(CNN) US explores possibility that coronavirus started in Chinese lab, not a market. With some confidence that WaPo articles are not written by right-wing conspiracy theorists, (WaPo) State Department cables warned of safety issues at Wuhan lab studying bat coronaviruses is useful, though the lure of a good story cannot be ignored. I find myself conflicted.
Positive thoughts. I tend to sympathize with China hawks, for reasons that I think of as rational. About 17 years ago, a study concluded that Americans would not pay an extra dime for a light bulb made in the U.S.A. In the indolent 90’s, up till 2010, the dollar store was China’s friendly ambassador. How can sentiment be mobilized for “buy American?”
With the guts ripped out of the manufacturing economy, many of us, myself included, wish for a Back to the Future solution. I would prefer that it be powered not by national prejudice, but by national preference. It’s wrong to hate a country for doing well. It’s right to love our country more.
Now switch to the negative. The research of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is not as unique or essential as the Post supposes. As far back as 2012, articles like (PubMed) Mechanisms of host receptor adaptation by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus elucidated the mechanisms. For academicians, a popular gambit is to restudy a problem in hair-splitting detail until funding can no longer be obtained. The research referenced as valuable in the Post article is incremental to prior published efforts.
The unstated importance of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is the development of human resources, competence which could be directed towards bio-weapons development. Almost all “black” programs have unclassified precursors. Who thought it was smart to help China set up a BSL-4 facility? We’ve already seen what unweaponized COVID can do to an aircraft carrier.
Now, the ambiguous. If you’ve absorbed the above, it must be frustrating that the “escaped from a lab” idea is utterly unproveable. Even the likelihood is impossible to determine. It’s no help that COVID-19 is transmissible by asymptomatic carriers. At best, after some very complex analysis, someone may come up with a dubious number, like “30% chance it escaped from a lab”. I distrust such numbers, particularly when an issue becomes political, because the mutation of RNA is a frequent, random process that obscures its tracks with every jump to the next host.These are not betting odds.
Again, the positive. Consider that we don’t know how many cases we have, or what mutations exist. The problem has completely run away from us in our own country. It is entirely possible that COVID-19 came from a Wuhan lab, and China can’t determine this, or any other theory of origin.
The politicization of a question that cannot have a definite answer is the use of animus to influence trade policy. Bad vibes can be reciprocated. Trade, human rights, and geopolitics have their own legitimacies. They don’t need help from plague-inspired hate.
We got caught with our pants down. The blame should start here, and it should stop here.