A prominent Chinese dissident wants Vice President Mike Pence to look at the possibility Beijing might try to place the origin of the coronavirus outbreak with the United States.
Dr. Jianli Yang is an academic who made worldwide news in 2002 when he was detained on a 10-day visit to his former country and ended up spending a five-year jail sentence there for alleged espionage and illegal border crossing.
In an open letter to Pence, Yang, working with Citizen Power Initiatives of China — a group of which he is president — wrote that it had information “we believe highly pertinent to the United States Government’s relations with China concerning this threat,” meaning coronavirus.
His information regards a mostly overlooked Feb. 27 news conference in Guangzhou in which professor Zhong Nanshan, China’s leading expert on the virus, said he didn’t know where it originated.
While China hasn’t been entirely forthcoming on what the origin of the coronavirus is, the generally agreed-upon angle out of Beijing is that the virus — which originated in bats — started in wildlife trade at a wet market in Wuhan.
The move away from this could represent Beijing legitimately stepping away from its certainty about that story — whether it was an educated guess or deliberately reached without evidence — or, as Yang wrote, it could be something else.
“Given Zhong’s official status as the leading expert of China’s National Health Commission and, hence, one of the faces of the country’s effort to contain the virus, his statement, largely overlooked by international media, has important implications,” he wrote in the Feb. 28 letter.
“As you know, numerous conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus have appeared, including those attributing it to the United States. Many in China believe and spread the rumor that the U.S. launched the virus as a biological bomb through the 7th CISM Military World Games, which were held in Wuhan on Oct. 18-27, 2019,” he continued.
“Five athletes were hospitalized during and immediately after the games. Nobody knows the role of the Chinese government in the origin and spread of this rumor.”
Whether this will be the case is questionable. Chinese state media reported four days before Yang’s letter that the athletes tested positive for malaria and not coronavirus.
“Zhang Dingyu, chief physician with the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital, told Southern Weekly during a telephone interview on Sunday evening, stressing such cases had nothing to do with the novel coronavirus pneumonia, or COVID-19,” the Communist Party tabloid Global Times reported.
“Zhang’s clarification came after an old media report resurfaces online, claiming that five athletes were sent to a hospital in Wuhan for medical care and quarantine measures after they were infected with an imported epidemic between October 18 to 27.”
Nevertheless, Yang is concerned about Zhong’s statement that he’s unclear where the virus began and thinks international authorities ought to probe what he means by this.
“Now that Zhong is second-guessing the widely believed origin of the virus,” he wrote, “it is time for the U.S. and the international community to forcefully pursue this question.
“We thus respectfully urge you to take lead in this endeavor as a major element of your mandate:
“Press China to be transparent in all respects, and to welcome and facilitate international investigations on the question of whether, and how, the coronavirus was originated from China. In this connection, the United States, in cooperation with other governments, WHO, and other relevant international bodies, should press China to be open to and cooperate with such investigations.”
Before he took over the United States’ response to coronavirus, Pence had praised China for its “transparency” on the virus.
“We think that China has demonstrated an unprecedented level of transparency,” Pence said in early February, according to CNBC.
Whether this was meant for public consumption, China has had issues with transparency in this department, including reprimanding the doctor who helped blow the whistle on the virus on social media for “illegal and false” information in January.
That doctor, Li Wenliang, would later die from the virus.
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