The investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic should continue, said Thomas Wright, a senior fellow of foreign policy at Washington-based think tank Brookings Institution, after U.S. intelligence agencies earlier this week delivered an inconclusive assessment on the issue to President Joe Biden.
“It’s important to get to the bottom of it,” Wright told The Epoch Times. “To find out what actually happened.”
Wright, co-author of the new book “Aftershocks: Pandemic Politics and the End of the Old International Order,” which he wrote with now-U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, said that he is “not surprised” that the most recent report of the pandemic’s origins is inconclusive, given the Chinese regime’s obstructionism and refusal to cooperate.
“To have the proper investigation, you need Chinese cooperation, and obviously they’ve been withholding that, so that just makes it very difficult,” he said, adding that while there are still questions about whether the pandemic began with a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology or via a Wuhan wet market, China’s status as the source of the pandemic is clear.
“The evidence is overwhelming that [the pandemic] originated in China. I think very few people other than the Chinese government … would dispute that in any way.”
CCP’s Actions ‘Backfired’ on Them
In “Aftershocks,” Wright and Kahl detail the cover-up by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of the COVID-19 outbreak following its emergence in Wuhan, as well as its efforts to utilize the pandemic as a way to boost its international standing and power vis-à-vis other nations.
Wright and Kahl note that the CCP’s first reaction to COVID-19 was fear and suppression of related information, writing that “one US embassy official told us they had never seen Chinese officials as ‘unconfident, terrified, and nervous’ as they were [early on in the pandemic] … Beijing realized if news of its botched initial response leaked out, it could damage the Chinese Communist Party. So Xi [Jinping] was determined to act quickly against any dissenting voices inside China that questioned the official narrative.”
“There’s no question [Chinese officials] were … deeply worried back in January 2020,” Wright said. “That concern led the regime to be more repressive and secretive about it.”
Despite the CCP’s suppressive actions—which enabled the spread of COVID-19 around the world and hindered effective defense against the pandemic—other nations, particularly in Europe, initially showed goodwill through the provision of significant aid to China. Months later when the pandemic was ravaging Europe, the CCP returned the favor with its own transactional approach to aid that was also leveraged as a propaganda event for the regime.
Wright and Kahl note in their book that the European Union discreetly sent humanitarian assistance to China at the beginning of the pandemic, with special attention given to avoiding any embarrassment for the CCP. They write that French President Emmanuel Macron told an aide that the Chinese government would remember this gesture of goodwill.
However, by the time Europe itself was battling the pandemic, “China appeared to reciprocate and began to send aid—yet Chinese authorities insisted that its arrival be met with some fanfare and public declarations of support from recipient countries, making the whole thing appear explicitly transactional,” the book states.
“In one case, Italy donated thirty tons of equipment to China, which the Chinese later returned—and then charged the Italian government for it.”
Wright, who was born and grew up in Dublin, Ireland, said that the CCP’s cynical actions with respect to pandemic-related aid were “sort of shocking” for European nations.
“It backfired for them,” he said, referring to the Chinese regime. “That bred resentment, and other countries saw what they were doing.
“Especially in Europe, it resulted in a big change of attitude and even in policy toward China.”
European policy changes cited by Wright and Kahl include measures to prevent Chinese companies or state-backed actors from exploiting European markets and purchasing European assets at low prices, pushing the Chinese telecom company Huawei out of Europe’s 5G infrastructure, and diversifying relationships internationally to reduce the EU’s economic dependence on China.
“[Europeans] began to speak up more confidently about China’s assertiveness, particularly its crackdown on student protesters in Hong Kong and its mass repression of the Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang,” the authors write.
Spotlight on Taiwan’s Success
While generally critical of former President Donald Trump in “Aftershocks,” Wright and Kahl give credit to the administration’s Operation Warp Speed, launched in May 2020, which resulted in the production of COVID-19 vaccines in less than one year. They also note, “Contrary to the account that is most often given, some senior Trump administration officials, already suspicious of China, realized the magnitude of what was happening in Wuhan faster than any other government except Taiwan.”
Wright, who was present in Taiwan during its January 2020 presidential election, points to the democratic island, which has had fewer than 900 COVID-19 deaths to date, as a model of successful pandemic management, saying that it utilized lessons learned from its experience with the 2003 SARS epidemic, which also originated from China.
“It’s just extraordinary what Taiwan did early on,” Wright said.
The authors noted that Taiwan was the first body to alert the World Health Organization (WHO) of an “atypical pneumonia” from Wuhan on Dec. 31, 2019. “Unfortunately, no one paid any attention to Taipei’s warning,” the book states.
They also called on Taiwan to be admitted as an observer to the WHO, a status that it had from 2009 to 2016 until being blocked by Beijing in 2017 following the election of President Tsai Ing-wen, known for her tough-on-China stance.
Wright considers it “crucial” that Taiwan is allowed to participate in the WHO as an observer “because, obviously, pandemics don’t respect borders.”
“Taiwan is part of the world … and it’s affected by these transnational threats, but also it has a lot to offer,” he added.
Free Societies ‘Inherently Threatening’ to the CCP
Wright further discussed the continuing comprehensive struggle between the United States and communist China.
“There’s two very different ideas of the way the world should be organized,” he said. “China, the Chinese government basically wants the world safe for the CCP and for their regime.”
In contrast, the United States and its allies “want a world that is safe for democracy and free societies,” Wright said, describing this vision as “inherently threatening” to the Chinese regime.
While the world has become increasingly nationalistic, with less agreement on “how to tackle transnational trends,” Wright said, America can make efforts to “work with like-minded countries and democracies.”
Within the United States, confronting the threats posed by a totalitarian China is one of the few bipartisan issues in politics, Wright noted.
“I do think there is significant common ground on a number of things, particularly long-term relations with China,” he said. “We’ve had successes in a number of areas around China policy.”
Wright believes that the United States will only continue to strengthen its measures countering the Chinese regime.
“I think that any country, particularly China, that thinks the U.S. is in decline is making a mistake,” he said, adding that the United States has ‘abiding strength.’ “I don’t think the Chinese government will succeed in its objectives.”