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Analysis

Covid Blame At China’s Door

Pathikrit Payne

Pathikrit PayneSep 07, 2021, 03:05 PM IST

Covid Blame At China’s Door

As soon as the world woke up to the covid reality, China has been on the defensive regarding engineered bat virus. Soon more evidence surfaced that the virus was being manipulated in Chinese labs to infect humans

 

If the world has to prevent the repeat of the devastation which ravaged the world in the last 18 months, then it has to know from where Coronavirus emerged. Whether those who have been responsible for unleashing it would ever be punished or not, only time would tell.

On 2nd August 2021, a group of US Republicans released a report that, as per Reuters, states, ‘A preponderance of evidence proves the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic leaked from a Chinese research facility’. Further, as per Reuters, ‘The report also cited "ample evidence" that Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) scientists - aided by U.S. experts and Chinese and U.S. government funds - were working to modify coronaviruses to infect humans and such manipulation could be hidden’. 

Natural Phenomenon or Man-Made Disaster

This report published by US Republicans, comes close on the heels of near completion of the mandate of 90 days that US President had given to USA’s ‘Intelligence Community to redouble their efforts to collect and analyse information’ to bring the US closer to a ‘definitive conclusion’ on the issue of origin of Covid virus. It would now become extremely difficult for Biden administration to take a softer approach on China on the issue of their culpability and any indication of the same may become politically costly for the incumbent US President since the Republicans are bound to portray him as being soft on China, an allegation that Republicans have put on Joe Biden for long. 

Nevertheless, beyond the acerbic hostility that exists between the Democrats and Republicans, intermittent by bipartisan consensus on some issues, what concerns the world more is whether the death of 4.4 million people and the devastation on economies and societies caused by the spread of Coronavirus was a natural phenomenon or was the handiwork of some vicious minds out there to ravage the world for their own ulterior motives. And if so, would they ever be punished for the same?

First Hints of Disaster 

The issue of something sinister brewing in some laboratories of the US and China had been in the news since 2015. Hidden among the piles of scientific research reports and difficult jargon, the clear and present danger germinating under the watchful eyes of some scientific minds, did not ring alarm bells across the world, even though there were telltale signs of something apocalyptic was being experimented upon with potentially dangerous consequences. 

 

China started a needless border dispute with India that resulted in India being compelled to spend enormously in deploying its frontline troops along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and spend billions to acquire a new range of weapon systems for mountain warfare at a time when India, like the rest of the world, was in the midst of combating the Covid induced pandemic 

 

Engineered Bat Virus 

In November 2015, Nature magazine came out with an article titled, ‘Engineered bat virus stirs debate over risky research’. The article stated the following 

‘In an article published in Nature Medicine 1 on 9 November, scientists investigated a virus called SHC014, which is found in horseshoe bats in China. The researchers created a chimaeric virus, made up of a surface protein of SHC014 and the backbone of a SARS virus that had been adapted to grow in mice and to mimic human disease. The chimaera infected human airway cells — proving that the surface protein of SHC014 has the necessary structure to bind to a key receptor on the cells and to infect them. It also caused disease in mice, but did not kill them.’ 

Therefore, from the very beginning, there were apprehensions that the virus was perhaps being manipulated in the laboratory to increase its ability to infect humans. In May 2021, in a research article titled, ‘The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?’ published in The Bulletin, Nicholas Wade writes,  ‘Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China’s leading expert on bat viruses, Shi Zheng-li or “Bat Lady,” mounted frequent expeditions to the bat-infested caves of Yunnan in southern China and collected around a hundred different bat coronaviruses.

Shi then teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans so as to “examine the emergence potential (that is, the potential to infect humans) of circulating bat CoVs [coronaviruses].” In pursuit of this aim, in November 2015 they created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV). This manufactured virus was able to infect the cells of the human airway, at least when tested against a lab culture of such cells.’

The whole concept of genetically manipulating viruses in laboratories to potentially increase their ability to infect human cells, and observe the outcomes, has been a major bone of contention among the scientific community, which is essentially divided on this issue. The advocates of this concept justify it to remain ahead of the curve in their ability to anticipate the kind of havoc a mutating virus can wreak on humans in future. On the other hand, many from the scientific community have incessantly voiced their concerns surrounding the devastating impact such manipulated viruses can cause if they were ever to escape from the laboratory. 

Indisputable Facts

Nevertheless, two things are clear from what had transpired.  That Shi Zhengli-Li had indeed collaborated with Ralph Baric of University of North Carolina on research associated with Sars Coronavirus, and that the technical knowhow of ‘engineering bat coronavirus’ was passed on to Shi Zhengli-Li by Ralph Baric. 

‘Inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Baric had developed, and taught Shi, a general method for engineering bat coronaviruses to attack other species. The specific targets were human cells grown in cultures and humanized mice. These laboratory mice, a cheap and ethical stand-in for human subjects, are genetically engineered to carry the human version of a protein called ACE2 that studs the surface of cells that line the airways.

Shi returned to her lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and resumed the work she had started on genetically engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells.’

The fundamental issue is not just about some US scientists collaborating with Chinese scientists from Wuhan Institute of Virology. The more shocking part is the fact that whatever was happening in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, under the aegis of China’s ‘Bat Woman’ Shi Zhengli-Li, was being funded by none other than the National Institute of Health (NIH) of the US. 

Part of the reason which necessitated the masterminds to outsource the possible ‘Gain of Function’ research to Wuhan Institute of Virology was the ban on the same imposed by the Obama administration in 2014. For the sake of keeping an arm’s length distance from Wuhan Institute, the National Institute of Health (NIH) outsourced the work to EcoHealth Alliance run by Peter Daszak, another controversial figure in the whole scheme of things, who then outsourced the work to Wuhan Institute of Virology. 

Interestingly enough, when a statement jointly signed by 27 public health scientists was published in Lancet, to reject the theory of lab-leak from China’s Wuhan Institute, it was eventually found out as per US Right to Know (usrtk.org), ‘Emails obtained by U.S. Right to Know show that a statement in The Lancet authored by 27 prominent public health scientists condemning “conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin” was organised by employees of EcoHealth Alliance, a non-profit group that has received millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer funding to genetically manipulate coronaviruses with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology’.

Blame On US Scientific Researchers  

Therefore, even as the culpability of China is beyond doubt for many reasons, can the US put the entire onus on China without pointing some fingers on prominent figures like Dr Ralph Baric, Dr Anthony Fauci and Peter Daszak? Was their conduct beyond doubt?

The more bizarre thing is how the US could trust China with money and knowhow to do critical research on something as sensitive as ‘Gain of Function’ research knowing well that China has an infamous history of stealing technical knowhow and using it for its own ulterior motives. 

And yet the gang of Anthony Fauci, Ralph Baric and Peter Daszak trusted China with knowhow and finance for research on bat coronavirus. In a country where the ruling Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army have their footprint on every institution worth the name, did they think that the regime would not get its hands on the critical knowhow that can be used to genetically modify viruses to make them more virulent and possibly reserve it in their arsenal as a biological weapon for future warfare? What makes the suspicions grow even more is how China behaved since the news of the spread emerged in late 2019. From the very beginning it was defensive and tried to obfuscate the matter often by misleading the world. By late December 2019, Taiwan had warned WHO about the human-to-human transmissions happening in Wuhan, China. And yet, in January 2020, WHO tweeted the following misleading fact based on falsified information provided by China that led to the world lowering its guard. 

How China Silenced Voice on Covid
 

There were also various instances of Chinese whistleblowers writing in social media about the government handling of Covid there, being silenced through various means. A Chinese Law Professor named   Xu Zhangrun, who was vitriolic in his online write-up on Chinese leadership and its handling of the Covid pandemic, was put under house arrest, had his write-up taken down from the internet and all his social media footprints were immediately wiped off. Then there was the case of Dr. Li Wenliang, who had sent out a message to his medical school alumni about the ‘mysterious new illness’ that was killing people. Chinese authorities came down heavily upon him. Later Dr. Li Wenliang died of Covid after having contracted the disease while treating patients. 

In fact, what has also been shocking is how China has been aggressively taking a confrontational approach towards other countries especially at a time when the world has been getting ravaged by the pandemic.

Not just that, China started a needless border dispute with India that resulted in India being compelled to spend enormously in deploying its frontline troops along the Line of Actual Control and spend billions to acquire a new range of weapon systems for mountain warfare at a time when India, like the rest of the world, was in the midst of combating the Covid induced pandemic.

US To Maintain Status Quo or Take  
Action Against China

By the end of August, when the US Intelligence community would be submitting its report to President Joe Biden, it would be interesting to see if Biden administration would take any action against Ralph Baric of University of North Carolina, Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance, and Dr Anthony Fauci, who incidentally now is the Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden, for their alleged complicity.   

Even as the US withdraws from Afghanistan, leaving behind a dangerous void and pushing the region into a bottomless pit of cycle of violence and revival of Taliban, and even as US withdrawal has been justified as means to focus more on South China Sea, can the Biden Administration take on China head on? Even though some sanctions have been imposed by US on some Chinese technology companies and a few others especially, those sourcing raw materials or finished products from Xinjiang province, they hardly seem to have any impact on China, which on the contrary seems to be eager to decouple from the US economy and especially its dependence on US for semiconductors.  There is also the question of how many countries can actually stand up against China given the fact that many of the smaller ones are already heavily indebted to China, thanks to China’s ‘debt trap diplomacy’ through Belt and Road Initiatives or the lure of access to Chinese market, which is conditional to countries not taking any stand against the Chinese Government or the Chinese Communist Party. Barring India, Australia and to some extent Japan, apart from the US, not many have shown conviction and determination to stand up against China.

For more than a year now, American warships have been routinely sailing in the South China Sea. More is expected in the coming months.  But, would those be enough? Would the world take a strong stand against China on alleged Wuhan Lab-leak that has already led to millions having lost their lives? Till now it has been business-as-usual for China with nothing much having changed for it.  The next few months would show if the US still has the appetite to stand up for the world for a righteous cause or whether the US is no longer in a position to serve anything beyond its own interests. Nevertheless, if the world has to prevent the repeat in future of the devastation which ravaged the world in the last 18 months, then it has to know where it emerged from. Whether those who have been responsible for unleashing it would ever be punished or not, only time would reveal the answer. 

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