By Kalinga Seneviratne
With the new coronavirus now known as COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic affecting countries around the world, with epicentres in western countries, various conspiracy theories have emerged and are gaining traction both in social media and the mainstream. Rather than dismissing these, all such theories may need close examination by independent bodies to keep the world safer from such biological warfare fears.
Diplomats, senators and even former leaders are getting into the fray with accusations traded against each other – or more precisely either at China or the U.S. Chinese diplomat Lijian Zhao, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Indian parliamentarian Manish Tewari are all giving credence to some version of a conspiracy theory.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao demanded answers from the U.S. government after accusing its military of sneaking in the virus when about 200 U.S. military personnel came to attend a global military Olympics in Wuhan in October 2019. In a tweet he said: “It might be the U.S. army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data. U.S. owe us an explanation.”
In a Fox TV interview on February 18, U.S. Senator Cotton argued that someone in China is responsible for the pandemic. “We know it didn’t originate in the Wuhan food market based on the study of Chinese scientists …I’m not saying where it started, I don’t know. We don’t know because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) won’t open up to international experts,” Cotton said.
“We need to demand that China open up and be transparent so a team of international experts can figure out exactly where this virus originated,” he added. He has dubbed COVID-19 ‘Wuhan Virus’ in subsequent statements.
Meanwhile. Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad, in an open letter to the UN Secretary General on March 10 (published by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists) said: “It is clear to the world that the mutated coronavirus was produced in a lab, manufactured by warfare stock houses of biological war belonging to world powers, and that it constitutes a threat to humanity more destructive than other weapons that targets humanity.” It is obvious (knowing his criticism of U.S. imperialism during his reign) that he is accusing the U.S.
Hossein Salami, Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards did not mince his words. He was quoted by the Bulletin as saying that this is “perhaps a bioterror attack” carried out by the U.S., intentionally spreading the virus in China and Iran. He proposed an independent ‘Bioterror Defense Organisation’.
This view would have gathered momentum if the COVID-19 did not invade Europe and the U.S., spreading rapidly there.
Meanwhile, anti-China conspiracy theories have gathered momentum across India in social media and even in the mainstream media. Indian National Congress parliamentarian Manish Tewari tweeted “Coronavirus is a bio-weapon that went rouge or was made to go rouge. It is an act of terror”. He was pointing fingers at the Chinese and called for an international investigation under the auspices of ICJ (International Court of Justice) or ICC (International Criminal Court). He argued that the current health crisis should put the focus back on eradicating biological weapons.
South China Morning Post’s Kunal Purohit noted: “Tewari’s tweet is among scores of messages on in India‘s social media networks – from messaging groups to YouTube channels and Facebook feeds – that have been perpetuating disinformation and conspiracy theories about China and Chinese people, since the virus broke out last year.
The posts, which have xenophobic and racist undertones, include remarks mocking the diets of Chinese people, fake videos alleging that the Chinese authorities are killing citizens to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The new coronavirus is believed to have jumped from animal to human but researchers haven’t pinned down which species to blame. According to an article in the Nature magazine, Chinese scientists have suggested, on the basis of genetic analyses, that ant-eating pangolin was the prime suspect.
But scientists have said after examination that although the animal is still a contender, the mystery is far from solved. On January 2, Chinese health authorities have told the World Health Organisation (WHO) Beijing office that out of the original 44 patients they tested, some were operating dealers and vendors at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan City.
Chinese strongly believe that the origin of this virus is in the bio-weapons or bio-weapons defence systems testing laboratories in the U.S., and as Zhao argued U.S. military personnel have leaked it to China. This view is not only circulating widely among Chinese netizens, but also Chinese international media like Global Times (GT) gives coverage to this conspiracy theory.
In a report on March 15, GT called upon the U.S. authorities to come clean on information about the shut-down of an infectious disease research lab under the U.S. army in Fort Detrick, Maryland, in July 2019. GT argued that “timely information disclosure to the public would benefit global unity and cooperation against the pandemic”.
The Fort Detrick laboratory handles high-level disease-causing material, such as Ebola, it was shut after the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a cease and desist order(according to local media cited by GT).The suspension was due to multiple causes, including waste water contamination.
GT says that this closure has drawn attention after a petition was submitted to the White House website on March 10 “listing some coincidences” between the closure and the outbreak of COVID-19. They have drawn a connection to the U.S. organized Event 201– a Global Pandemic Exercise – that was held in John Hopkinns Centre for Health Security in Baltimore in October 2019.
“The petition also noted that many English-language news reports about the closure of Fort Detrick were deleted amid the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, raising suspicions over the lab’s relationship with the novel coronavirus,” noted GT.
Peter Koenig, an economist and geopolitical analyst, who has worked for over 30 years with the World Bank and the WHO, in a recent article published by the Centre for Research on Globalisation points out, that the theme of the Baltimore event was simulating a High-Level Pandemic Exercise – that produced 65 million deaths, just a couple of weeks before the first COVID-19 victims were identified. “One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that the simulation and actual outbreak is a very strange coincidence,” he noted.
Koenig argues that the U.S. is fast approaching the time when its global hegemony will be curtailed by a rising China that will work in concert with its Shanghai Corporation Organisation (SCO) partners such as Russia and Iran to displace the dollar system, which could create an autonomous “eastern” economy where illegal U.S. sanctions would not matter.
China has been hit with the bird flu in 2018 and SARS and MERS before that. All viruses that seem to effect the Chinese DNA more than others. The western media has been quick to blame all these viruses on hygiene standards and other “unaccountable” practices in the Chinese system,
Koenig argues that there’s too many “coincidences” – including the October 2019 Simulation of a High Level Pandemic to conclude that this strengthened coronavirus – considerably stronger than SARS – ‘escaped’ a Wuhan lab by accident, or as the West would like to present it: by negligence.
“Is this a sinister plan (coupled with media propaganda) carried out by a western elite to attack China’s rapidly growing economy, outpacing that of the United States?” he asks.
In the early weeks of pandemic this argument would have convinced many, but, with virus now hitting western economies much harder, perhaps one would argue that karma has hit back. In the coming months there would be more intense media battles with one blaming the Chinese and the other the U.S. for the economic debacle the COVID-19 has created.
Time may be ripe to mount concerted international mobilization to strengthen the biological weapons conventions. Some observers believe that from what we have seen so far, this will be more important than nuclear disarmament.