China’s reckless labs put the world at risk

The Chinese Communist Party 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 last 200 years for the rest of the world to discover so many. More worrying is the party’s neglect of biosafety. The costs and risks to global health are enormous, as evidenced by a new coronavirus that has escaped Wuhan. This situation cannot continue. The world must hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable and punish Beijing if it fails to meet global biosafety standards, including basic transparency requirements.

The most recent example of this bad faith is taking place around us. The evidence that the virus came from Wuhan is enormous, although largely circumstantial, and most signs point to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, or WIV, as the source of Covid-19. In America, the concern with the site is now widespread and bipartisan. The Biden government has said it has “deep concerns” about the World Health Organization’s investigation into the early days of the pandemic, particularly Beijing’s interference in investigators’ work.

The world has known for a long time that WIV represents a major risk to global health. Two 2018 State Department telegrams warned of their biosafety problems. They even predicted that the SARS-CoV-2 ACE2 receptor, identified by the WIV scientists, would allow transmission from person to person. 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 mankind, but it can also lead to disaster.” He listed the prevalent deficiencies among China’s biology labs, including the lack of “operational technical support, professional instructions” and “viable standards for the safety requirements of different protection zones and for the inoculation of animals and microbiological equipment. “.

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

Beijing has a moral and legal obligation to take biosafety seriously, especially due to the type of research underway at WIV. In 2015, Dr. Shi Zhengli from WIV co-wrote an article entitled “A SARS-like bat coronavirus cluster shows potential for human emergence”, in which she admitted that her team had developed “chimeric” and “hybrid” viruses from horseshoe bats. In a 2019 article entitled “Bat Coronavirus in China”, Ms. Shi and her co-authors warned: “It is highly likely that future outbreaks of SARS or MERS-like coronaviruses will originate from bats, and there is an increased likelihood that that will happen in China. ”At the time, WIV was home to tens of thousands of virus samples from bats and experimental animals.

China resisted international monitoring at WIV. The laboratory was built with French help, but China has revoked its promise to allow French scientists to participate in essential research there. China then accredited WIV through its own agency as its only tier 4 facility, and the country’s National Health Commission quickly approved it to deal with 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, finding that WIV didn’t even make it into the top 20 in terms of quality.

The People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, has admitted to developing bio-weapons. In 2011, China informed the International Review Conference of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention that its military experts were working on “creating man-made pathogens”, “genomics laying the foundation for the transformation of pathogens”, “specific genetic markers of populations “and” targeted drug delivery technology, facilitating the spread of pathogens. “A 2015 PLA study treated the SARS coronavirus outbreak in 2003 as a” contemporary genetic weapon “launched by foreign forces. And in January 2021 , the State Department confirmed that people mysteriously fell ill at WIV in the fall of 2019, and that WIV conducts secret biological weapons research with the PLA.

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

The Chinese Communist Party’s recklessness has already cost the world a great deal, and its obfuscation ensures that this will not be the last tragedy. He ordered the destruction of the virus samples collected from the first patients. He banned the disclosure of important data. He silenced journalists, doctors and scientists. This prevented the WHO investigation. Beijing does not want the world to know the true origin of the coronavirus and its serious lapses in biosafety.

The Chinese government must change course. You must be open about your biosafety systems, fix your mistakes and restrict 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.

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

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