By: Chuck Ross
A top Chinese government official on Wednesday seized on the findings of a World Health Organization report about the origins of the coronavirus, and revived a baseless theory that a U.S. military lab in Maryland was somehow involved in spreading the virus.
Hua Chunying, the spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, endorsed the theory at press conferences on Tuesday and Wednesday, both before and after the release of a World Health Organization (WHO) report regarding the origins of the virus.
“There is still a big question mark over the the lab at Fort Detrick,” Chunying said at a press conference on Tuesday, ahead of the release of the WHO report.
Chunying was referring to the Army base in Maryland that houses one of the military’s leading biological research labs. She repeated her claim about Fort Detrick during a press conference on Wednesday, her first since the release of the WHO report.
Chunying repeatedly referred to the “important conclusion” from the WHO report that it was “extremely unlikely” that the virus was the result of a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Chinese officials and state-controlled media outlets began pushing the Fort Detrick theory last year in response to allegations that the Wuhan Institute of Virology may have been responsible for the outbreak.
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On March 12, 2020, Lijian Zhao, the deputy director of China’s foreign ministry information department, pushed the false claim that the U.S. military was behind the pandemic.
“It may be that the US military brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” Zhao tweeted.
The hypothesis about the Wuhan Institute gained traction in part because it is located just miles away from where the first cluster of coronavirus cases appeared in December 2019. Fort Detrick, in contrast, is more than 7,500 miles from Wuhan.
Some scientists and U.S. government officials have suggested that the virus infected lab workers following an accident at the facility. The Wuhan lab is known to study coronaviruses found in various animal species.
Beijing was pleased with other aspects of the WHO report.
China’s state-controlled media outlets specifically latched onto one passage from the report that left open the possibility that the virus started outside of China.
CGTN, Xinhua News Agency and China Daily, which are controlled by the Chinese government, pointed to a section of the WHO report that called on scientists to investigate “potential early events” that preceded the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.
While Chinese authorities touted the report, fourteen other countries, including the U.S., expressed concerns in a joint statement on Tuesday about Chinese influence on the WHO investigation.
“We join in expressing shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China,” the countries said in the statement.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of WHO, said in a statement on Tuesday that more research is needed on the Wuhan lab leak theory.
“I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough,” Tedros said on Tuesday.
Chinese authorities maintained tight control over the WHO mission to Wuhan. Peter Daszak, an American zoologist who was on the WHO team, said in a “60 Minutes” interview on Sunday that officials from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs were present during all interactions with Chinese scientists.
Daszak also conceded that the WHO team had to rely solely on the word of the Chinese delegation for information about the Wuhan lab.
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