Opinion

Did Xi Know?

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Posted: Aug 03, 2021 10:32 AM
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Did Xi Know?

Source: Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via AP

Representative McCaul of Texas, Lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, recently released a report on the origins of COVID. The report, an 84-page addendum to earlier investigations, suggests that there is now in fact a “preponderance of evidence” that the virus leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and that the body of evidence so outweighs other theories that they merit little future consideration.

Besides that attention-grabbing conclusion, what’s notable is the amount of detail the investigators were able to uncover via review of publicly available information. Here are three other major takeaways from the report, each more aggravating than the last. 

1) Officials at the Institute, and likely a broader circle of Chinese officials, knew something was wrong much earlier than previously realized. Earlier reporting in the U.S. relayed suspicions that cases were evident as early as November 2019. However, McCaul’s team concludes – based on evidence of activity at the Institute, indicators of illness within the local population, and other changes in protocol – that the lab leak likely took place in August or early September of 2019

Further, a number of specific actions taken on September 12th, 2019, suggest Institute officials – many themselves local CCP leaders – knew something was wrong by then. That day, a viral sequencing database was taken offline, and the Institute put out a bid to procure security services capable of the registry and monitor of foreign visitors. 

(Those two actions could gel with assertions of CCP apologists that the viral sequence database was removed for fear of cyberattacks (e.g. protecting the database and limiting foreign entry), but the combined flurry of this and other activity, and the regular participation of the Institute in studies with international teams of investigators, suggests both that researchers had fallen ill by this timeframe and Institute officials were aware of an illness.)

2) Sensitive experimentation – possibly to include genetic modification of viruses – was reportedly taking place in labs with safety protocols no more advanced than an American dentist’s office. In these pages back in March, a few months before most of the mainstream media made peace with the lab leak theory, I described the outbreak as a Chernobyl-like industrial accident. My understanding of the insufficient safety protocols and other handling procedures was based on reports of concerns from U.S. scientists and bureaucrats. What I didn’t know was that there was a wider group of researchers and government officials from around the world who shared those same concerns. 

These include the Director of the Chinese CDC and the Director of the highest-level biosafety lab at the Wuhan Institute. In fact, the latter actually published an article describing deficiencies in safety protocols at biosafety labs across China, using the construction of a key complex at the Institute itself as an example. He acknowledged the lack of qualified engineers, lax enforcement of safety regulations, and barebones funding for basic operations. Ironically, that paper was published in a peer review journal in September of 2019. 

3) The scope of the propaganda and censorship campaign cost lives. I want to be very clear here that this does not mean officials in Wuhan knew about asymptomatic transmission in the Fall, nor that they understood the scale of what they were dealing with so early on. But early responses in the province, and later actions by the CCP to continuously suppress the root cause of the outbreak, make clear that the world could have had a fuller understanding of the virus sooner. There is a difference between suspicion and proof, and this report gets us closer to the latter. 

Beyond the suppression of information, the Chinese engaged in rank propaganda and misdirection, and people are dead because of that. Specifically, a series of viral sequences collected from patients in Wuhan in December 2019 could’ve suggested an origin outside of the prevailing Chinese theory of recent zoonotic transmission. Instead of the immediate study of these sequences – and with them early evidence of the genetic diversity of the virus – they were deleted from an international database at the request of Chinese researchers in the midst of a broader CCP crackdown on international information sharing and transparency. 

We know that President Xi was aware of the coronavirus outbreak at least two weeks earlier than his first public commentary on January 20th, 2020. We know also that the Chinese sequenced the genetic code at least a week before immediately releasing it, and possibly had completed that work in December of 2019. We know further that Chinese officials alerted the WHO about a novel coronavirus outbreak on 31 December, 2019. And Rep. McCaul’s report now tells us that as early as December a People’s Liberation Army Major assumed control of the highest risk lab at the Wuhan Institute. 

I’m not an expert in Chinese command and control. But the intelligence community is, and in a few weeks, we’ll have access to a new report based on an interagency review of open-source material about COVID’s origins. One question that report may shed light on, through more small nuggets of accumulated information, is this: were moves such as the assignment of a PLA Major to assume control of the lab in December approved directly by President Xi? How early did he know? 

And how much more like Chernobyl – both in terms of the scope of the damage, and in the audacity of the coverup – will history render Xi’s response? 

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