Coronavirus as a tool of biological warfare among US and China


Mohsin Sheikh

Both United States and China have accused each other in terms of developing, producing and stockpiling of biological weapons. The outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has infected thousands of people across one hundred and thirty countries taking more than five thousand important lives. The fear of the virus has spread more rapidly than the virus itself. At national as well as international level most of the states are towards a proper shut down. The schools, universities, offices, roads, malls, sacred places etc. are deserted and abandoned.

Although, both China and United States are signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) 1975, however, both have set examples in the past of developing, producing and stockpiling engineered viruses, pathogens, bacteria etc. Rumors thrive of fear and uncertainty and apparently, provide ample for both China and United States. The biological weapon appears to be either Chinese one that had escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan or an American one inflicted on Wuhan.

In addition, from the beginning of the outbreak, the public was informed that the disease originated with human exposure to a virus carried by wild animals. But the suddenness and mystery of the bug’s appearance left fertile ground for speculation, and soon enough, online sources began to advance the claim that the virus was genetically engineered. An unpublished paper authored by Indian scientists seemed to bolster this notion by suggesting that the virus’s protein sequence included elements of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Although the authors soon voluntarily withdrew the paper, the proposed linkage caught the attention of websites such as Zero Hedge, which claimed that the novel coronavirus was weaponized by Chinese scientists. Speaking on Fox News, Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas, suggested that it could not be ruled out that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan that is used to handle the most dangerous pathogens.

On the contrary, Zero Hedge has been barred from Twitter, but Chinese social media abounds with conjecture that the virus was engineered by the United States as an agent of biological warfare against China. One widely shared conspiracy theory suggests that American soldiers participating in the 2019 Military World Games in Wuhan deliberately shed the virus at the Hunan Seafood Market. Contending that “a new type of biological warfare is coming,” a retired People’s Liberation Army general called for building a permanent biodefense force in China.

Similarly, there has been a constant distrust and misperception among both China and United States whilst looking each other with suspicion. Without an iota of doubt, both countries have worked on biological pathogens, bacteria, viruses etc., before ratifying the BWC. According to a former official from the U.S. Department of Defense, by the 1990s China had manufactured and weaponized a wide variety of infectious microorganisms and toxins and had a wide range of delivery means available, including ballistic and cruise missiles.

Many people in China also perceive the United States as a potential biological warfare threat. After the 2002–3 SARS outbreak, some Chinese military experts invoked a scenario of enemies spraying unknown SARS-like viruses on Beijing during airstrikes. Noting that the United States had developed antibiotic-resistant anthrax strains, a leading Chinese military medical expert implied that Washington had weaponized SARS and avian flu virus.

Furthermore, many in China also perceive the United States as a potential biological warfare threat. The historian Alfred Crosby noted that the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was suspected to have been started by German agents. In 2004, the Indian government accused “promiscuous Pakistanis” of conducting Islamic “jihad terrorism” by deliberately spreading HIV in Kashmir. When H5N1 (“bird flu”) became a major concern worldwide in 2008, Indonesia’s then-health minister, Siti Supari, accused the United States of using virus samples to develop biological weapons and suspended the operation of a U.S. Navy medical research unit in Jakarta.

To recapitulate, I’ll urge the UNITED NATIONS Security Council to investigate the outbreak of this novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Apparently, there has been a breach of Biological Weapons Conventions (BWC) 1975. Who did it remain an unanswered question for UN Security Council? The matter must be dealt with iron hands and responsible shall be punished deterrently. In the fight of these superpowers, developing countries like us may loom catastrophic consequences as ‘collateral damage’.

The author is a lawyer, human rights activist and adjunct faculty member of University of the Punjab.