] poor anti-epidemic efforts…”
Similarly, an editorial in the Global Times asserts that the US is “playing up” a lab leak theory due to needing “a scapegoat” for “its sluggish economic recovery, intensifying social contradictions, and the increasingly exposed weakness in governance.” In fact, this article brazenly asserts that “[t]he US is like China during the period of Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when all issues were highly politicized.”
The U.S. is Deflecting From Its Own Bioresearch, So it is the U.S. that should be Investigated
Chinese media also claims that the U.S. is using COVID-19 to deflect from “its own checkered past in biological research,” according to China Daily. On the topic of “biological warfare,” this China Daily article references an article in RT.com and states that the U.S. “has no right to point a finger at other countries,” referencing the U.S.’ use of biological weapons in the Korean and Vietnam Wars as examples. The China Daily article also mentioned that Fort Detrick, which it claims “has long been the heart of US biological weapons research,” was closed down in 2019 after safety breaches involving pathogens. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian wishes to direct attention to alleged U.S. mishaps with biological warfare in Fort Detrick and beyond. Zhao asks in Global Times: “How many secrets are hidden in the US’ Fort Detrick lab and other biolabs overseas from the rest of the world? What is the truth of the outbreaks of respiratory disease in northern Virginia in July 2019 and the e-cigarette, or vaping, associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak in Wisconsin? The US owes the world an explanation.”
After raising questions regarding the U.S.’ biological research, Chinese media then calls on the US to open itself up to investigation. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has proposed that the U.S. “conduct a joint virus origins probe with the WHO and launch a comprehensive, transparent, evidence-based international investigation” on its soil, according to Global Times. A second Global Times article calls for any “lab leak” theory investigation to involve “the Fort Detrick biolab…in the first group of targets for investigation” as well as the U.S.’ “astonishing number of biolabs in Asia.”
A third Global Times article, citing unnamed “Chinese scientists and officials,” calls on the US to “welcome the WHO team, like what China has done, to thoroughly investigate its own biolabs and answer a series of questions concerning the early cases and infectious diseases dated to 2019 in the US.” This article also claims that China has been “urging the US repeatedly to follow China’s lead to invite the WHO experts to the US, open Fort Detrick and biolabs overseas to the rest of the world, and disclose the detailed data and information on the unexplained outbreaks of respiratory disease in northern Virginia in July 2019 and the EVALI outbreak in Wisconsin.” This Global Times article cites Zeng Guang, former Chinese CDC head epidemiologist, as stating that “…the US government…fears…experts [finding] out more systematic problems with its labs.”
The US Focus on COVID-19 Contributes to Hate Crimes against Asian Americans
China’s media also propagates the claim that the U.S.’ focus on the origin of COVID-19 in China contributes to hate crimes against Asian Americans. A XinhuaNet article, citing the scientific journal Nature, stated that “the rhetoric around an alleged lab leak has grown so toxic that it’s fuelling online bullying of scientists and anti-Asian harassment in the United States…” Without substantiation, the article linked the lab leak theory to a US study citing a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes in US cities. Citing “analysts,” that same XinhuaNet article claims that “politicizing COVID-19 origin-tracing is an unethical and unpopular move that will only encourage discrimination and hatred against Asians.” An earlier XinhuaNet article used the Nature quote as well.
While the US Obstructs an Honest Investigation, China Acts in Good Faith
Chinese media portrays the U.S. as obstructing an honest investigation into COVID-19. According to XinhuaNet, “some U.S. politicians have ganged up with media outlets to construct narratives by cutting out facts and fabricating lies, in an attempt to misguide and control international public opinion.” That XinhuaNet article also accuses the U.S. of “maliciously concocting conspiracy theories and spreading misinformation, which has fueled an anti-science trend…and undermined the global fight against the pandemic.” Global Times stated that American criticism of the recent WHO report into the origins of COVID-19 undermines “the WHO expert team’s scientific spirit.” The same Global Times article criticizes the U.S. in that it has “has contributed little material support to the global fight against the pandemic. Instead, it has been talking idly to provoke a siege against China, the world’s largest supplier of anti-epidemic products. The US has always been the biggest disruptive force in global cooperation against the virus.” Another Global Times article accuses the U.S. of using the 74th World Health Assembly meeting “into a battleground between science and politics” rather than “advocating for solidarity rather than confrontation.”
But while the U.S. obstructs, China’s media portrays China as conducting itself openly and with good faith. One China Daily article said that “China has always taken an open, transparent, and responsible attitude toward virus origin tracing.” Citing Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, Global Times reported that “China has invited the WHO experts to conduct the work twice, and other countries are urged to do the same.” According to another Global Times article, “[t]he WHO expert team has expressed satisfaction and appreciation for China’s cooperation.” A third Global Times article states that China is “tak[ing] the origins-tracing work seriously with a responsible attitude, and has made positive contributions that are widely recognized.” A fourth Global Times article suggests that China would even be willing to help orchestrate a WHO investigation of the United States.
Chinese media is working feverishly to spin the rising “lab leak” theory to its advantage. By casting doubt on this theory, China is hoping to get more of the world to criticize and doubt the United States, while whitewashing any Chinese culpability in spreading COVID-19. Through an aggressive propaganda effort, China hopes to rehabilitate its image abroad.
You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic