China’s reckless labs put the world in danger

The Communist Party of China is obsessed with viruses. Its army of scientists claims to have discovered nearly 2,000 new viruses in just over a decade. It took the rest of the world the last 200 years to discover that amount. More worrisome is the negligence of the biosafety side. The costs and risk to global health are enormous, as evidenced by a new coronavirus that escaped from Wuhan. This situation cannot continue. The world must hold the Communist Party of China accountable and punish Beijing if it fails to meet global biosafety standards, including basic transparency requirements.

The most recent example of this misconduct is unfolding around us. The evidence that the virus came from Wuhan is enormous, albeit largely circumstantial, with most signs pointing to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or WIV, as the source of Covid-19. In the United States, concern over the site is now broad and bipartisan. The Biden government said it has “deep concerns” about the World Health Organization’s investigation into the early days of the pandemic, in particular Beijing’s interference with the researchers’ work.

The world has long known that WIV poses a great risk to global health. Two State Department cables from 2018 warned of its biosecurity issues. They even predicted that the SARS-CoV-2 receptor ACE2, identified by the WIV scientists, would allow person-to-person transmission. Yuan Zhiming, then director of WIV’s level 4 biosafety laboratory, warned: “The biosafety laboratory is a double-edged sword: it can be used for the benefit of humanity, but it can also lead to disaster.” He listed the prevailing shortcomings among China’s biology laboratories, including a lack of “operational technical support, professional instructions” and “workable standards for the safety requirements of different protection zones and for the inoculation of animals and microbiological equipment.” .

The Chinese public took note, with several bloggers claiming that animals carrying the WIV virus are being sold as pets. They can even show up at local wet markets. After the Wuhan outbreak, a missing blogger asked a WIV researcher to publicly discuss the laboratory’s biosafety practices. The offer was ignored.

Beijing has a moral and legal obligation to take biosecurity seriously, especially given the type of research being carried out at WIV. In 2015, WIV’s Dr. Shi Zhengli co-wrote an article titled “A Cluster of Circulating Bat Coronaviruses Similar to SARS Shows Potential for Human Emergence” in which she admitted that her team had engineered “chimeric” and “hybrid” viruses to starting horseshoe bats. . In a 2019 article titled “Bat Coronavirus in China,” Ms Shi and her co-authors warned: “Future SARS-like or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks are highly likely to originate in bats, and there is a greater likelihood of that this will happen in China. ” At the time, WIV housed tens of thousands of bat virus samples and experimental animals.

China resisted international monitoring at WIV. The laboratory was built with the help of France, but China repealed its promise to allow French scientists to participate in essential research there. Then China accredited WIV through its own agency as its only Level 4 facility, and the country’s National Health Commission quickly approved it to handle some of the world’s most dangerous viruses. China’s Ministry of Science and Technology completed a comprehensive safety and management survey of China’s 75 bio-research laboratories in 2016, and found that WIV was not even in the top 20 in terms of quality.

The People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, has admitted to developing biological weapons. In 2011, China informed the International Review Conference of the International Convention on Biological Weapons and Toxins that its military experts were working on the “creation of artificial pathogens”, “genomics that lays the foundation for pathogen transformation”, “markers population-specific genetics “and” targeted drug delivery technology that facilitates the spread of pathogens. ” A 2015 PLA study treated the 2003 SARS coronavirus outbreak as a “contemporary genetic weapon” launched by foreign forces. And in January 2021, the State Department confirmed that people had mysteriously fallen ill at WIV in the fall of 2019, and that WIV is conducting a secret biological weapons investigation with the PLA.

The neglect of China’s biological labs, especially WIV, was so dangerous that the PLA sent a general to take over the facility shortly after the outbreak in Wuhan. Xi Jinping’s first speech on the outbreak highlighted “lessons learned” about “shortcomings” and “leaking holes” in China’s biological material management and biosafety system. He demanded that “a new biosecurity law” be part of the “national security system.”

The recklessness of the Communist Party of China has already cost the world too much, and its obfuscation guarantees that this will not be the last tragedy of its kind. He ordered the destruction of virus samples collected from the first patients. It prohibited the disclosure of key data. He silenced journalists, doctors and scientists. And it prevented the WHO investigation. Beijing does not want the world to know the true origin of the coronavirus and its serious biosecurity lapses.

The Chinese government must change course. You must be open about your biosecurity systems, correct your mistakes, and reduce your dangerous ambitions. Lives and livelihoods around the world are at stake. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the Chinese Communist Party does not receive a free pass.

Pompeo served as the US secretary of state (2018-21) and director of the Central Intelligence Agency (2017-18). Mr. Yu served as Secretary Pompeo’s chief China policy and planning advisor. Both are scholars of the Hudson Institute.

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