Washington / Beijing (dpa) – With new investigations by US secret services into the origin of the corona pandemic, the US government has fueled China’s anger. US President Joe Biden had ordered the country’s intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the corona pandemic — leaving the possible conclusion that the virus could have come from a lab in Wuhan, China. The State Department in Beijing on Thursday accused the United States of trying to divert attention from its own failure to fight the pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.
The previous investigations into the origin of the coronavirus have produced several assessments without definitive conclusions, Biden said in a written statement on Wednesday. He had therefore instructed the secret services to step up their efforts and submit a new report within 90 days.
Biden revealed that the scenario of a possible laboratory accident in China is considered possible, at least in parts of the US intelligence apparatus. His predecessor Donald Trump had repeatedly claimed to have evidence that the virus came from a lab in Wuhan. Trump had said there might have been a “terrible mistake”: “It was probably incompetence, someone was stupid.” Neither he nor members of his government have provided any evidence.
The coronavirus was first diagnosed in Wuhan in December 2019. In the central Chinese city is the Institute of Virology (WIV), which also conducts research into coronaviruses – raising suspicions that there may have been a leak. China denied a report in the Wall Street Journal last week, according to which three scientists at the institute showed symptoms similar to corona in November 2019 and were so seriously ill that they had to be treated in hospital.
With the announcement of new studies, Biden is now giving new space to the lab accident dissertation and pushing for answers, which is not well received in Beijing. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian pointed out on Thursday that World Health Organization (WHO) experts had determined a laboratory accident was “extremely unlikely” after an investigation in Wuhan in February. In general, they would have praised China’s openness.
He accused the US of trying to divert attention from its own “incompetent response” to the pandemic. Referring to 33 million infections and nearly 600,000 deaths in the US alone, the diplomat said: “The US is not reflecting on its own problems, but is trying to blame China.” He again hinted that the virus may have originated in a US military lab at Fort Detrick or elsewhere and entered Wuhan through infected participants at the Military World Games in October.
“There are many doubts about Fort Detrick — and the US has more than 200 biological labs in the world,” said Zhao Lijian. “How many secrets is the US keeping?” If the US asked China to participate in a full investigation, China would in turn ask the US to follow China’s lead and allow international investigations. The suspicions about Fort Detrick are among the many misinformation with which China is trying to portray itself as a possible victim, according to a month-long analysis by the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the American think tank Atlantic Council and the AP news agency.
Biden said he ordered an intelligence report in March — including whether the virus could have been caused by human contact with an infected animal or a lab accident. He has now had this report. Within the device of the Secret Service there are several ratings.
The US secret services announced on Thursday that they did not know exactly “where, when or how the Covid-19 virus was originally transmitted”. However, there are two likely scenarios: “It either came about naturally through human contact with infected animals, or it was a laboratory accident.” There wasn’t enough evidence to make one scenario more likely than another. The services would “aggressively collect and analyze new information to identify the origin of the virus”.
In April last year, US intelligence agencies said they agreed “with the broad scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus is not man-made or genetically modified”. But they also announced that they would investigate any new findings.
Biden now said intelligence agencies need to gather more information “that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion.” This cautious wording also leaves open the possibility that there will never be definitive answers. Biden complained that in the early months of the pandemic — that is, still under Trump — US inspectors were denied access to key sites in China. This will “always hinder any investigation”.
The inquiry commissioned by Democrat Biden contains political explosives for the already tense relationship between the US and China. Influential Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has already demanded that if the virus actually comes from a Chinese lab, “we must hold China accountable”. Vice spokeswoman for the White House Karine Jean-Pierre evaded questions about possible sanctions for China in such a case. Only after the 90-day period has passed can you make a new assessment, she said.
There are major international efforts to trace the beginning of the pandemic. The WHO suspects that the virus may have originated in pangolins and bats, according to the final report of the research team of 17 Chinese and foreign scientists who had conducted research in Wuhan. However, the US is questioning the quality of the research. There were also complaints from the WHO team about insufficient access and incomplete Chinese data.