Coronavirus Outbreak Puts China’s Alleged Biowarfare Research Under Scrutiny

February 6, 2020 Updated: February 6, 2020
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News Analysis

The source of the novel coronavirus that has led to the lockdown of 34 Chinese cities, and has now spread to 35 countries outside China, is still unknown.

Initial reports from China claimed the source was a live food market in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province, and may have been caused by bats.

Other reports claimed the source may have been the state-run Wuhan Institute of Virology near the market, where the virus may have been leaked from the country’s first top-level “P4” lab, which handles the most dangerous types of pathogens.

The original report making the claim about the P4 lab as a potential source was published by GreatGameIndia, a journal on geopolitics and international relations. Other publications, such as The Washington Times, followed, with additional claims based on interviews.

While the narrative of the virus coming from the lab hasn’t been debunked, it has been criticized by several news outlets, since some of the connections still aren’t proven.

Regardless of where the coronavirus came from, the attention on the P4 lab has focused a spotlight on the Chinese regime’s alleged biological warfare programs and is raising questions about the nature of the P4 lab in Wuhan.

The main argument against the idea that the Chinese regime has a biological warfare program is the fact that China became a state party to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1984, which would forbid it from developing biological weapons.

A brief perusal of official documents and strategies, however, quickly fuels doubt about how closely the Chinese regime has followed the BWC. A U.S. State Department report from August 2019 notes the U.S. assessment that China had an offensive biological weapons program from at least the 1950s to the late 1980s, and despite signing the BWC, “there is no available information to demonstrate that China took steps to fulfill its treaty obligations” to “divert or destroy” any offensive biological weapons it previously developed.

The report also notes that the Chinese regime “engaged during the reporting period in biological activities with potential dual-use applications, which raises concerns regarding its compliance with the BWC.”

In other words, some research programs done by the Chinese regime could be used for both peaceful and hostile purposes. The report notes, “Available information on studies from researchers at Chinese military medical institutions often identify biological activities of a possibly anomalous nature … with potential dual-use applications.”

Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center and an Epoch Times contributor, said in an interview that U.S. assessments in the government and intelligence communities hold that “China has been developing these weapons all along.”

Fisher noted that it was suspected that biological warfare programs in China were connected to leakages of the SARS virus, following its outbreak in 2002 and 2003, and to a viral outbreak in the late 1980s in Xinjiang.

“They are still disasters—breakdowns—in the process of these laboratories that allowed for these very harmful viruses to leak out into the public and cause extensive, but clearly unnecessary, death,” Fisher said.

The P4 lab in Wuhan has connections to the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army. When the U.S.-based company Gilead Sciences recently sent a new drug (remdesivir) to China that could possibly treat the novel coronavirus, the Wuhan Institute of Virology quickly moved to apply for a patent.

In a Feb. 4 statement published on the institute’s website about the patent, the institute notes it conducted research alongside the National Academy of Military Medical Research Institute of Emergency Medicine for Prevention and Control of Drugs. It also notes ties to the Prevention Engineering Technology Research Center of Military Medical Research Institute, and to the National Institute of Emergency Medicine Control and Engineering Research Center for Military Medical Research.

The Wuhan P4 lab is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which has close ties to the Chinese military in its research programs.

Meanwhile, Chinese military doctrine has identified biological warfare as a key part of the regime’s military strategies—particularly in any war scenarios with the United States. Among the key programs is its Assassin’s Mace (“Sha Shou Jian”) strategy.

Michael Pillsbury, a Pentagon consultant, warned of the strategy in his 2016 book “The Hundred-Year Marathon,” in which he noted the only time China won in a simulated war game with the United States, the China team used the Assassin’s Mace strategy. He wrote, “whenever the China team used conventional tactics and strategies, America won—decisively. However, in every case where China employed Assassin’s Mace methods, China was the victor.”

Fisher said that Assassin’s Mace is designed around using various unconventional weapons in conjunction for a brutal surprise attack, and that “when used at the right time, and targeted against a specific weakness of the enemy, can result in the rapid collapse of that enemy’s military threat.”

He also noted that Chinese military officials haven’t shied away from discussing the use of brutal attacks and weapons, including biological weapons. Some of the statements are so brazen and extreme, however, that many in the U.S. defense analyst community tend to dismiss them.

In regard to rumors about the new coronavirus spreading in China, he noted that while they’re still unproven, they also shouldn’t be written off without some investigation.

“Reputable scientists are beginning to coalesce around the idea that at a minimum, the coronavirus that we’re facing today is the product of a laboratory [and] not the product of some kind of naturally occurring process,” Fisher said.

He said the “developing consensus that this coronavirus is a man-made virus naturally links this to China’s biowarfare capabilities and programs.”

“The world should take this as a very serious possibility, and it should affect our policy and relationships with the People’s Republic of China.”

Follow Joshua on Twitter: @JoshJPhilipp