China is not our friend.
This is apparently a controversial statement even given the past few months, in which China has dissembled about the existence of the novel coronavirus, then about its ability to contain it and then, we now know, about the numbers of fatalities and cases.
We’re told that saying this is invoking hatred against the Chinese people, even though they’re the ones who have suffered most under the yoke of Beijing.
We’re told that China effectively dealt with the virus in a way that Western democracies didn’t, even though they only dealt with it belatedly (a late response which, according to one study, is responsible for 95 percent of cases) and with draconian measures that none of us should support.
We’re told this with numbers and narratives that are little more than Chinese propaganda, taken at face value because — well, how could they get away with lying? Until we learn they do, and the goalposts move again with minimal comment on how they moved.
There are plenty of political, economic and military examples of why China isn’t our friend. Another reminder was buried under coronavirus coverage this week when Yahoo News reported that a Chinese scientist was stopped at Detroit Metro Airport a little more than a year before the coronavirus outbreak with what authorities suspected were vials of SARS and MERS samples.
According to FBI documents obtained by Yahoo News and published Monday, the arrest happened in November 2018.
Customs and Border Protection said that the Chinese biologist had vials labeled “Antibodies” in his luggage that he said he was delivering to a friend at a U.S. research institute.
When the vials were examined by authorities, it turned out they weren’t “Antibodies.”
“Inspection of the writing on the vials and the stated recipient led inspection personnel to believe the materials contained within the vials may be viable Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) materials,” an unclassified FBI report about the incident read.
The report was written by the Chemical and Biological Intelligence Unit of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, or WMDD. It doesn’t give details regarding who the scientist was or who the recipient was supposed to be.
Now, before we go on, let’s just be clear: There’s no direct connection between this and the coronavirus outbreak itself. Don’t take away any conspiratorial direct link to that.
Rather, it’s an indirect link in terms of how China is a bad actor on the world stage. In fact, there’s a distinct pattern the WMDD noted in the November 2018 case and two other cases documented in the report.
“The Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assesses foreign scientific researchers who transport undeclared and undocumented biological materials into the United States in their personal carry-on and/or checked luggage almost certainly present a US biosecurity risk,” the report read.
“The WMDD makes this assessment with high confidence based on liaison reporting with direct access.”
Two other cases were detailed in the report, one involving flu samples and the other involving vials of E. coli bacteria. Neither was quite as dangerous, however, as smuggling SARS or MERS, two viruses which can be deadly.
Several SARS infections, for instance, resulted from the mishandling of the virus in Chinese laboratories.
It’s difficult to ascertain from the report how connected this individual was to the Chinese government, however. The FBI would not comment on the report to Yahoo.
Perhaps most troublingly, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia told Yahoo News that if this kind of biological material is going one way, it’s likely going the other way, as well.
“How do you know what they’re bringing in and out unless you have a comprehensive surveillance point?” global biosecurity professor Raina MacIntyre said. “If it’s going one way, it’s going the other way. You’d be very naive to assume otherwise.”
She added that the FBI’s focus seems to be research that can be used for bioterrorism.
Three instances of infectious biological agents being brought to the United States on planes is problematic on its face — and while coronavirus news rightly deserves to be at the forefront right now, this deserved a little more attention than it received.
Chinese researchers bringing biomedical intellectual property — and in one alleged case, actual biological material — back to China from the United States have been called “nontraditional collectors” of intelligence by FBI Director Christopher Wray.
The probability that works both ways is relatively high, as well. While the smuggling of biological materials in a clandestine manner isn’t exclusively done by Chinese researchers, these are the most prominent cases — and the probability of state involvement is high.
These aren’t the actions of a nation that’s our friend. We have to realize that.
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