The Trump administration on Sunday moved closer to formally accusing China of orchestrating a massive coverup at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, an inflammatory accusation with the potential to irreparably harm Sino-US relations.
“Martha, there’s enormous evidence that that’s where this began”, Mike Pompeo told ABC’s Martha Raddatz. His comments came on the heels similar remarks from the president late last week.
“Remember, China has a history of infecting the world and they have a history of running sub-standard laboratories”, Pompeo continued. “These aren’t the first times that we have had the world exposed to viruses as a result of failures from a Chinese lab”.
Beijing won’t be enamored with that assessment. Indeed, China has accused Pompeo of “slander” on any number of occasions over the past 12 months, and for remarks far less abrasive than those.
America’s top diplomat accidentally said he concurs with an assessment that COVID-19 may be a manmade bioweapon, a slip of the tongue Raddatz went to great lengths to help him correct.
The intelligence community’s consensus (so far) is that the virus was “not genetically modified”, she reminded Pompeo, who clarified he has no reason to doubt that conclusion. “That’s right, and I agree with that”, he said.
What’s “important”, he went on to emphasize, is that “the Chinese Communist party had the opportunity to prevent all of the calamity that has befallen the world”.
That is a debatable proposition, to say the least.
It’s undoubtedly true that Beijing wasn’t forthcoming and Pompeo is obviously correct in his assertion that the Party “reverted to form” by employing repressive tactics, silencing dissent and generally refusing to admit the scope of the problem in a timely fashion. This is, after all, the Party.
What’s not clear, though, is that China could have prevented the pandemic regardless of how quickly they moved. The lockdown in Wuhan was draconian by any standard, and until there’s proof that China engineered the virus and knowingly unleashed it, it’s impossible to say Beijing could have stopped the global spread.
Peter Navarro was even more abrasive during an interview with CNN. He essentially parroted Pompeo’s talking points, but he resorted to even more bombastic terms, in keeping with his reputation for being one of the most ardent China hawks on the planet.
As a reminder, there are two theories about the Wuhan Institute of Virology. One is that COVID-19 was a lab construct associated with a Chinese bioweapons program. The other is that an employee was studying the pathogen at the facility, accidentally became infected and then unwittingly spread the virus among the locals.
The bioweapons theory is seen as extremely unlikely. The lab accident story is plausible, but there is no evidence to support it yet, other than, as Navarro put it while speaking to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on Sunday, “Occam’s razor”.
The White House is currently weighing options for holding China “accountable” for malfeasance. One option is an executive order barring government employee retirement accounts from investing in Chinese equities. There’s also talk of repudiating US debt, a logistical impossibility assuming Trump doesn’t want to be responsible for the US being declared in default.
One thing is certain: If the administration continues to go down this road (justified or not), any hope of further progress on bilateral trade will be dashed.
Trump, meanwhile, is writing his own Scripture.
“….And then came a Plague, a great and powerful Plague, and the World was never to be the same again!”, he declared, in a bizarre Sunday tweet. “But America rose from this death and destruction, always remembering its many lost souls, and the lost souls all over the World, and became greater than ever before!”