US returns to lab-leak smearing

Washington revives discredited theory to divert eyes from Nord Stream, China’s Ukraine proposal 

Suddenly, the US Department of Energy on Feb 27 “declared” that it believes the COVID-19 pandemic originated from a laboratory leak, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the department made the assessment with “low confidence”. 

The US media, which cited new “classified intelligence”, are not revealing anything about the US Army’s Fort Detrick base in Maryland, which was forced to suspend operation in 2019 while nearby residents reported deaths related to lung problems. Instead, they are reviving the year-old conspiracy theory of a “mishap in a Chinese laboratory”. 

The “conclusion” by the energy department, which is strange as the agency has nothing to do with epidemic control or healthcare, came seemingly of nowhere even after the world has effectively moved on from the pandemic. How the US department, with no relevant expertise, reached this conclusion or established evidence of such virus origin has not been laid out. Meanwhile, the FBI has also been fanning the false theory via social media.

However, one thing is clear: The United States is once again using COVID-19 as a political weapon to smear China and manipulate international news coverage against the country. 

The news of the “conclusion” came just days after China submitted a peace proposal in a bid to end the Ukraine-Russia conflict, a position which was soon rejected by Washington which has the biggest stake in continued escalation. Besides, an investigative report on the Nord Stream blasts which suggested that US President Joe Biden may have ordered the destruction of the gas pipelines in Europe last year also pressured the White House.

As masters in manipulating the international agenda, the US politicians and intelligence departments are weaponizing negative news with the fundamental goal of attacking China and shifting global attention. 

The Western mainstream media are beholden to the foreign policies of Washington. There are several reasons for that. These include infiltration of the senior positions of the biggest news organizations by Western intelligence officials, political and professional networks which tend to link these figures with the editors and journalists of major news organizations, the ability of US government departments to choose which issues to cover and devote resources to, and as an extension of that, the role of the US and military industrial complex think-tanks and their appointed “experts” to drive and shape the news agenda on the items of administration’s choosing.

Such news manipulation has often been described by scholar Noam Chomsky as “manufacturing consent”, the methodology of the US government to turn mass media into a machine to package and sell its policies through the above-mentioned strategies, creating public support and momentum for its specific goals, which usually involve creating fear or anger about perceived enemies or rivals of Washington. 

Essentially, the US government chooses what issues the public should “care” and be “angry” about, and which ones it should ignore. 

Hence, according to the mainstream media now, little attention should be brought to the Chinese proposal for Ukraine peace, the train derailment in Ohio which has caused a mass chemical leak, or to likely US bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines with Norway’s assistance. Instead, people should be once again speculating as to whether COVID-19 originated from a Chinese laboratory. 

None of this, however, is new; for the past three years the US has aggressively weaponized COVID as a public opinion crusade against China in order to forcibly reset Washington’s allies’ foreign policies against China, and to legitimate greater geopolitical confrontation. 

In doing so, from day one, every single aspect of China’s response to the pandemic has been grossly attacked and subjected to absurd exaggerations and relentless negativity; from allegations of so-called cover-ups, to framing the former lockdown and dynamic zero-COVID policy as inhumane, claiming China’s decision to change course was disastrous and, most notoriously, spreading conspiracy theories pertaining to the origin of the pandemic itself. 

Often these attacks have been laden with immense levels of hypocrisy and double standards in regard to the COVID responses of Western countries.

However, the question is, why have COVID related attacks re-emerged now? At a time when, relatively speaking, the world is moving out of the pandemic? 

The answer is: the US sees an opportunity to re-introduce the bad faith attacks as a means of manipulating the news agenda against China, in particularly to disrupt and undermine its bid to facilitate peace in Ukraine. This is also coinciding with completely false stories pushed by US officials that China is about to “supply” Russia with munitions. 

The US has a vested interest in the Ukraine conflict’s continuation because its policy is to pursue escalation and secure complete victory over Russia with a view to securing strategic gains in Europe. As such, Washington has no interest in a compromise or negotiated peace, and has worked not only to dismiss China’s pragmatic peace proposal at hand, but sought to spread negative publicity about it to paint Beijing’s efforts as being in bad faith. This also involves returning to the COVID-19 lab leak conspiracy theory. 

To summarize, the US politicians and intelligence officials are master manipulators, and have a powerful hold over the English-language news agenda of the world. 

The first step to challenging it is to acknowledge it exists, and to question the source, motivation and timing of such reports.

The author is a British political and international relations analyst. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.