As readers of my blog will know, Niall Ferguson’s allegation that the Chinese government allowed regular flights out of Wuhan to cities in the US and Europe after they were cut off to the rest of China has been debunked (see https://www.factcheck.org/2020/05/trumps-flawed-china-travel-conspiracy/ and https://www.thetimes.co.uk/past-six-days/2020-05-31/comment/corrections-and-clarifications-8tvc73g3c).
Unfortunately, the allegation was repeated by President Trump several times, including his May 30th remarks on actions against China (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-actions-china/ . Peter Navarro, Steve Bannon and Sean Hannity repeated the allegation to suggest that the Chinese government deliberately spread the virus to the rest of the world.
It’s worth asking how the initial allegation made in a UK newspaper in early April could become so politically influential in the United States. Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report explains that the allegation was developed into a full blown conspiracy theory by Lewis “Scooter” Libby, ” Cheney’s point man in pressuring the CIA to support the false claims that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction and was linked to the 9/11 attacks.” (please see below for the excerpt from the Nelson Report, which I post here with Chris Nelson’s permission).
I’m not so worried that the false conspiracy theory is being spread to justify a war with China; I’d speculate its main purpose is to help President Trump get reelected. That said, there’s good reason to worry about the long term political effect of such conspiracy theories. If many people come to believe crazy conspiracy theories of this sort, it may well contribute to a poisonous political atmosphere that makes war with China more likely. Hopefully the Western media will begin to pay attention to this worrisome development.
Excerpt from the Nelson Report (June 1st):
“In recent days, Trump and his close advisors have moved beyond their earlier attempts to pin Chinese responsibility on their suppression of information on the infection, or the lab origin theory, to a bolder charge that the Chinese government deliberately spread the disease out into the world.
In a tweet this past week, Trump accused China of “trying desperately to deflect the pain and carnage that their country spread throughout the world.” Trump advisor Navarro, a key figure in the anti-China policy, told ABC News this past week that “China sent hundreds of thousands of Chinese on aircraft to Milan, New York and around the world to seed” the virus.
This theory was first laid out in a little-noted commentary by Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former senior aide to Dick Cheney and now Senior Vice President at the Hudson Institute, a conservative thinktank that has become the most important influencer of the administration’s China policy.
In the essay, published on April 29 in the conservative National Review, Libby argued that Xi and the Communist Party leadership were under increasing threat from multiple challenges – the protests in Hong Kong, the re-election of the pro-independence Taiwanese government, exposure of the suppression of Chinese Muslims, and most of all, the stumbling of the Chinese economy due to the Trump administration’s tough trade policy. With Trump heading for re-election, party dissent against Xi was mounting, he wrote.
The Covid-19 outbreak in China posed a new challenge for Xi. “As long as the virus raged primarily inside China – derailing only her economy, stigmatizing only her government – his troubles would soar. All the while, the world predictably would have leapt ahead, taking Chinese customers, stealing China’s long-sought glory.”
But the pandemic had a potential upside, Libby argued. Its spread would divert attention from the Chinese regime’s internal woes and “rendered disease-weakened nations more susceptible to China’s goods,” he wrote. Trump’s re-election was no longer certain and a weakened economy would impact U.S. defense spending.
In Libby’s account, Xi went beyond simply taking advantage of an opportunity. The Chinese regime deliberately “let tens of thousands of travelers, infected among them, leave China and enter an unwary world.” All of this, he concludes, is part of the quest for world domination by Xi’s inner circle. “A fever for Chinese primacy burns among them.”
Libby is no stranger to the construction of these kinds of narratives. He was Cheney’s point man in pressuring the CIA to support the false claims that Iraq was building weapons of mass destruction and was linked to the 9/11 attacks. He was convicted in 2007 of perjury and obstruction of justice for his attempts to discredit a diplomat who disputed those claims. Surprisingly, Libby was pardoned in April 2018 by Trump, even though former President George W. Bush refused to do so, despite pleas from Cheney.
“Libby’s presentation has the feel and smell of yet another problem in the making,” said the senior intelligence official, comparing this to his role in the Iraq war buildup.
“This is Scooter’s ‘wag the dog’ fantasy,” agreed another former senior intelligence official with long experience in Asia. He dismissed Libby’s belief that the Chinese leadership would have an interest in spreading the pandemic around the world.
“Party legitimacy, Xi’s position, and China’s future depend on sustained growth, even if the rate of growth is much slower,” the former intelligence official told me. “Spreading CV19 could only further depress Chinese growth and accelerate realignment of supply chains in ways that disadvantage China. Chinese leaders understand that.”
There’s an elephant in this room.
French doctors believe they may have treated coronavirus patients last fall.
In what would mark a massive shift in the timeline of coronavirus spread, French researchers believe there is evidence coronavirus may have been in Europe as early as November 2019. X-rays obtained exclusively by NBC News show two patients with symptoms in their lungs consistent with the novel coronavirus dated Nov. 16 and Nov. 18, months before COVID-19 was believed to be spreading in the country. Researchers from Colmar, France, announced the X-rays last week and are working to confirm whether the patients had coronavirus. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924857920301643
The study comes in conjunction with a study by other French scientists who discovered last week that a coronavirus patient had been treated in the country in December. The doctors from the Groupe Hospitalier Paris Seine in Saint-Denis said a sample taken from a 42-year-old fishmonger admitted to the emergency room on Dec. 27 had tested positive for the coronavirus. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/new-evidence-race-find-france-s-covid-19-patient-zero-n1207871
Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, said coronavirus may have been circulating in the country since November https://www.ft.com/content/aba67162-9129-41b9-b82b-d61a890e6589
Dr. Junya Fukushima (Gastroenterologist, University of Tsukuba). From fb, “In August 2019, the new coronavirus COVID-19 had invaded and spread in Japan.” In Japan, this year’s infection is the second wave. A large-scale antibody test is desirable in the future. #covid19. https://mobile.twitter.com/isaiah_sweetie/status/1257885191864897536
Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, said the virus might have been spreading quietly in humans for years, or even decades, without causing a detectable outbreak. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/science/article/3077442/coronavirus-pathogen-could-have-been-spreading-humans-decades.
CNN host Chris Cuomo said he believes there will be revelations showing the novel coronavirus was spreading in the United States as early as October. “The kids now anecdotally, Cristina believes, that at least two of them have had it in the last few months. Why? We don’t know, but atypically long-duration sinus, fever, lethargy. I think we’re going to learn that coronavirus has been in this country since, like, October, that there have been cases,” Cuomo said. “And as you guys both know, and I hear all the time from all over the country, how many people do you hear saying, ‘I think I had it, I had this and this, I lost my sense of smell and this and that, but I never got tested’? Those cases are, like, abounding all over the country,” he added. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/chris-cuomo-predicts-evidence-will-show-coronavirus-was-spreading-in-us-since-october.
Belleville, NJ, Mayor Michael Melham said he has tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, adding that he believes he was sick with the virus in November — more than a month before doctors in China first reported cases of the new disease. Melham said he was sick toward the end of November and suffered from chills, hallucinations and a “skyrocketing temperature” after he left the League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City.Melham said it was the sickest he had ever been in his adult life. He did not take a flu test and said he did not travel overseas. Melham said he later suspected he had contracted the coronavirus in November but dismissed the notion because the earliest cases in the United States weren’t reported until January. His November illness is what prompted Melham to ask his doctor for the blood test. He got the results Wednesday.The mayor said it is entirely possible he was exposed to the coronavirus later and was asymptomatic, but felt it was “highly, highly unlikely.The antibody in my blood is older as opposed to the more recent one showing you just finished fighting it off,” Melham said.Melham believes he could potentially be an early, undetected case of the coronavirus.
Coronavirus was in Florida before we knew it: A Miami Herald analysis shows state health officials have documented at least 170 COVID-19 patients reporting symptoms between Dec. 31, 2019, and Feb. 29. https://www.tampabay.com/news/health/2020/05/05/coranavirus-was-in-florida-before-we-knew-it/