For nearly the past twenty years, Americans have kept vigilant against a horrific attack like the one that happened on September 11th, 2001. But is it possible we’ve actually experienced a much more devastating assault and not yet acknowledged it?
In the intelligence world, an “assessment” is a term of art used to describe a conclusion based on existing information. As a former chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, it’s my assessment that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) intentionally facilitated the spread of the COVID-19 virus globally to achieve its geopolitical ambitions. The COVID-19 virus didn’t simply “escape” China. The Party weaponized it.
This is a bold claim, so let’s first review what we know for certain. At a minimum, the CCP is culpable in making a bad situation worse. We know the SARS-CoV-2 virus – the virus that produces COVID-19 – originated in China. But instead of alerting the world and working with the international community to mitigate the outbreak, the CCP engaged in a systematic disinformation and cover-up campaign unprecedented in recent memory. It deliberately destroyed early virus samples and disappeared doctors and journalists who warned against the spread. The CCP avoided the transparency that could have saved lives.
Such malign activities are not difficult to document. Once it was clear that China had a globally significant problem on its hands, further CCP obstructionism led to levels of death, and economic damage that would have been much less drastic had the Party shared what it knew at the outset. The CCP shut down flights within China while allowing outbound international flights to continue, thus facilitating the virus’s global spread. It refused the World Health Organization access to early patients. It went on a diplomatic campaign to keep Taiwan so successful at minimizing infections in early 2020, from attending the World Health Assembly meeting that year.
Perhaps most egregious was the CCP’s successful manipulation of the subsequent WHO inquiry, which adopted a “natural origin” thesis of the virus’ genesis before its investigators ever set foot in China. WHO investigators were barred from probing the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Their work did not explore the theory, likely true in my view, that the virus initially somehow escaped from the WIV – a facility which is known to have collaborated with the Chinese military on various biological weapons projects, and also performed “gain of function” research on coronaviruses (sadly, on the American taxpayer’s dime).
Today we have little hope of truly knowing what transpired at the lab, especially since Beijing has prevented journalists and global health authorities from interviewing researchers at the WIV, including some known to be sick in the fall of 2019. Furthermore, despite the “lab leak” theory gaining credence in the scientific community, Beijing refuses to cooperate with further WHO investigation into the matter.
We also know the CCP, to deflect responsibility for its actions, is continuing to deceive the world with disinformation campaigns about COVID-19’s emergence. The Party has touted wild theories, even suggesting that the virus emerged in frozen food shipments or that the U.S. military brought the virus to Wuhan during the World Military Games in September 2019. This past July, the CCP’s disinformation machine circulated an obviously fabricated document which it passed off as an authentic speech from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to West Point cadets. China’s propaganda squad tried to be particularly clever in this case. It juxtaposed a non-existent “internal speech” – in which Pompeo asserts COVID-19 first leaked from a U.S. Army laboratory – alongside the text of an authentic video message he actually did record for the cadets.
Why has China done all this? Some say that, given the regime’s obsession with maintaining power, the CCP was intent on saving face at home. That’s a good explanation, but not the best. It fails to consider what we know about the CCP’s ambitions for global power. Even before the outbreak, the CCP had already sought to eject its greatest adversary, the United States, from the position of preeminent global leadership. General Secretary Xi Jinping has said our time is one which sees “China moving closer to the world’s center stage” – i.e., becoming the world’s hegemonic power.
The CCP likely feared that if the world saw it as responsible for mismanaging the pandemic, it would brand the Party as untruthful, and the idea of Chinese leadership and influence abhorrent. But, perhaps realizing it had no ability to restrain a rapidly spreading virus, the Party instead facilitated collateral damages abroad in the form of its stonewalling, non-cooperation, and smear campaigns. Weakening other countries would give China – first in line to recover from the pandemic – an opportunity to achieve a full economic and national health recovery while other nations were still catching up. In short, to repeat an old saying, it didn’t let a crisis go to waste.
The CCP has to be pleased with the outcome of its decision to exploit the pandemic for China’s global standing, based on the level of damage inflicted. The COVID-19 pandemic has already killed more than 600,000 Americans and millions more around the world. Failing grades, technology addictions, and suicide rates among American children have skyrocketed. Decisions on lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates have driven political polarization. The American economy has only last month likely exceeded the size it was before the pandemic occurred, and the global recession caused by the virus is the deepest since the end of World War II.
It’s clear that the CCP’s weaponizing of COVID-19 has had catastrophic effects on America and the world. Now our leaders must hold the CCP accountable for a great act of evil that has claimed many more American lives than even Osama bin Laden and his thugs did two decades ago.
• Pete Hoekstra was most recently the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands from 2017 to 2021. He formerly served as the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee from 2004 to 2007.