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The Internationalist
December 2021

U.S. Big Lie Over Wuhan
Is War Propaganda

Not Just a Conspiracy Theory, an Anti-Communist Battle Cry

White House briefing on coronavirus, 27 March 2020. Donald Trump spread racist lie of “China virus,” trade advisor Peter Navarro declared that “This is a war ... that China started.” False. China contained the virus, U.S. spread it. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

DECEMBER 27 – For the past two years, all factions of the U.S. ruling class, backed by the bourgeois media and a number of bellicose scientists, have unleashed a propaganda barrage scapegoating China for the pandemic of COVID-19 caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This is not limited to the “Wuhan lab leak” conspiracy theory, which started out as a far-right fixation, went viral with Republican Donald Trump’s rambling campaign rants, was picked up by unreconstructed Cold Warriors in the new Democratic administration and the liberal media, and then received the presidential imprimatur of Joe Biden. A soft-core strain of the campaign is to accuse Beijing of grossly mishandling the outbreak of the disease and worse, covering up their bungling with police state repression. Now we have the latest variant, accusing China of overreacting with its “zero COVID infections” policies. From start to finish, it’s one Big Lie, with a sinister purpose.

A transparent aim of this virulent China-bashing is to shift responsibility for the deadly outcome of the disease. Rather than (correctly) blaming the capitalist world, whose utterly calamitous actions and inaction turned an epidemic into a pandemic in which well over 5 million people have died from this modern plague, they want to pin it on China, which effectively and spectacularly confined the spread of the virus with a toll of less than 5,000 dead. A second aim is to whip up anti-communism against China, in order to divert attention from the irrefutable fact that it was the socialized and centrally planned economy that enabled the (bureaucratically deformed) workers state to marshal vast resources to contain the epidemic in short order and then reopen safely. Most importantly, the salvos of propaganda heavy artillery are part of the anti-China war drive, aimed at softening up public opinion and providing a casus belli or excuse for imperialist military attack, whether in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits or elsewhere.

The “blame China for COVID” gambit is a bipartisan psychological warfare operation, enlisting the feuding Democratic and Republican parties of U.S. imperialism, both liberal and conservative media and the patriotic algorithm managers of social media. After previously wiping “Wuhan lab leak” posts, Facebook did an about-face last May, following Biden’s marching orders, and platformed the conspiracy mongers, “updat[ing] our policies as new facts and trends emerge.”1 It recalls the all-sided scaremongering campaign over Saddam Hussein’s phantom “weapons of mass destruction,” which served as the prologue to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. No facts needed, and where actual facts contradict the story line, they are buried under a mountain of fake news. Whether in Trump’s crudely racist vituperation against the “kung flu” or the New York Times’ more sophisticated version, the Sinophobic psy-op continues unabated.

Trump’s White House trade advisor Peter Navarro laid out the story line early on – after blaming China for shutting down Midwest industry, rising suicide rates, opioid addiction, divorces and child poverty in the U.S.: “This is a war. It’s a war that China started by spawning the virus, by hiding the virus, by hoarding personal protective equipment during the time it hid the virus.”2 What’s behind this blatant war-mongering? For starters, there is the imperialist rulers’ efforts to obscure their thousand times worse handling of the pandemic, compared to China’s remarkable success in combating it. But most fundamentally, it’s part of escalating Washington’s decades-old effort to reverse the gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution.

Doctors conferring in Wuhan shopping center converted into an emergency hospital, 17 February 2020. U.S. did not isolate non-critical cases.  (Photo: Agence France-Presse)

The overthrow of capitalist rule in the most populous country of the world established a workers state based on collectivized property, which brought enormous gains for workers, women and oppressed peoples in China. Since the revolution, average life expectancy has risen from 35 years in 1949 to 77 in 2018. It was the socialized core of China’s economy that enabled it to dramatically raise living standards while the capitalist world was mired in depression after 2008. And it was a planned economy not driven by profit that made possible China’s rapid and effective response to the outbreak of COVID-19. But its potential to be the basis leading to a genuinely socialist society has been grievously undercut by a narrow, nationalist bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, three decades after capitalist counterrevolution destroyed the USSR, for the rulers of U.S. imperialism the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state looms as an increasingly worrisome obstacle to their world domination. As we have underscored, the destruction of this obstacle has become ever more central in U.S. war preparations and propaganda.3 Against the imperialist onslaught, the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International call to defeat the U.S. drive for counterrevolution in China, and for real communist leadership to defend and extend the revolutionary gains under attack from without and imperiled from within.

The COVID Blame Game

In this ongoing “blame China for COVID” campaign, the centerpiece has been the claim that the virus originated, or could have originated, in a Chinese lab from which it escaped. It must be said at the outset that never has any evidence been proffered that this actually happened. It is all conjecture, and this “theory” has been political from the start. The first version came in a tweet by a self-described “British-HongKonger” on 6 January 2020 declaring, “Today the evil regime strikes again with a new virus,” with the hashtag “#bioweapon.”4 The story line was then picked up by an article in the arch-anti-communist Washington Times (26 January 2020), “Coronavirus link to China biowarfare program possible, analyst says.”5 The analyst, one Danny Shoham, is “a former Israeli military intelligence officer,” while the article’s author, Bill Gertz, is a long-time China-basher closely connected to the Washington defense/intelligence establishment.6

Early on the lab leak flimflam was embraced almost exclusively on the far right, championed in particular by Arkansas senator Tom Cotton, who has become the No. 1 Congressional anti-China hawk over the coronavirus. Trump picked it up and pushed it on the campaign trail in the spring of 2020, while his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, declared that “there is significant evidence that this came from the laboratory” (AFP, 8 May 2020). No evidence was provided. In contrast, the liberal Washington Post (29 January 2020) headlined, “Experts debunk fringe theory linking China’s coronavirus to weapons research,” while the New York Times (2 May 2020) wrote that intelligence “agency analysts have said they most likely will not find proof” of the “unsubstantiated theory” that the coronavirus was the result of a lab leak. Throughout 2020, the Democrats were eager to focus attention on Trump’s disastrous handling of COVID.

All that changed on 20 January 2021, when Joe Biden moved into the White House. As we warned early on, “While Trump has been on-again, off-again in his ‘transactional’ relationship with [Chinese president] Xi and the Beijing regime, the Democrats have positioned themselves as the consistently hardline Cold Warriors against China (and North Korea).”7 Democratic president Barack Obama led off with his 2015 call for the U.S. military to “pivot to Asia,” although he only dug himself deeper into the Middle Eastern quagmire with murderous drone strikes and massive indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Two months after Biden took office, his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, set the confrontational tone in a testy exchange with his Chinese counterparts in Anchorage, Alaska where he said going in that he planned to “call out” China, declaring afterwards that on a number of issues, “we are fundamentally at odds.”

Then in late May 2021, just as two Republican senators pushed through a bill to declassify any intelligence about a potential leak from the Wuhan lab, Biden ordered U.S. spy agencies to investigate and issue a report within 90 days on the origins of the coronavirus. Suddenly what was once a discredited fringe conspiracy theory found a new lease on life. The liberal media dutifully followed suit. The New York Times (28 May) reported, “Data Remains Unexamined in Inquiry on Virus Origins, Officials Say.” The Atlantic (26 May) asked, “If the Lab-Leak Theory Is Right, What’s Next?” And it answered: “We know enough to acknowledge that the scenario is possible, and we should therefore act as though it’s true.” Vanity Fair (3 June) chimed in: “The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins.” Even the “progressive” Nation (13 July) and conspiracy-minded rad-libs (Intercept) got in on the speculative frenzy.

Dr. Shi Zhengli in lab of Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2017 when her research tracked down the source of SARS virus in bats. She has continued to lead groundbreaking research in searching for potential sources of deadly coronaviruses, warning of dangers of a pandemic. Now Wuhan lab-leak conspiracy-mongers grotesquely blame her for COVID-19. (Photo: Chinatopix)

The vast “lab leak” propaganda campaign is focused on the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), a branch of the state Chinese Academy of Sciences. The Institute, established in 1956, houses China’s first biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory, the largest of only 59 such highest-security labs in the world, led by Shi Zhengli. In 2005, Dr. Shi identified bats as a natural reservoir for coronaviruses such as those that caused the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that killed 770 people two years earlier. In 2011, she and a team from WIV discovered in a cave in Yunnan province, where they found, among hundreds of diverse bat-borne coronaviruses, dozens of strains in the same group as the SARS virus. In 2017, Shi and the WIV became internationally famous for identifying a coronavirus whose genomic sequence was almost 97% identical with that found among civets in Guangdong, where wildlife traders were infected with the SARS virus.8

In several scientific papers, Dr. Shi highlighted the danger of diverse bat coronaviruses leading to outbreaks of disease. In 2015 she noted that “The emergence of SARS-CoV heralded a new era in the cross-species transmission of severe respiratory illness with globalization leading to rapid spread around the world and massive economic impact.”9 Examples include the 2009-10 H1N1 swine flu pandemic and the 2012 MERS (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome) epidemic, also attributed to bat coronaviruses. In 2005, Shi warned that given the genetic diversity of zoonotic (animal to human) bat viruses, trade in wildlife was “increasing the possibility of variants crossing the species barrier and causing outbreaks of disease in human populations.”10 In 2018 she reported on research among miners in Szechuan showing that bat coronaviruses “are able to directly infect humans without intermediate hosts.”11

Following the outbreak of what is now called COVID-19, Dr. Shi, as director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the WIV, and her team set about sequencing the genome of the novel coronavirus, which they achieved in days, by 7 January 2020. The virus, eventually named SARS-CoV-2, was 96% identical to one that had been identified in bats in Yunnan (RaTG13), as they reported in an article they sent on 20 January 2020 to Nature magazine.12 The article stressed that “broad-spectrum antiviral drugs and vaccines should be prepared for emerging infectious diseases that are caused by this cluster of viruses.” But while Shi and the WIV’s groundbreaking work made possible such rapid analysis of the culprit coronavirus, enabling development of tests and pharmaceutical responses to combat it, soon they were being viciously slandered as supposedly responsible for unleashing the disease by the imperialist criminals whose actions turned the epidemic into a deadly worldwide pandemic.

So let’s go through the claims.

A Litany of Bogus Claims

Emergency hygiene vehicle leaving Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market where most of the initial cases of infection were reported.  (Photo: Noel Celis / Agence France-Presse)

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan where the WIV is located. The first and most persistent claim is perhaps the most ridiculous: that the coronavirus “originated in Wuhan, China. 400 meters away from a CCP [Chinese Communist Party] lab studying coronaviruses derived from bats,” as Republican senator Ted Cruz tweeted. Actually, the WIV is located eight miles away and across the Yangtze River from the Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market where most of the initial cases of infection were reported. It is hardly surprising that a coronavirus would spill over into the human population in Wuhan, with its population of 12 million people in a province of 60 million, that is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, a major transit hub and a market and supply site for peasants from the hinterland, in a city where 20,000 live wild animals were sold every year in 17 wet markets.13 And it is quite logical – in fact, a very good thing – that a lab conducting research on coronaviruses would be located in the region where the original SARS outbreak had occurred.

Secret U.S. intelligence reports sick WIV researchers. Next up: according to a fact sheet published by Mike Pompeo’s State Department and subsequently recycled by Michael Gordon of the Wall Street Journal, several researchers from this facility were hospitalized with “flu-like symptoms” in November 2019, just before cases of Covid-19 began surfacing in Wuhan. That proves zero. If there were sick lab workers (the WIV says not; the source is a secret U.S. intelligence report), in the middle of the flu season, maybe they had the flu.

Safety issues? Then we have the charge that the Wuhan labs had “safety issues.” Josh Rogin of the Washington Post wrote that he had obtained State Department cables to that effect.14 So what are the issues?

  • Rogin claimed that a cable “warns that the lab’s work on bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.” But the cable text says nothing about unsafe operations, instead reporting that “productivity is limited by a shortage of the highly trained technicians and investigators.” And far from representing a risk of a new pandemic, the cable said that “Despite Limitations, WIV Researchers Produce SARS Discoveries,” and that the work of the lab was vital to heading off a new pandemic:
“Most importantly, the researchers also showed that various SARS-like coronaviruses can interact with ACE2, the human receptor identified for SARS-coronavirus. This finding strongly suggests that SARS-like coronaviruses from bats can be transmitted to humans to cause SARS-like disease. From a public health perspective, this makes the continued surveillance of SARS-like corona viruses in bats and study of the animal-human interface critical to future emerging corona virus outbreak prediction and prevention.”
  • As for the “talent gap,” the cable reported that the Virology Institute “would welcome more help from U.S. and international organizations” in training technicians. Instead, in late 2019 the Trump administration cut off funding and collaboration with the WIV.

They studied bat viruses didn’t they? Another perverse accusation is that if Shi and the Institute had so quickly identified another bat coronavirus similar to SARS-CoV-2, it must mean that they were studying them, and hence, deliberately or accidentally, the WIV could be the source of the pandemic. Except that in terms of evolutionary time, the 96% match between RaTG13 (the coronavirus previously sequenced by the WIV) and SARS-CoV-2 is quite distant.15 Dr. Shi herself has said that upon learning of the outbreak, “she frantically went through her own lab’s records from the past few years to check for any mishandling of experimental materials, especially during disposal. Shi breathed a sigh of relief when the results came back: none of the sequences matched those of the viruses her team had sampled from bat caves.”16 Not one piece of evidence has been put forward contradicting her statement.

Wuhan Institute of Virology, the premier institution internationally for study of bat coronaviruses and site of the largest BSL-4 laboratory in the world. U.S. imperialists invented bogus “safety concerns” to justify the China-bashing “Wuhan lab-leak” conspiracy theory.  (Photo: WIV; AFP)

Gain of function research? This brings us to a centerpiece of the Wuhan lab leak “narrative,” as the postmodernists like to label Big Lies. Republican Trumpers and Democratic liberals alike repeat as supposed fact that “Shi and her colleagues at the WIV have performed high-profile experiments that made pathogens more infectious. Such research, known as ‘gain-of-function’ [GOF], has generated heated controversy among virologists,” as Vanity Fair wrote.17 Dr. Shi and the WIV emphatically deny this. Shi wrote in an email response to questions from the New York Times that “she did not set out to make a virus more dangerous, but to understand how it might jump across species. ‘My lab has never conducted or cooperated in conducting GOF experiments that enhance the virulence of viruses,’ she said.”18

In one case, Shi’s research was funded by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health), headed by Dr. Anthony Fauci. The Intercept (9 September 2021) headlined that “NIH Documents Provide New Evidence U.S. Funded Gain-of-Function Research in Wuhan.” It claimed this contradicted Fauci’s testimony before Congress last May that “The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” No contradiction. The grant stipulated that it could not be used for GOF experiments, seven out of eleven scientists working in virology and related fields that The Intercept consulted said that the project was not GOF research, and:

“Scientists unanimously told The Intercept that the experiment … could not have directly sparked the pandemic. None of the viruses listed in the write-ups of the experiment are related to the virus that causes Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, closely enough to have evolved into it.”

This didn’t stop the Wuhan lab leak conspiracy mongers at The Intercept. But despite the bombastic headline, their bombshell was a dud.

What the WIV research did do was create “chimeras,” that is, combining genetic materials from different viruses present in bats. The purpose was to understand how mutations and recombinations could occur, so that with that knowledge better defenses (drugs, vaccines) could be developed prior to a potential deadly pandemic. In its 2015 report on this work, Shi’s team warned that chimeras, despite useful results, could pose a danger: “the potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens.”19 In their investigation, they wrote that the creation of a chimeric virus “was not expected to increase pathogenicity.” When it did, they concluded: “On the basis of these findings, scientific review panels may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue, as increased pathogenicity in mammalian models cannot be excluded.”

So, again, this is the exact opposite of some group secretly trying to cook up a new biowarfare pathogen, or being irresponsibly oblivious to the inherent dangers. And, again, no evidence has been presented contradicting Shi’s statement that the WIV never engaged in or cooperated with “gain-of-function” research to increase the toxicity of viruses. Zero.

Furin cleavage site (here at S1/S2) occurs naturally in coronaviruses, contrary to conspiracy theorists who claim it was genetically engineered.
From: Molecular Cell, Vol. 78:4, 21 May 2020

What about that famous furin cleavage? This refers to the site in the coronavirus’s structure (S1/S2) where the amino acids in the spike protein are located that enable it to cling (cleave) onto the furin enzyme in human cells. This aspect of the virus has made it particularly transmissible, and it is unique among other known strains of the sarbecovirus. Lab-leak propagandists point to the furin cleavage site as proof that the virus must have been genetically engineered – where else? – in the WIV’s lab. Nicholas Wade, a former Times science writer, cleaved onto the unique trait as supposed proof of its lab origins.20 And when the GOP staff of the House Foreign Affairs Committee released an addendum to their earlier report on the origins of COVID-19, they identified the furin cleavage site as “evidence of genetic modification.”21

So, first of all, as two ShanghaiTech virologists have noted, “furin cleavage sites are widely present in the whole coronavirus family,”22 at the same S1/S2 site, including a strain of alphacoronaviruses that cause the common cold. Also, 14 biologists early on identified a furin cleavage site at S1/S2 in a bat coronavirus (RmYN02) from Yunnan.23 Second, as evolutionary virologist Stephen Goldstein has explained,24 the normal process of replicating a virus in a lab typically results in the furin cleavage site deleting itself. “You cannot, in a normal cell culture, maintain the furin cleavage site,” he elaborated. Instead of pointing to a grand premeditated design, the famous furin cleavage site is the kind of structure that bears the clear imprint of random chance, of evolutionary contingency.

And contrary to Wade’s assertion that “the virus has changed hardly at all,” in fact, three of the mutations making the Omicron variant of COVID-19 more infectious are right at the furin cleavage site. Will we soon hear claims that the Wuhan Institute of Virology created Omicron as well? The strategy of the Wuhan lab-leak propaganda warriors is to wage an information war of attrition by creating the appearance of controversy. If one lab leak claim doesn’t pan out, another can quickly take its place. As a San Francisco Chronicle (7 July 2021) editorial noted, this is “not a theory at all by any scientific definition,” as “purported genetic evidence of human manipulation keeps emerging and then withering under examination.” And as with all conspiracy theories, absence of evidence easily morphs into supposed evidence of the conspiracy itself.

If all else fails, they scream about China’s “lack of transparency” and demand an “independent” inspection of the WIV … by the imperialists who are waging a disinformation war on China now, as part of preparing the way for actual war. They’re following a time-tested playbook: propaganda now, guns later.

The Wuhan “Lab-Leak” Conspiracy Goes Mainstream

When Joe Biden ordered spy agencies to investigate baseless “theory” of coronavirus leak from Wuhan lab, liberals saluted and did an about-face.

As we have emphasized, the drive to demonize China is bipartisan, common to both wings of the U.S. bourgeoisie. The mainstreaming of the “Wuhan lab leak” hoax, its conversion from a “fringe theory” to standard “discourse,” naturally involved the pliant, “free but responsible” bourgeois press that acts as a mouthpiece for the “national security community.” Josh Rogin of the Washington Post and Michael Gordon of the Wall Street Journal have been the spy agencies’ main conduits for the ongoing campaign of selective and misleading leaks. Rogin is an anti-China zealot and Iran-bashing Zionist “neoconservative” known for serially inaccurate reporting. Gordon beat the drums for the U.S.’ 2003 invasion of Iraq by co-authoring with Judith Miller the notorious New York Times article claiming Saddam Hussein was seeking materials to build a nuclear weapon. Both traffic in leaks provided them by U.S. “intelligence officials.”

Most striking was how the bourgeois press turned on a dime when Biden ordered the intelligence agency review, suddenly discovering that the “lab leak” theory was plausible, even likely. As the New Yorker observed, “there was some irony in seeing how quickly these establishment types could swivel.”25 A key role was played by Nicholas Wade’s essay in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. “For the lab escape scenario, a Wuhan origin for the virus is a no-brainer,” he wrote. Brainless would be a better description, as no evidence at all was presented of a leak at the WIV. After baffling his readers with pseudo-scientific BS, he gets down to brass tacks with his real purpose: the blame game. “First and foremost, Chinese virologists are to blame for performing gain-of-function experiments,” he writes, in particular Shi Zhengli. Next are “China’s central authorities,” who supposedly covered up “China’s responsibility” for the pandemic.

But then Wade adds to the list of culprits “the worldwide community of virologists,” who allegedly pushed GOF research in order to rake in government dollars, saying that virologists as a whole “deserve to get regulated by others.” He also throws in U.S. funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology, all based on the evidence-free conjecture of a lab leak, of course. He also has an axe to grind with “science reporters” who “see their role largely as purveying the wisdom of scientists to the unwashed masses.” Behind this disdain is an obvious grudge: Wade’s book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History (2014), was widely denounced by science reporters. A reviewer in Scientific American noted how, after Wade claims it is “not automatically racist” to cite racial categories as explanatory, “He then explains why white people are better because of their genes.”26 Pseudo-science purveyor Nicholas Wade is a raving racist.27

An important role in the turnabout of liberal opinion was a letter published by Science magazine on 14 May 2021 by a number of prominent scientists complaining about the report of the joint mission of China and the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) on COVID-19 and calling for a more intrusive investigation of the Wuhan lab-leak claim. A prominent signer is David Relman of Stanford University, a member of the Intelligence Community Studies Board that, he says, “serves as the convening authority for the discussion of science and technology issues of importance to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.” Another signer is Ralph Baric, a top epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, who has carried out gain-of-function research to “study the pathogenesis of recombinant viruses” (NIH project details). Baric has also worked with Shi Zhengli in the WIV’s research involving chimera viruses, and is clearly trying to duck the incoming salvos of the lab-leak war propaganda.

Along with these well-connected members of the defense/intelligence/university complex, the signers include Yujia Alina Chan, a post-doctoral fellow at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research of the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. Chan has played a key role in pushing the Wuhan lab-leak ploy from the beginning, arguing that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was surprisingly “well adapted for humans,” suggesting a genetically engineered origin.28 Chan recently published a book, Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19 (2021), together with Matt Ridley, a hereditary peer of the British House of Lords and a “science writer” specializing in climate change denial. They rely on material from an amorphous group calling itself D.R.A.S.T.I.C (Decentralized Radical Autonomous Search Team Investigating COVID-19), which they admit “are not the sort of sources authors usually turn to.”

Another key Wuhan lab-leak conspiracy monger is one Nikolai Petrovsky, an Australian endocrinologist sacked from his university for refusing the officially mandated vaccine, who is featured in the COVID potboiler “whodunit” pulp fiction, What Really Happened in Wuhan? (2021). At the same time that he has attacked the life-saving mRNA vaccines as “gene therapy,” Petrovsky’s private company has been trying to cash in on his own vaccine. (He also claims to have developed vaccines against SARS, MERS, Ebola, avian influenza, Japanese encephalitis, Hepatitis B, malaria, rabies and HIV.) He is joined by Yuri Deigin, a Canadian biotech entrepreneur without a scientific degree who co-authored a paper claiming a lab-leak origin was plausible. Deigin is the chief executive officer of Youthereum Genetics, a company developing “epigenetic rejuvenation gene therapy,” which he claims extended the lifespan of mice by 50%.

Shi Zhengli (front row, third from left) and colleagues from the Wuhan Institute of Virology on 15 January 2020, after they had succeeded in sequencing in record speed the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
(Photo: Wang Lingfa via The New York Times)

So along with the originators Donald Trump and his coterie (Pompeo, Cotton, and don’t forget Steve Bannon) vituperating against a Communist plot to foist COVID on the world, the Wuhan lab-leak “theory” has been taken up by the liberal media, racist journalists and a hodgepodge of government-financed scientists, climate change deniers, shadowy internet sleuths, medical profiteers and merchandisers of quack medicine. Quite a menagerie. Yet this unholy alliance has had an effect. By July 2021, an opinion poll by the liberal Politico news site and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that 52% of the U.S. public (including a majority of Democrats) believe that COVID-19 came from a Chinese government laboratory, compared to only 28% who think the deadly disease had a natural origin.29 It is the technique of the Big Lie: the bigger the better, and just keep repeating it.

“How the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible,” as the Washington Post (25 May 2021) “Fact Checker” headlined, is that Democrats and Republicans have a bipartisan consensus of the imperialist bourgeoisie to escalate the anti-China war drive. On the basis of no evidence whatsoever, they “weaponized uncertainty” (Wired).30 The order of the day was to bring the public to attention. The “mainstream” media saluted, executed an about-face, and set out to regiment the population to march in lockstep behind the new official story.

But not all the “scientific community” had been brought to heel. On August 18, a group of 21 prominent virologists, epidemiologists and other bio-medical professionals, including Edward Holmes, Stephen Goldstein, Angela Rasmussen, Michael Worobey,31 Kristian Andersen and Robert Garry, issued an assessment, “The Origins of SARS-1 CoV-2: A Critical Review,” stating:

“There is currently no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 has a laboratory origin. There is no evidence that any early cases had any connection to the WIV, in contrast to the clear epidemiological links to animal markets in Wuhan, nor evidence that the WIV possessed or worked on a progenitor of SARS-CoV-2 prior to the pandemic.”

Newly discovered bat coronaviruses in Laos have many features in common with SARS-CoV-2.
(Graphic: Jonathan Corum / New York Times)

In addition, recent reports from French virologists at the Institut Pasteur in Paris of investigations of bats in northern Laos in summer 2020 found, among dozens of coronaviruses, three with a molecular hook like that of SARS-CoV-2. In fact, while the virus studied at the WIV has 11 out of 17 key “building blocks” of the receptor-binding domain of the COVID-19 virus, the Laotian viruses had as many as 16 out of those 17 key characteristics, while being more distant in other aspects. “That really puts to bed any notion that this virus had to have been concocted, or somehow manipulated in a lab, to be so good at infecting humans,” commented Worobey.32

As for the National Intelligence Council’s “Updated Assessment on COVID-19 Origins” (29 October 2021), it was not at all what the hardliners sought. The report held that “the virus was not developed as a biological weapon”; that SARS-CoV-2 was not “the result of laboratory adaptation”; that “Chinese leaders did not have foreknowledge of the virus” and “WIV personnel were unaware of the existence of SARS-CoV-2 until the outbreak was underway”; that the reputed illnesses of WIV researchers in late 2019 were “not diagnostic of the pandemic’s origin”; and that there are “no indications that WIV research involved SARS-CoV-2 or a close progenitor virus.”33 On the origin of the virus, four “elements” of the “Intelligence Community” and the National Intelligence Council thought it was “most likely caused by natural exposure to an animal infected with it or a close progenitor virus,” while only one thought it “most likely was the result of a laboratory-associated incident.”

The report also noted that Beijing was unlikely to cooperate with any outside investigation in part because of “frustration the international community is using the issue to exert political pressure on China.” And rather than peremptory demands on China, it listed some suggestions for information it could provide that would “help us better evaluate hypotheses related to the origins of COVID-19.” While unsurprisingly undecided on the virus’ origins, the U.S. spy agencies – reflecting some of the tensions within the military/intelligence “community” – rejected almost every contention of the lab-leak proponents. But that will not stop them. This is not about finding the facts about the origins of the pandemic, it is a cynical attempt to shift the blame for the COVID-19 plague that has killed more than 800,000 people in the United States, while more than 100,000 have died in each of Europe’s three most populous countries of France, Germany, and Italy and millions more in Latin America, Asia and Africa. The responsibility for that lies squarely with the imperialist rulers.34

Bipartisan anti-China war drive fuels racist anti-Asian attacks. Defend China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam against imperialism and counterrevolution!  (Photo: Internationalist photo)

A Battle Cry in the Anti-China War Drive

“What happened in Wuhan” is also a battle cry for the escalating military threats against China, as “remember the Maine” was for the war that first announced U.S. imperialism’s emergence as a world power: the 1898 invasion and occupation of Cuba, Puerto Rico and Philippines. Not only is the United States the only power that has ever used nuclear weapons, as well as indiscriminate firebombing (Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg), it has been a top perpetrator of germ warfare. It airdropped infected insects on Chinese troops during the Korean War, unleashed swine flu and tobacco mold in Cuba, and produced botulinum toxin-laced cigars in its hundreds of attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. Even after biological warfare was banned in 1972, the U.S. has continued to pursue “defensive” biowarfare research, at Fort Detrick in Maryland and elsewhere.35 And there have been numerous accidents, including ones involving anthrax, avian flu and smallpox viruses.36

WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT: U.S. imperialists are looking for a casus belli to justify war against China. Above: U.S. Navy carrier strike groups led by USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson together with British battle group led by HMS Queen Elizabeth and Japanese helicopter destroyer conduct provocative operations in the Philippine Sea, 3 October 2021.  (Photo: U.S. Navy)

We have focused here on the bogus claims of those who have sought to pin the COVID-19 pandemic on China. A second article will deal with another Big Lie, the claim that Beijing early on supposedly tried to hide, cover up errors and repress information about the pandemic. But more broadly, the lab-leak scam underscores that defense against the biological threats unleashed by increasing urbanization, global trade, climate change and other factors requires the smashing of imperialism. Instead of the demonization of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been carrying out vital work in forestalling future SARS-like diseases, what is called for is increased support for this premier, world-class institution and more like it, in China and elsewhere. As we have written from the beginning, defeating the COVID plague and preventing future outbreaks from turning into pandemics requires worldwide scientific and health collaboration and economic planning – in short, international socialist revolution. ■

  1. 1.Facebook lifts ban on posts claiming Covid-19 was man-made,” [London] Guardian, 27 May 2021.
  2. 2. Real Clear News, 25 April 2020.
  3. 3. See “Biden Escalates Anti-China War Plans,” The Internationalist No. 64, July-September 2021.
  4. 4. The author is a Hong Kong independence fanatic who cheered the anti-China riots that took place the year before. See our articles “Hong Kong: Defeat Pro-Imperialist Riots With Revolutionary Workers Mobilization,” The Internationalist No. 57, September-October 2019; and “Hong Kong ‘Democracy’ Riots: Pro-Imperialist, Anti-Communist, Fascist-Infested,” along with “Washington’s Hand Behind Anti-China Riots in Hong Kong,” The Internationalist No. 58, Winter 2020.
  5. 5. The Washington Times was launched by the Unification Church of would-be messiah Sun Myung Moon and South Korean Lt. Col. Bo Hi Pak as an “ideological” outlet to “combat communism.” The “Moonies” were closely tied to the administration of Ronald Reagan and used as a conduit by the (South) Korean Central Intelligence Agency.
  6. 6. Shoham now writes “lab leak” propaganda for the right-wing Zionist Begin-Sadat Center. Gertz is the author of The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America (2000) and has lectured at the U.S. Defense Department’s National Security Leadership Program, the FBI National Academy, the National Defense University and the CIA.
  7. 7.U.S. Response to Coronavirus: China-Bashing and War Moves,” The Internationalist No. 59, March-April 2020.
  8. 8.How China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Hunted Down Viruses from SARS to the New Coronavirus,” Scientific American, 1 June 2020.
  9. 9. Shi Zhengli, R.S. Baric et al., “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows potential for human emergence,” Nature Medicine (December 2015).
  10. 10. Shi Zhengli, et al., “Bats Are Natural Reservoirs of SARS-Like Coronaviruses,” Science, 28 October 2005.
  11. 11. Shi Zhengli, et al., “Serological Evidence of Bat SARS-Related Coronavirus Infection in Humans, China,” Virologica Sinica, 2 March 2018.
  12. 12. Shi Zhengli et al., “A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin,” Nature, 3 February 2020.
  13. 13. “Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market,” Scientific Reports, 7 June 2021.
  14. 14.State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses,” Washington Post, 14 April 2021.
  15. 15. A study last year put the “divergence time” between the two coronaviruses at about 50 years, suggesting they had a common ancestor around 1969: “Evolutionary origins of the SARS-CoV-2 sarbecovirus lineage responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic,” Nature Microbiology, 28 July 2020. By way of comparison, the human genome is 96% similar with that of the chimpanzee, the closest ancestor, whose evolutionary path diverged around 6 million years ago.
  16. 16. “How China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Hunted Down Viruses….”
  17. 17.The Lab-Leak Theory: Inside the Fight to Uncover COVID-19’s Origins,” Vanity Fair, 3 June 2021.
  18. 18.Chinese Scientist Under Pressure As Lab-Leak Theory Flourishes,” New York Times,15 June 2021.
  19. 19. Shi et al., “A SARS-like cluster of circulating bat coronaviruses shows….”
  20. 20. Nicholas Wade, “The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 5 May 2021.
  21. 21. House Foreign Affairs Committee Minority Staff Report, The Origins of COVID-19: An Investigation of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, 1 August 2021.
  22. 22. Wu Yiran and Zhao Suwen, “Furin cleavage sites naturally occur in coronaviruses,” Stem Cell Research 50, January 2021.
  23. 23. Hong Zhou et al., “A Novel Bat Coronavirus Closely Related to SARS-CoV-2 Contains Natural Insertions at the S1/S2 Cleavage Site of the Spike Protein,” Current Biology, 8 June 2020.
  24. 24. Justin Ling, “The Lab Leak Theory Doesn’t Hold Up,” Foreign Policy, 15 June 2021.
  25. 25. “The Sudden Rise of the Coronavirus Lab-Leak Theory,” New Yorker, 27 May 2021.
  26. 26. Eric Michael Johnson, “On the Origin of White Power,” Scientific American, 21 May 2014.
  27. 27. In the book, the former Times science writer argues, following the German-British Zionist Norbert Elias, that in Europe “between medieval and modern times, a societywide shift has taken place toward greater sensibility and more delicate manners”! Yet 20th century Europe, with tens of millions dead in two world wars, was the site of the bloodiest period in history. This supposed “evolution of European populations” was because “the increasing monopoly of force by the state ... reduced the need for interpersonal violence.” In contrast, he explains widespread poverty in Africa may be the result of Africans’ “time preference, work ethic and propensity to violence.” Wade spews out this repulsive racist garbage with no evidence whatsoever, of course, just as with his justification of the Wuhan lab-leak “theory.” It is no accident that neo-Nazis and white supremacists generally have latched on to Wade’s book. It’s also worth mentioning that among those praising Wade’s pseudo-scientific tract on the origins of COVID is his successor as New York Times science reporter, David McNeil, Jr., who was fired last February for using racial slurs, as well as remarks disparaging black teenagers.
  28. 28. Y. A. Chan, “SARS-CoV-2 is well adapted for humans. What does this mean for re-emergence?” bioRxiv, 1 May 2020.
  29. 29. “Politico-Harvard poll: Most Americans believe Covid leaked from lab,” Politico, 9 July 2021.
  30. 30. This was when “the media started criticizing social media for criticizing the media for not criticizing scientists for criticizing the non-scientists who criticized the scientists for not saying it was a lab leak” (Wired, 28 May 2021).
  31. 31. Worobey had also signed the May 14 statement calling for more “investigation” of the lab-leak claim but later had “second thoughts” (“Call of the wild: Why many scientists say it’s unlikely that SARS-CoV-2 originated from a ‘lab leak’,” Science, 2 September 2021. The fact that the majority of early cases were linked to the several different wholesale wet markets in Wuhan, and that thousands of wild animals were being sold there right up to the outbreak, led him to consider a natural origin the most likely, as was originally reported.
  32. 32. “Newly Discovered Bat Viruses Give Hints to Covid’s Origins,” New York Times, 14 October 2021.
  33. 33. The report added that “the furin cleavage site (FCS) … can also be consistent with a natural origin of the virus,” that “similar FCSs are present in the same region of the spike protein as other naturally occurring coronaviruses.”
  34. 34. See “‘Africa Starved of Vaccines’: An Imperialist Crime,” Revolution No. 18, September 2021.
  35. 35. In July 2019, the U.S. Army bio-“defense” lab working with deadly microbes at Fort Detrick was shut down by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over inadequate wastewater decontamination systems. (See “Pathogens Research Lab Is Shut Over Safety Fears,” New York Times, 6 August 2019.) The lab did not reopen until December 2019.
  36. 36. These are alluded to in the article by novelist Nicholson Baker, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis,” New York magazine, 4 January 2021. Baker was motivated in part by his study of U.S. biowarfare and accidents, chronicled in his book Baseless (2020). The title is derived from Project Baseless, a Korean War-era Pentagon program to achieve “an Air Force-wide combat capability in biological and chemical warfare at the earliest possible date.” But while possibilities of accidents are inherent in any risky research, the Wuhan lab-leak “hypothesis” that Baker took up is something very different, a propaganda ploy in the U.S. imperialist anti-China war drive.