U.S. Research Scientists Are Blind to China’s Threat
Paul M. Dabbar, Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2023
U.S. public-health agencies jumped to an unwarranted conclusion in 2020 that Chinese scientists had done nothing deliberate or accidental to cause the Covid pandemic. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases continued to defend engagement with China on pathogen research even as other parts of the U.S. government identified serious biosecurity risks from collaboration with Chinese labs.
Around 2017, the Energy Department’s national laboratories started having significant concerns about biosecurity with regard to China. A Chinese general who was head of the National Defense University in Beijing publicly declared an interest in using gene sequencing and editing to develop pathogenic bioweapons that would target specific ethnic groups, which may be the most evil idea I have ever encountered. Taking note, the Commerce Department ordered export restrictions of potentially dangerous biotechnology to China. But the NIH and NIAID refused to believe that there was any risk involved in collaborating with Chinese labs. Their indiscriminate commitment to open science blinds them to threats, even when a country like China is open about its intentions.
So while the public-health agencies increased funding and cooperation with China after 2017, the Energy Department asked Congress to restart a biosecurity effort at the national laboratories. The funding started flowing in December 2019, right before Covid began spreading across the U.S. As a result, the Energy Department, with its leadership in the human genome project and gene editing, was quickly able to help evaluate the novel coronavirus with computational biology and imaging. This work informed the rapid development of the Covid vaccines.
While it isn’t clear whether the Wuhan Institute of Virology was working directly with China’s military biology programs, both were definitely using the same U.S. gene-editing technology. And all the agencies were frequently briefed in 2020 that China was lying to the public about Covid. This should have spurred NIH scientists to ask whether China was telling the truth about its research.