Continued from: Was COVID-19 born in the United States? (part 11)
Australia’s first ambassador to Beijing in 1973 said that Australia was engaging in a reflexive blame game against China over the COVID-19 pandemic, and that game was undermining the chances of constructive engagement and thus damaging Australia’s national interest. Dr. Stephen Arthur FitzGerald had been posted by the Whitlam Government as the first Australian Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China in 1973 and remained until after the ‘Dismissal’, in 1976. He said that the way the present Australian government had led calls for an inquiry into the pandemic was “clumsy”, and “seems to be for no other reason than to do a kind of ‘gotcha’ on China.”
Dr. FitzGerald said that Australia must adopt a diplomatic response to China. “There is a very, very strong anti-China push coming from certain agencies in Canberra … and it is simply ideological,” he said.
“In my view it’s mindless in terms of our overall interests. You have got to calculate how we come out of this … I have seen absolutely no evidence there was a quiet reaching out to China in advance, if necessary through an intermediary, to say ‘look, we are all in this together, and let’s do a combined collaborative look at how this developed, because we need to prepare for when this happens again and we need to understand it without recriminations’.”
Dr. FitzGerald described as “not particularly helpful” the response of China’s ambassador Cheng Jingye, who warned of possible trade ramifications if Australia kept up its inquiry calls.
“It is no help for either side to be engaging in tit for tat,” Dr. FitzGerald said. But he added: “whether China was right or wrong in the beginning, and all the evidence suggests it was wrong, the thing to say is ‘righto, let’s sit down together and work it out’. There is no one in the government in Canberra who can pick up the phone and talk to someone at the most senior level in Beijing, and if you think about it, that’s a serious condition for us to be in.”
Dr. FitzGerald was speaking at the launch of two papers from the Australia Institute, one of which, written by former senior Defence official Allan Behm, was accusing Australia of “demonising” China through the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Behm, head of the Institute’s international and security affairs programme and a former adviser to Labor frontbenchers Greg Combet and Penny Wong, said that Canberra seemed “determined” to join President Trump in shifting blame for the pandemic onto China.
But, he said, the knock-on effect of a “blame game” was a “lack of coherence in problem-solving strategies.” Mr. Behm said that the Australian government’s proposals for the overhaul of the World Health Organization, giving the body new powers of forcible entry akin to those of weapons inspectors, had little chance of success. Instead the crisis required a “new global consensus” in which all states, “especially the rich and powerful”, had to collaborate. “The problem that we have so often in dealing with these [human rights] issues with China, Indonesia or anyone else is that we are very declamatory, we bawl them out for misbehaviour.” he added. Impervious to any suggestion, the Home Affairs Minister Peter Craig Dutton strongly supported calls for “more transparency” from China, amid growing tensions over the spread of Covid-19.” (D. Snow, Don’t join China COVID-19 ‘blame game’, Gough’s man in Beijing warns, The Herald, 30.04.2020).
Dr. FitzGerald was not alone in counselling calm consideration of the problem. He was joined by Professor Jane Golley, the Director of the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University, who also expressed concern at what she termed “continual finger-pointing” at Beijing. “The continual assertion that [China’s leaders] are getting everything wrong and we are getting everything right lacks nuance and sophistication. I have never in my life felt that the value of diplomacy is as high [as it is now] – good old-fashioned diplomacy that seeks the middle ground,” she said.
Almost simultaneously with the publication of the dossier by The Saturday Telegraph, the American Secretary of State was insisting that there was ‘enormous evidence’ that the coronavirus came from a Chinese laboratory. However Mr. Pompeo was not providing any evidence to support his claim. (J. Borger, Mike Pompeo: ‘enormous evidence’ coronavirus came from Chinese lab, The Guardian, 04.05.2020).
Mr. Pompeo’s claims, made in a 3 May interview with ABC’s This Week, represented an escalation in rhetoric. He had previously said that the United States was looking into the possibility the virus came from a laboratory in Wuhan. On 3 May he said: “There is enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” later adding: “I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.”
At one point, the Secretary of State appeared confused over whether he was claiming the Sars-CoV-2 virus – which causes the COVID-19 disease – was deliberately engineered or had escaped as the result of a laboratory accident.
“Look, the best experts so far seem to think it was manmade. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point,” he said. But when he was reminded that United States ‘intelligence’ had issued a formal statement noting the opposite: that the scientific consensus was that the virus was not manmade or genetically modified, Mr. Pompeo replied: “That’s right. I agree with that.”
President Trump had made a similar unsupported claim four days before, saying that he was privy to evidence that the pandemic began in a Chinese laboratory, but was not permitted to share it. (M. Singh, H. Davidson and J. Borger, Trump claims to have evidence coronavirus started in Chinese lab but offers no details, The Guardian, 01.05.2020).
On that very day Mr. Pompeo told a radio interviewer: “We don’t know if it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. We don’t know if it emanated from the wet market or yet some other place. We don’t know those answers.” (U.S. Department of State, Secretary Michael R. Pompeo with Simon Conway of Newsradio 1040, Interview, 30.04.2020).
By the afternoon of 3 May, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the United States had confirmed 1,134,507 coronavirus cases and more than 66,000 deaths. Worldwide, there had been nearly 3.5m cases confirmed and more than 245,000 people had died.
Beset by criticism of its response to the outbreak and management of the ensuing public health crisis, the Trump Administration sought to focus blame on China.
Most epidemiologists say that while it is possible that the outbreak had started in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where coronaviruses have been intensively studied, it is a far less likely scenario than the theory that it was transmitted naturally from bats through an intermediary animal, mutating along the way to become dangerous to humans.
On 14 April 2020, the chairman of the United States joint chiefs of staff, Gen Mark Milley, had said “the weight of evidence” pointed to natural transmission but was not conclusive. (J. Borger, US military chief: ‘Weight of evidence’ that Covid-19 did not originate in a lab, The Guardian, 15.04.2020, modified on 02.07.2020).
Beijing had rejected the many and frequent suggestions that the virus could have escaped from a laboratory. But Chinese authorities did not allow foreign experts, including investigators from the World Health Organization, to take part in the investigation into the origins of the virus. Nor have they shared samples taken from wild animals at the Wuhan livestock market where they claim the outbreak began.
It is well-known that in 2018 United States diplomats and scientists had raised concerns in State Department cables about safety standards and the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Analysis of the first 41 COVID-19 patients in medical journal The Lancet found that 27 had direct exposure to the Wuhan market. The same analysis found that the first known case of the illness did not. (G. Readfearn, How did coronavirus start and where did it come from? Was it really Wuhan’s animal market?, The Guardian, 28.04.2020).
Mr. Pompeo has – to be generous – ‘a patchy record’ on characterising United States ‘intelligence’ estimates. For example: he repeatedly claimed that there was no direct evidence linking the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to the murder of journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, contradicting substantial United States evidence implicating him. He also repeatedly claimed that there was evidence of an “imminent threat” to American embassies posed by the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, whom the United States killed in a drone strike in Baghdad on 3 January. Yet, a formal letter justifying the strike sent by the White House to Congress in February made no mention of an ‘imminent threat’.
In a modern-day version of the “big lie,” the Trump administration is claiming that the COVID-19 pandemic is the product of the deliberate actions of the Chinese government.
As for President Trump, on 3 May 2020, in a ‘town hall meeting’ organised by Fox News, he accused China of taking actions specifically intended to infect millions of Europeans and Americans.
After repeating the false claim that the COVID-19 originated in a research laboratory in Wuhan, and that China had tried to cover up the event, President Trump declared: “They didn’t stop people going into the U.S.A. and all over the world … They said, ‘hey look, this is going to have a huge impact on China, and we might as well let the rest of the world become infected.’ They allowed this to go into our country, they allowed it to go into other countries.”
Such claims have been asserted repeatedly in recent times by top Administration officials – and only more carefully uttered by representatives of ‘hostage’ countries, such as Australia. On the same morning, Secretary of State Pompeo declared – as already noted – that there is “enormous evidence” that the virus originated in a Wuhan laboratory, adding: “Remember, China has a history of infecting the world.”
In a separate interview on the same 3 May, White House advisor professor Peter Kent Navarro, as Assistant to the President, Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, and the national Defense Production Act policy coordinator, declared that China “seeded the world with what became the pandemic.” He added: “I did write a book in 2006 called The Coming China Wars. On page 150, I predicted that the Chinese Communist Party would create a viral pandemic that would kill millions of people worldwide. It is now beyond my wildest nightmare what China has inflicted on the world.”
Neither Trump, Pompeo, Navarro or anyone else has provided a shred of evidence to substantiate their claims.
Detractors of Donald J. Trump are often tempted to compare him with a dictator, and very often with ‘men of destiny’ such as Mussolini or Hitler. This is an exaggeration, much as a ‘big lie’ is. In the case of Trump the comparison is doubly incorrect: Trump is no Mussolini. Where are the state-armed thugs in ‘black shirts’? And, as for Hitler, some caution is advisable: the ‘big lie’ as a propaganda technique the invention of which is often credited to Hitler, and ostensibly largely applied by Goebbels, was not in direct advocation of the technique but was in attribution of it to the Jews, accusing them, and ‘the Communists’ of using it to distort history.
From a concrete point of view, the basic idea is that, the bigger a lie one tells, the more people – particularly uneducated people – are likely to believe it, if for no other reason that it is difficult for such people to accept that someone could tell a lie that huge with a straight face. It is a propaganda technique, albeit with a logical fallacy.
If a comparison of Donald J. Trump should be made with anyone, it would be much better to draw to a very largely reduced Edward Louis Bernays, the Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, referred to in his obituary as “the father of public relations.” And that, too, seems rather a compliment of Trump; better stick with lesser marketeers, such as Scott Morrison. After all, Morrison attributed his victory in the 2019 election to “a miracle.” President Trump was still claiming, as late as 28 February 2020, that COVID-19 was: ”going to disappear” like “a miracle.” And, as the plague was savagely spreading throughout the country, he would charge: “This is their new hoax.” They? Who? Why, the Muslims, those from ‘shit-hole countries’, ‘the Socialists’… und so weiter…
By telling such a big lie, that the Chinese government – rather, the Chinese Communist Party – had deliberately allowed and encouraged COVID-19 to infect the United States and Europe, the American people would be mobilised in regarding that as an act of biological warfare which goes beyond the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001.
With unbridled recklessness, in order to justify its own criminal indifference to the lives of millions of people, the Trump Administration was setting up a situation which can make military confrontation with China unavoidable.
That the very American Administration was unable to produce any evidence did not matter. The President would say so, and that should suffice. Nor would the opinion of a considered article in The New York Times of 30 April 2020 matter much when it said: “Most intelligence agencies remain skeptical that conclusive evidence of a link to a lab can be found, and scientists who have studied the genetics of the coronavirus say that the overwhelming probability is that it leapt from animal to human in a non-laboratory setting, as was the case with H.I.V., Ebola and SARS.”( M. Mazzetti, J. E. Barnes, E. Wong and A. Goldman, Trump Officials Are Said to Press Spies to Link Virus and Wuhan Labs, The New York Times, 30.04.2020).
The Trump Administration’s lies, however, are facilitated by the media and the political establishment as a whole, which do not expose them as fabrications but rather present them as legitimate positions. Whatever differences they may have, the anti-China campaign serves definite geo-strategic interests and domestic political imperatives supported by the entire ruling class.
In a Sunday editorial, the Democratic Party-aligned Washington Post condemned “China’s effort to avoid accountability for the novel coronavirus pandemic through a global propaganda campaign.” It declared: “The response to such belligerence cannot be appeasement.” Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden released an ad attacking Trump for “rolling over” to the Chinese government in relation to the coronavirus.
Yet, the attempt to use the charge that China deliberately developed the virus as a bio-weapon, the claim that the virus escaped from a laboratory and the accusations that China concealed knowledge of the disease from the world are contradicted by publicly available information. It is well-known that the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission publicly reported a cluster of pneumonia cases on 31 December 2019, that China identified the virus which causes COVID-19 on 7 January 2020, and that Chinese scientists warned that the disease could be capable of human-to-human transmission.
On the other hand, it was not until nearly eight weeks after the first public statements by Chinese health officials that any systematic testing for COVID-19 began in the United States. The United States had conducted only 1,000 COVID-19 tests by 4 March, two months after the first warnings by Chinese officials. China, South Korea and other Asian countries had carried out millions of tests by early February 2020.
Even as the virus was expanding through the United States, President Trump, a compliant Congress and the distract media systematically downplayed the significance of the disease.
In the end it would be left to small, not ‘of record’, newspapers and sources of information to diffuse the news that coronavirus was spreading in the United States by 17 December 2019, some weeks before China admitted that people there were being infected by a new virus, as antibody testing of donated blood had revealed.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists would discover antibodies to coronavirus in 106 samples taken from blood donated by more than 7,300 Americans in December and January. Of donations made between 13 December and 16 December 2019, 39 were positive, including samples from California, Washington and Oregon. Another 67 samples from donations made between 30 December and 17 January in the Midwest and Northeast were also positive. China did not report the new virus to the C.D.C. until 31 December 2019, and the first United States case was confirmed on 19 January 2020. (N. Rahhal, U.S. Health editor and T. Boyer for Daily Mail.Com., Coronavirus was spreading in the US by December 17 – WEEKS before China admitted that people there were being infected by a new virus, antibody testing of donated blood finds, Daily Mail, 02.12.2020). On a quick search, twenty five other sources were found documenting the same story.
Like what we do at The AIMN?
You’ll like it even more knowing that your donation will help us to keep up the good fight.
Chuck in a few bucks and see just how far it goes!