China resurfaces false COVID-19 origin theory linked to Fort Detrick

Chinese officials have pushed false claims that COVID-19 originated in the U.S. since as far back as March 2020

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this week that the U.S. should open biological research facilities at Ford Detrick in Maryland for inspection, a claim that re-emerged as officials in Beijing face mounting scrutiny over the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic originated from a lab accident in Wuhan.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin ripped the Biden administration for enlisting the intelligence community to further investigate the Wuhan lab leak theory. His remarks echoed a baseless claim pushed for months in Chinese media and government. Officials have argued without evidence that the outbreak was somehow linked to Fort Detrick.

"If the U.S. really attaches importance to transparency, then when can it invite WHO experts to visit Fort Detrick?" the spokesman said at a press briefing posted on Twitter. "China has invited WHO experts in for two rounds of origin-tracing study and the WHO experts have also visited biosafety labs including the [Wuhan Institute of Virology]."

Wang referenced Fort Detrick just days after another Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Zhao Lijian, made similar remarks, stating the military base was "full of suspicion." The military base houses portions of the U.S. biological defense program. Chinese officials have pushed false claims that COVID-19 originated in the U.S. as far back as March 2020, in an apparent effort to deflect international pressure over Beijing’s handling of the pandemic.

Wang likened calls among U.S. lawmakers to investigate the Wuhan lab to claims in the early 2000s that Iraq was housing weapons of mass destruction, which later proved to be inaccurate.

The White House did not return requests for comment. A State Department spokesperson dismissed Wang's remarks.

"While we won’t dignify those specific comments with a response, it’s important to note that China has not lived up to its obligations to the international community on this issue," a State Department spokesperson said in a statement. "The pandemic began in China, yet China continues to obfuscate, not allow access to WHO scientists and experts, and now has said it will not participate in a WHO Phase 2 study."

"We will continue to work with international partners and the WHO on their study into the origins of the pandemic. We and WHO leadership have been clear that sound and technically credible theories should be thoroughly evaluated by international experts," the spokesperson added.

In the early days of the pandemic, former President Donald Trump and top members of his administration argued COVID-19 may have originated at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. But calls to further investigate the claim, once seen as a conspiracy theory, have intensified since the Wall Street Journal reported three researchers at the Wuhan lab developed symptoms severe enough to seek hospital treatment in late 2019 with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

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Last month, President Biden said he had directed the U.S. intelligence community to investigate potential COVID-19 origin theories and report back within 90 days. The president said intelligence officials were divided on whether the pandemic began through human contact with infected animals or because of a lab accident.

U.S. officials have also expressed doubt about the findings of a joint report conducted by China and the World Health Organization, which concluded in March that a lab leak was "extremely unlikely."

"Although Chinese and foreign experts and the WHO have given their authoritative and science-based views, some U.S. politicians and media are still vigorous hyping up the narrative that the virus leaked from the WIV and pushing for investigations into it," Wang said.

This story has been updated.