Skip to content
Only the Chinese Communist Party Knows the Origins of the COVID Pandemic
Go to my account

Only the Chinese Communist Party Knows the Origins of the COVID Pandemic

And it has been withholding, deflecting, and obfuscating the entire time.

The story of our times is the coronavirus pandemic. No issue is more important. COVID-19 has killed approximately 3.5 million people and infected more than 160 million others, while reshaping the global economy. Yet, we still don’t know how it really started. We may never know. 

On Wednesday, the White House released an update from President Joe Biden concerning the U.S. government’s investigation into the origins of COVID-19. A series of recent reports revived the “lab-leak theory”—that is, the possibility that the virus accidentally escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology or one of its affiliated sites. And the White House clearly thought it was necessary to demonstrate its due diligence.

In March, according to the White House’s statement, President Biden asked National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to “task the Intelligence Community to prepare a report on their most up-to-date analysis of the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or from a laboratory accident.” To date, no one in the U.S. government is really sure. 

According to the White House, the U.S. intelligence community has “coalesced around two likely scenarios”—though it isn’t entirely clear what those scenarios are. The statement attributed to President Biden is clumsily written, stating that “while two elements in the IC leans [sic] toward the former scenario and one leans more toward the latter—each with low or moderate confidence—the majority of elements do not believe there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.” 

At first blush, it appears that the “former scenario” involves “human contact with an infected animal,” while the “latter” is the lab-leak hypothesis. 

Either way, America’s spy agencies can’t say how the virus became a global menace. It is significant, however, that the U.S. intelligence community hasn’t ruled out the “lab-leak theory.” For months, that scenario was widely ridiculed. 

When Sen. Tom Cotton raised the possibility last year, the Washington Post declared it “a coronavirus conspiracy theory that was already debunked.” A more recent “fact check” from the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler notes that it was “once dismissed as a ridiculous conspiracy theory,” but claims it has “gained new credence.” It is easy to find reporting, including other “fact checks,” that similarly dismissed the lab-leak hypothesis as conspiracy gibberish. 

Analysts inside the U.S. government remain divided on this issue—but not just because the intelligence is murky. 

Hours before the White House’s statement was released to the public, CNN’s Kylie Atwood reported that the Biden administration had shut down an effort within the State Department to examine the evidence concerning the virus’s origin. That initiative was launched in 2020 under then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It’s clear that the Biden team, or some members of it, believe that the inquiry initiated by Pompeo was an attempt to politicize the issue.

The CNN report says that the Biden administration viewed the Pompeo State Department’s moves as part of “a deliberate effort to put more weight into the lab leak theory while they ignored information suggesting the virus spread naturally from animals to humans.” 

But as the reporting over the last 15 months makes clear, some officials and journalists are guilty of the opposite—ignoring evidence suggesting that the lab-leak theory is at least possible.

To be clear, we can’t say the virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan. We can say that no one can rule it out. 

We can also add this: The only entity that really knows is the CCP. But Beijing hasn’t been forthcoming. In fact, Chinese officials are quick to feign outrage at any suggestion that they’ve been less than truthful. 

“Origin-tracing of the virus is a scientific issue,” Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, insisted during a press conference this week. “The purpose is to improve human’s understanding of the virus and better guard against infectious diseases in the future.” Zhao went on to insinuate, once again, that there was something suspicious about the activities of U.S. facilities in Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere.

It’s easy to see why Zhao and other CCP representatives are eager to deflect attention from the origins of COVID-19. It’s a massive political liability for Beijing. It’s a liability that the Biden administration should focus on. 

President Biden says that his administration is positioned “to rally the nations of the world to defend democracy globally, to push back the authoritarianism’s advance.” China and Russia are the two main autocracies the president has in mind. 

But whatever the truth is behind COVID-19’s origins, the pandemic draws into question the CCP’s model of governance. It should also undermine the CCP’s desire to be seen as a world leader on par, at least, with the U.S. 

The CCP detained and harassed early whistleblowers, fed disinformation to the World Health Organization (WHO), prevented a full investigation into COVID-19’s origins, and pursued an aggressive foreign policy throughout the pandemic. The CCP has also lashed out at anyone who calls for an independent inquiry. Indeed, the CCP escalated its trade war with Australia, in part, because Canberra thinks such an investigation is necessary. Beijing’s “wolf warrior” diplomats have also spread disinformation throughout the pandemic. And again, of course, there’s still the possibility that the CCP covered up a lab leak.

Zhao and other Chinese officials try to make it purely an issue of science—not politics, or moral culpability. But the science is only part of the story. 

President Biden says that he has asked the U.S. intelligence community to “redouble their efforts to collect and analyze information that could bring us closer to a definitive conclusion” regarding the origins of COVID-19 and report their results to him in 90 days.

That’s fine. But even if America’s spy agencies can’t draw any definitive conclusions, the Biden administration should always remember why we are in the dark in the first place.

Tom Joscelyn is a senior fellow at Just Security.