Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claims there is “enormous evidence” to indicate the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab. In an interview on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, Pompeo didn’t provide any evidence for his claim.
“There is enormous evidence that that’s where this began,” Pompeo said when ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked whether he had “seen anything” that gave him “high confidence that it originated in that Wuhan lab.” Pompeo went on to say that “China has a history of infecting the world” and it also “has a history of running substandard laboratories.”
Pompeo then appeared to contradict the nation’s top spy agency, which recently said the coronavirus “was not manmade or genetically modified.” Pompeo said that “the best experts so far seem to think it was man-made. I have no reason to disbelieve that at this point.” But he later backtracked when Raddatz made clear that was not what the U.S. intelligence agencies had concluded. “I’ve seen what the intelligence community has said. I have no reason to believe that they’ve got it wrong,” Pompeo said. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Thursday in a rare public statement that the intelligence community “concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”
President Donald Trump had made a similar claim that there was evidence to say that the virus originated in a Chinese lab but said he was not allowed to elaborate on what that might be. On that same day, Pompeo said in an interview that “we don’t know if it came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” But Pompeo’s claims Sunday once again demonstrate how the secretary of state “has emerged as the face of the administration’s hard-line China strategy,” as Foreign Policy said recently.
Beyond the origins of the virus, Pompeo went further to criticize Beijing. “China behaved like authoritarian regimes do, attempted to conceal and hide and confuse,” Pompeo said. “It employed the World Health Organization as a tool to do the same.” These latest talking points come at a time when White House officials are increasingly blasting Chinese officials and blaming them for the current crisis. Trump, for example, tweeted Friday that some news outlets are “Chinese puppets.”
Those familiar with the available intelligence pretty much unanimously say that there is no evidence to suggest Chinese scientists developed the coronavirus in a biological weapons lab. Experts agree that while it’s possible that the coronavirus outbreak began at a Wuhan lab, the most likely scenario is that it was natural. As Axios summarizes, there are two general theories that link the Wuhan Institute of Virology with the outbreak, one of which is unlikely, while the other is “plausible but unverified”:
• The first is that the coronavirus was created as part of a Chinese bioweapons research program allegedly linked to the WIV. Virologists have determined this is highly unlikely.
• The second is that the virus was being studied at the WIV, and a lab accident resulted in the virus’ accidental transmission to an employee who then unknowingly spread the virus in the city. This is plausible, but there is no direct or public evidence to support it.