Snakes, Mirrors, Pandemics and Chinese Geopolicy

The Wuhan Institute of Virology

 

On 9 April ’20 the lockdown of the city of Wuhan, the original epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, was lifted thereby freeing its 11million citizens from a draconian 11 week total lockdown.

 I was intrigued by an article in the Easter edition of The Weekend Australian [11-12 April] about academic conspiracy theories concerning the COVID-19 contagion.

 It would appear that various individuals and groups in academia are searching deeper into unresolved questions pertaining to the nature and source of the pandemic. Herein I offer my most modest contribution to this endeavour. I add the caveat that I am an historian not a scientist and have therefore avoided specific comment on the biological nature of COVID-19. My conclusions are not necessarily original, but I offer my comment and source location for your own further consideration.

 It is my view that the COVID-19 pandemic is either a deliberately manufactured biological attack on the West or an excruciatingly tragic accident. Either way, the leadership of the communist People’s Republic of China [PRC] have been extremely quick to capitalise on the consequences of the contagion.

 Let me commence by clarifying the nomenclature pertaining to the classification of the current pandemic. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2 has been designated by the World Health Organisation [WHO]:

Official Names have been announced  for the virus responsible for COVID-19 (previously known as "2019 novel coronavirus") and the disease it causes. The official names are: 

Disease - coronavirus disease

(COVID-19)

Virus - severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 
(SARS-CoV-2)

WHO announced “COVID-19” as the name of this new disease on 11 February 2020, following guidelines previously developed with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). )[1]

This august body is not without its critics. The Director General of WHO, Dr Tedros [Teddy] Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a former health minister and foreign minister of Ethiopia, was elected in May 2017 as the WHO’s first African director-general. He is the first director-general in the WHO’s 72-year history not to be a medical doctor. On 13 May 2017 the Ethiopian news and view forum, ECADF, republished a New York Times article claiming:

"A leading candidate to head the World Health Organization was accused this week of covering up three cholera epidemics in his home country, Ethiopia, when he was health minister — a charge that could seriously undermine his campaign to run the agency."[2]

He has been subject to recent and trenchant criticism for his late reaction to and soft stance on the pandemic. Some quarters hold that he is China’s pawn inasmuch that the WHO has backed China’s data and endorsed its containment methods even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Moreover, others suggest that Ghebreyesus won his post in 2017 because of lobbying support from the Chinese government.[3]

On 14 April The Australian carried an article about Prime Minister Morrison pressuring both China and the World Health Organisation [WHO] to close down the wet markets in the Chinese city of Wuhan.[4] These wet markets will be the subject of further discussion below. Moreover the editorial of that paper was scathing of WHO and its Director as to that organisations response to China.

The source of the international pandemic was the city of Wuhan [Hankow] in central China. This city is of significant geographical and economic importance. Situated on the confluence of the Han Shui and Chan Jian Rivers it is a major port on the Yangtze River system some 720 km west of the river mouth city of Shanghai. Wuhan is of some historical significance inasmuch that itwas the scene of Nationalist unrest and troop mutinies in 1911 that led directly to the overthrow of the last Manchu [Qing Dynasty 1644-1911] Emperor and the end of imperial China. It is today one of the most important concentrations of manufacturing in central China.

Downriver from Wuhan is the historic city of Nanjing [Nanking], the former capital of Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Government [1928-1937] and the scene of brutal savagery of Japanese troops in December 1937.

Given the volume of trade up and down this river system, the virus could well have reached the international city of Shanghai, with catastrophic results. The surprising point is that it didn’t. This in itself is a point for consideration.

The authorities claim that their rapid military and police lock-down of Wuhan contained the virus. We might remember YouTube clips of huge hospitals being assembled in a mere ten days. 

So why Wuhan?

Initial reporting on the virus suggested that it originated in the open wet meat markets of that city. This was later clarified to suggest specifically the wet exotic and wildlife markets.

On Friday 21 February, a friend sent me an e.mail with an attached video of the ‘Wuhan Meat Market’.  On viewing this clip it is obvious that this is no ordinary ‘meat’ market, but rather the ‘wild’ meat market. I include the attachment for your reference.[5]   I warn you that it is unpleasant. I responded to my friend by observing:

"There is a saying that if it moves the Chinese will eat it. The meat markets are truly disgusting – but from a significant perspective, the Chinese are literally destroying their flora and fauna because there are too damn many of them and because of their complete ignorance."   

 For your further reference, video clips of this grotesque locale are readily available for general viewing. For your convenience I provide one such link: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Wuhan+Meat+markets+YouTube&&view=detail&mid=910041A1689C75B3CF2F910041A1689C75B3CF2F&rvsmid=270CF3E0FA00A6E3E4EF270CF3E0FA00A6E3E4EF&FORM=VDRVRV

Authorities have since, ambiguously, claimed that they have shut these down. I must add here that the consumption of wild and exotic animals in China has nothing whatsoever to do with feeding the starving masses and everything to do with Chinese culture, superstition, traditional medicine and choice.

Wuhan is also the home of one the worlds few and secretive Biosafety Level-4 Laboratories - the Wuhan Institute of Virology [WIV]. This was opened in 2015 at a cost of some $44 million after taking some ten years to complete after its inception in 2003.[6]

Biosafety labs are classed into four categories – Level 4 labs deal with research into infectious diseases. Level 4is the highest safety and security rating and is known as the “aircraft carrier” in the field of virology.  Aside from China, the only countries to operate such laboratories are France, Canada, Australia, Germany, the United States, Great Britain, Sweden and South Africa. The Wuhan laboratory has similar design concept as that in Lyon, France. [7]

The WIV is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Originally known as the Wuhan Institute of Microbiology, WIV was planned and established between 1956 and 1958, the product of ‘the famous virologist academician Gao Shangyin and the famous microbiologist academician Chen Huagui and a batch of older generation scientists’. It was initially engaged in agricultural virus and environmental microbe research. In 1978 it was renamed the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.[8]

Although its website has not been updated recently, I suggest anyone seriously interested in this matter should peruse the WIV site: http://english.whiov.cas.cn/

In doing so I found the Director’s Message of great interest:

"There have been some significant advances in the following scientific research aspects:

1. SARS etiology origin: The live SARS-like coronavirus SL-CoV-WIV1 has been isolated for the first time from the bat droppings; and such virus has been confirmed to invade the host cells through the ACE2 of human beings, civets and Rhinolophus sinicus. The research result has so far provided the most convincing evidence to the view that Rhinolophus sinicus is the natural host of SARS-CoV (Nature, 2013).
2. The bat as basis of the natural host of different viruses: The complete genome sequence analysis and comparative genomics research show that the natural immune deficiency of bats may be the basis for bats to be the natural host of numerous viruses (Science, 2013)."[9]

This message is fleshed out in greater detail in the ‘About WIV’ section of the site. This discusses the 2003, SARS virus outbreak and the need to promote the prevention and control of newly emerging diseases in a new strategic height. It discusses the 2004 Sino-French government cooperation agreement on fighting and preventing new diseases and the active cooperation between China and France in the construction of high-level biosafety laboratories. In August 2016, WIV obtained the recognition and authentication certificate for the critical protection equipment, installation and its commissioning. It posits WIV’s responsibility for inter alia improving defense and resilience towards biological wars and terrorist attacks and maintaining national biosecurity.[10]

There are five major research fields in Wuhan Institute of Virology: 1.etiology and epidemiology of emerging infectious diseases; 2.molecular virology; 3. immunovirology; 4.analytical pathogen microbiology; and 5.agricultural and environmental microbiology.

I found the first field of particular interest, being:

"1. Etiology and Epidemiology of Emerging Infectious Diseases

(1) Background
Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) are among the major threats to public health around the world. One of the major challenges for prevention and control of EIDs is the unpredictable of EID outbreak. We are always not ready for EID outbreak, especially lack of the essential diagnostic techniques and methods, and even the basic knowledge of the pathogens. Among the EID pathogens, more than 70% origin from or transmit by wildlife (e.g. bat and bird) or insect vectors (e.g. tick and mosquito) and cause high mortality. Through systemic study of wildlife viruses we could not only uncover the animal origin and transmission of the known human viruses, but also build-up knowledge on animal viruses, especially uncharacterized viruses and be prepared in advance for outbreak of new EID. This field is under fast development, which has been further enhanced with the usage of advanced technology such as high-throughput sequencing in recent years, but still far more behind for EID control requirements.
This research area was built up during the outbreak of the SARS in 2002-2003 in China. Since then, a number of research groups were recruited or updated their interests to study on diverse pathogens of infectious diseases including SARS-CoV, influenza viruses, hemorrhagic fever viruses and antibiotic resistant-tuberculosis. With the construction of the national high level biosafety laboratory platforms it is also the bounden duty for the institute to study highly pathogenic agents, which currently occur in China and potentially imported aboard. This team now has full capability for the quickly response to EID outbreak regarding the pathogen detection, identification and pathogenesis studies.

(2) Objectives and scientific significance
This area focuses on pathogens causing EID, including: 1) Origin and genetic evolution of EID pathogens; 2) Identification of novel or unknown pathogens; 3) Risk assessment of novel pathogens in wildlife to human and domestic animals; 4) Molecular mechanism of interspecies transmission of zoonotic pathogens. The research on etiology and epidemiology of emerging infectious diseases will provide extensive knowledge of diverse pathogens carried by wildlife in China and useful technical support for the prevention and control of emerging infectious disease transmitted by wildlife."

The website also lists its international links and partnerships, which again I found of great interest:

 "International cooperation is an important component of science and technology activities and it has played a positive role in promoting WIV's science and technology advancement and enhancing the contribution of our research achievements to the local economic growth. International cooperation is instrumental for research program and management personnel to get timely informed about the material development trend in the world. It also provides support for the decision making process that defines major strategic goals of our research plans.

"As the National International Collaboration Center, WIV facilitate medium- and long-term international collaboration with the approach to strengthen science and technology ties with European countries, to extend its collaboration with developing countries, as well as to explore the model of collaboration with developed countries like U.S.A, and to enhance collaboration and dialog with relevant international organizations. After years of development, we have establishes a lot of international partnerships.

USA

University of Alabama

University of North Texas

EcoHealth Alliance

Harvard University

The National Institutes of Health, the United States

National Wildlife Federation

Canada

International Development Research Center 

 

Europe

Umé University

Novo Nordisk Research Centre

Université d’Aix-Marseille

University of Duisburg-Essen

Institut Pasteur, France

University of Southampton

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, Campus Univ, Spain

St George's University of London

Wagenigen Agriculture University

Lyon P4 Laboratory, France

AFSSAPS

AFNOR

INSERM Jean Merieux

 Asia

Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore

Biological Research Center, Defense Science and Technology Organization, Pakistan

National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Japan

Institution Novartis, Singapore

National Engineering and Scientific Commission, Islambad

Africa

Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology

Kenya National Museum

Australia

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization

International Organizations

European Union

Food and Agriculture Organization, UN

World Health Organization"The institute also runs several joint international research units which are worth closer examination. It lists its “Scientific Advisory Committee of Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases”as comprising:

"Director: Linfa WANG, Australian Animal Health Laboratory, CSIRO, Geelong, Australia.

Deputy Director: Raoul HERVE, Co-Directeur du Laboratoire P4 INSERM Jean Mérieux, Lyon, France.

Members:

Wu-Chun CAO, Beijing Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, State Key Laboratory of Pathogen and Biosecurity, Beijing, China. 

Kaw Bing CHUA, National Public Health Laboratory, Buloh-Selangor, Malaysia.  

Vencent DEUBEL, Institute of Pasteur, Shanghai, CAS, China 

Guo-dong LIANG, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing, China. 

John S MACKENZIE: Professor of Tropical Infectious Diseases, Australian Biosecurity CRC, Curtin University of Technology, Australia.

Pei-yong SHI, University of Texas, USA.

Stefan WAGENER, National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada, 1015 Arlington Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3E 3R2, Canada. 

Chang-chun TU, Institute of Military Veterinary, Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Changchun, China. 

Christian BRECHOT, Institut Mérieux, France. 

Xian'en ZHANG, Institute of Biophysics, CAS, China

Guo-ping ZHAO, Laboratory of Health and Disease Genomics, Chinese National Human Genome Center at Shanghai, China. 

Nan-shan ZHONG, Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases,  China."[11] 

The foregoing is extremely illuminating inasmuch two Australian based directors of the Committee are mentioned, being, Linfa Wang, of the Australian Animal Heath Laboratory, CSIRO, Geelong, Australia and John S Mackenzie, Professor of Tropical Infectious Diseases, Australian Biosecurity CRC, Curtin University of Technology, Australia.

A quick internet search revealed  that on 27 January 2020 Amanda Hodge published the following story in The Australian :

"The scientist who sequenced and named Australia’s bat-borne Hendra virus more than 25 years ago says the deadly new strain of coronavirus appears to be spreading much faster than earlier outbreaks of similar diseases.

Linfa Wang, an Australian world expert on bat-borne diseases who heads Duke University’s joint Emerging Infectious Diseases program with the ­National University of Singapore, says the new disease appears to be more infectious than SARS, the ­severe acute respiratory syndrome disease that killed 774 ­people in 2002 and 2003.

“For SARS, it took five months to identify and more than 8000 people were infected,” Professor Wang said.

By comparison, scientists in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease broke out, had genetically sequenced the new coronavirus within two to three weeks, yet the new strain has ­already infected more than 2700 people since last month.

While that was a “huge improvement in an outbreak in which every hour is a lifesaver, if everybody had taken these doctors seriously at the time we might not have the problem we have today”, said Professor Wang, whose work on bat-borne diseases has earned him the sobriquet Batman.

Given the speed of transmission, the new coronavirus would likely reach 8000 patients much more quickly than SARS.

The mortality rate for SARS was 10 per cent, for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) it was 35 per cent, and for Hendra — which had low transmission rates — the mortality rate was 70 per cent.

Another key question was whether the number of cases would peak in the coming week, given most confirmed cases would have been transmitted before it was known the disease could jump from human to human.

But the biggest issue now for public health officials worldwide is how the virus mutates.

While the new strain, which causes pneumonia-like illness in sufferers, has spread to at least 16 countries outside China, most cases confirmed were still imported from Wuhan where the disease is believed to have originated in a seafood and wildlife market.

The Chinese-born Australian scientist, who worked at Geelong’s Animal Health Laboratory and helped develop the Hendra vaccine for horses, was one of a team of eight expert scientists invited by the World Health Organisation to China after the SARS outbreak to determine the source of the virus.

The team concluded it began in bats, as did the Hendra and Nipah viruses before it. He believes the current coronavirus likely also originated in bats though scientists must still determine whether there was an intermediate animal host that passed it on to humans.

Professor Wang is in self-­imposed quarantine in Singapore, having left Wuhan just days before scientists confirmed the new virus could be transmitted between humans. But he says Chinese authorities have gone into over-drive, and that foreign governments’ ­efforts to evacuate their citizens is purely precautionary.

“If you exercise all cautions and in the worst-case scenario, still get infected, for most people it’s a common flu. You may get a fever of 38C and need rest for a few days.’’[12]

I note that no mention is given of Linfa Wang’s association with WIV.

In researching John S Mackenzie I was referred to the University of Queensland School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences where Professor John Mackenzie is listed as an Honorary Professor.[13]

I was also referred to the Cutin University website where he is listed as an Emeritus Professor:

"I am an Adjunct Professor having been a Professor of Tropical Infectious Diseases at Curtin University prior to my retirement.. Most of my recent work has been concerned with global aspects of infectious disease surveillance and response, particularly concerned with emerging zoonotic diseases, through working with the World Health Organization on various committees and consultancies." [14]

In his employment history he mentions that in 2003-04 he was Temporary Medical Officer at the Department of Communicable Disease Surveillance and Control, World Health Organization, Geneva and that in 2007-08 Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Australian Biosecurity CRC. These would surely be significant and high security grade positions. He gives his speciality as being emerging viral diseases. In light of the foregoing it is interesting to note that no mention is made of his connection with the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Tracking staffing at WIV is difficult because the Chinese keep such matters opaque. Some of this is understandable due to normal security measures. The PRC has however taken this opaqueness to an art form. When one considers how many doctors have simply disappeared during this crisis in China it is hardly surprising that public staffing lists can be largely meaningless. However, a list of directors is provided at [http://english.whiov.cas.cn/About_Us2016/Directors2016/]  wherein one will discern the young, attractive and photogenic  Dr Yany Wang is the Director General and that her cv and experience wouldn’t, in my view, stand the scrutiny for such a position. But please, you are at liberty to check this and all the foregoing at the site.

I should now like to turn my attentions to another but closely related matter – biological warfare. This I describe in my own terms being: the use of disease-causing micro-organisms as weapons.

Research in the area could well be taken under the guise of etiology and epidemiology of emerging infectious diseases; molecular virology; immunovirology; analytical pathogen microbiology and agricultural and environmental microbiology – in fact, each and every one of the WIV centres of research.

By its own admission WIV devotes much of its resources researching infectious diseases. As the WHO site denoted above, the step from SARS to the new pandemic is necessarily linked - the fine distinction between cause and effect might at times be difficult to draw – but the institute’s remit as above includes biological warfare.

To cite a somewhat tongue-in-cheek Zero Hedge report of 2 February ’20:

"We are sure this is all just a coincidence - Wuhan epicenter... Only P4 facility in China... A lab investigating bats infected with genetically engineered Coronavirus... Coronavirus infected Bats... Chimeric bio-engineered viruses.... and that is probably why The White House is now asking authorities to investigate the source of the disease."[15]

The Chinese were extremely prompt in their locking down of Wuhan – extraordinarily prompt. In my view the rapidity and effectiveness of their lockdown of that city, an impressive command and logistics exercise, tells of concentrated contingency planning in place in the event of a contagion.

Disregarding the probability that the research on bats and rodents and whatever else conducted at WIV is coincidental to the bats and rodents and whatever else available at the Wuhan markets; it is not beyond the realm of reason to contemplate a transference or a linkage to both – a lapse in security, the natural cupidity of a lab worker or some other unintentional slip.

Whether it was of deliberate intent or by accident I remain to be convinced otherwise that the source of the pandemic can be ultimately traced to WIV. To this end, I remain of the opinion that the world is now suffering from the effects of biological warfare.

This raises another serious set of questions about the modern world’s preparedness for this serious contingency. In a post on 14 April 2020 the Russian news service RT wrote: 

"These US intel reports ACCURATELY PREDICTED pandemic years ago. Why was NOTHING done?

A “highly transmissible” and “virulent respiratory illness” for which there is no cure may incite a global pandemic. That was the assessment of a 2008 US intelligence report. The prediction was accurate — but no one was prepared.

The 2008 report by the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) warned that this new disease could be “extremely contagious” and that there would be “no adequate treatment” available at the time of its spread, leading to worldwide pandemic. It suggested that highly pathogenic strains of bird flu like H5NI were “likely candidates,” but a “coronavirus or other influenza strains” could have the same potential."[16]

 In my view, given the past recent experiences of pandemics emanating out of China, Western societies should have been better prepared. That we were not stands as testament to our general societal torpidity, to our self-preoccupation and our general malaise.

Like an old record, let me now turn to Chinese geopolicy.

On Thursday 2 April this year a Chinese maritime surveillance vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese fishing boat off the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. China claimed the fishing boat had breached its territorial waters.

Vietnam and China contest the potentially energy-rich stretch of water, called the East Sea by Vietnam. Vietnam lodged an official protest with China.

“The Chinese vessel committed an act that violated Vietnam’s sovereignty over the Hoang Sa archipelago and threatened the lives and damaged the property and legitimate interests of Vietnamese fishermen,” the foreign ministry said in its statement, referring to the Paracel Islands by its Vietnamese name.[17]

All eight fishermen were picked up by the Chinese vessel alive and were transferred to two other Vietnamese fishing vessels operating nearby, the Vietnam Fisheries Society said in a statement posted to its website.

On 7 April the South China Morning Post reported on a strongly worded statement giving the US State Departments view of the incident. State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus said the US was “seriously concerned” by reports of the incident, at around midnight on Thursday, in which eight Vietnamese crew were plunged overboard as their vessel sank. All were later rescued by the Chinese ship and handed over to the Vietnam authorities.

“This incident is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to assert unlawful maritime claims and disadvantage its Southeast Asian neighbours in the South China Sea,” Ortagus said.

She called on Beijing to “remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic, and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea”.

The statement also pointed out that, since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, Beijing had announced new research stations on its military bases at Fiery Cross Reef and Subi Reef, and landed special military aircraft on Fiery Cross Reef. [18]

As discussed in my previous essay on this subject - China – An Appraisal [11 October 2019],[19] China is intent upon expanding not only its direct territorial sovereignty over the South China Sea but its influence and economic clout across the globe. In the wake of the catastrophe that is Wuhan, the Chinese leadership has been remarkably quick to capitalise on the world’s preoccupation with distress and distraction by playing pandemic politics and assuming the ‘good guy’ posture in saving the world. It is doing this by despatching international relief supplies. Thus, having let the cat out of the bag they are claiming credit for trying to put it back in.

The Chinese are most adept at turning a loss to their advantage. Any student of Chinese warfare knows this. In this case, not only are they trying to deflect criticism for their culpability, but in the manner of a conjurer who has directed the eyes of his audience to his left hand whilst his right hand produces a shiny shilling, they are taking full advantage of a distracted world to consolidate their position in the South China Sea. They ram and sink a vessel from another sovereign country in international waters and commence building another fortress on a coral outcrop islet.

I return to where I started – Chinese nationalism once again awakened is a force the world has to deal with. It can be a force for good or bad. In 1948 it was hijacked by a group of thugs acting in the name of Marx. In his name nationalism per se was brutally suppressed. Today it has again been hijacked, this time by the scions of the former thugs, acting this time for their own interests.  I for one will take much convincing that the COVID-19 pandemic is unrelated to these interests.

We face a double pronged threat. How we deal with it will determine our future.

*******


[3] https://dailycaller.com/2020/04/07/who-china-pawn-coronavirus-trump

[4] PM pressures WHO over wet market. The Australian. 14 April 2020

[5]

[12] https://www.theaustralian.com.au/science/coronavirus-spreading-faster-than-sars-says-australian-expert/news-story/209c05e0c7a53d6d1b85f3ae1d178a15

[13] https://scmb.uq.edu.au/profile/237/john-mackenzie

[16] https://www.rt.com/news/485718-experts-warned-pandemic-years/

[17] https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/04/vietnam-protests-beijings-sinking-of-south-china-sea-boat.html

[18] https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3078757/us-accuses-beijing-using-coronavirus-cover-south-china-sea

[19] http://www.mordechaibrown.net/139130359