U.S. allies dismiss Trump administration’s Wuhan lab conspiracy theory

Foreign Affairs
A screenshot of a CCTV clip from May 4 attacking U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The caption reads, "If the swindling and bluffing from evil politicians like Pompeo continues, the U.S.'s 'Make America Great Again' could become merely a joke!"

If U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo really does have “enormous evidence” that COVID-19 originated in a lab in Wuhan, he has not shared it with any of America’s closest allies, including Britain and Australia.

The Guardian reports:

There is no current evidence to suggest that coronavirus leaked from a Chinese research laboratory, intelligence sources have told the Guardian, contradicting recent White House claims that there is growing proof this is how the pandemic began…

British and other Five Eyes agencies [in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S.] do believe that Beijing has not necessarily been open about how coronavirus initially spread in Wuhan at the turn of the year. But they are nervous about getting involved in an escalating international situation.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

Senior members of the Australian intelligence community told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age a research document shared in political circles under the Five Eyes intelligence arrangement was mostly based on news reports and contained no material from intelligence gathering.

A 15-page “dossier” has been widely quoted by local and international media about China’s alleged cover-up of the virus. Australian intelligence officials have since identified a research report which was based entirely on open source material. The officials said it was likely the reports were the same.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison added in video remarks that while “we can’t rule out any” theories about the exact origin of the virus, “the most likely has been in a wildlife wet market,” and not a lab, per the Guardian. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that it is “too early to draw firm conclusions” about the lab theory, according to Global News.

“There is nothing to make that a legitimate theory yet,” CNN reports of any connection between COVID-19 and laboratories in Wuhan, citing Five Eyes intelligence sources.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has also dismissed the theory as not worth his time. The infectious disease expert leading the U.S. coronavirus response was quoted in a National Geographic interview on the topic:

One topic in the news lately has been the origins of SAR-CoV-2. Do you believe or is there evidence that the virus was made in the lab in China or accidentally released from a lab in China?

If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats, and what’s out there now is very, very strongly leaning toward this [virus] could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated — the way the mutations have naturally evolved. A number of very qualified evolutionary biologists have said that everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that it evolved in nature and then jumped species.

Sure, but what if scientists found the virus outside the lab, brought it back, and then it escaped?

But that means it was in the wild to begin with. That’s why I don’t get what they’re talking about [and] why I don’t spend a lot of time going in on this circular argument.

Beijing has responded to the Trump administration with “some of [its] harshest critiques of a Trump administration official since the height of the trade war last year,” directing fury at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in particular, Bloomberg reports (porous paywall).

  • Xinhua said that “Pompeo is full of nonsense” (蓬佩奥满嘴胡言 péngpèiào mǎnzuǐ húyán) in a commentary dated May 4 (in Chinese), which also made the argument that his previous claims warning other countries of Chinese “debt traps” and security risks from Chinese tech companies, like Huawei, were similarly fabricated.
  • CCTV called Pompeo’s lab theory “just an anti-intellectual, anti-science lie invented by certain U.S. politicians in search of a scapegoat that distracts from their mishandling of pandemic prevention and control, as well as wrangling more votes and suppressing China.” That commentary appeared in English on May 5, though an earlier Chinese version was even harsher, referring to Pompeo as “evil” (邪恶 xié’è) repeatedly in the headline and article. A shortened version was also read aloud on TV (in Chinese) on May 4 and broadcast on China National Radio (in Chinese) on May 5.
  • Other state media commentaries have also panned Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro, though they completely avoid specifically criticizing Trump himself. See: Washington, disruptor-in-chief in global pandemic fight, in Xinhua.