NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Senior House Republicans this week held a meeting on identifying the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, criticizing congressional Democrats for failing to pursue the matter.
Several Republican leaders, along with many virus experts, say the latest information and intelligence indicate the virus behind the pandemic most likely began with a research mishap at a Chinese laboratory.
“There is mounting scientific evidence that COVID-19 originated from the [Wuhan Institute of Virology] in Wuhan, China and gain-of-function research was used to make the virus more infectious,” Republican members of a House select subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis said in a statement.
A review of the subcommittee’s hearings and press statements reveals that none was devoted to the topic of identifying the origin point of the pandemic. Instead, most hearings and releases sought to criticize the Trump administration for its handling of the crisis, and many related to financial fraud in pandemic relief funds or reports of racial and ethnic disparities in the distribution of coronavirus vaccines.
Experts say determining where, why and how the pandemic began is crucial to preventing further disease outbreaks. But Democrats on the select subcommittee, chaired by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, so far have not conducted hearings or investigations into the questions surrounding the virus’ origin.
A spokesman for Mr. Clyburn did not return an email seeking comment.
“The left-wing media called it a ‘fringe conspiracy theory,’ Big Tech censored it, activists in white lab coats dismissed it, and Democrats ignored it, but there is growing evidence Communist China started the pandemic, covered it up, and is responsible for the deaths of more than 600,000 Americans and millions more worldwide,” said Republican Reps. Steve Scalise and James Comer, who hosted the meeting. Mr. Scalise, of Louisiana, is the Republican whip and ranking member of the subcommittee. Mr. Comer, who is from Kentucky, is the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Lauren Fine, a spokeswoman for Mr. Scalise, said the hearing was called in response to Democrats’ reluctance to pursue the matter. “That’s why we had our own hearing — because they have refused to [hold one] the entire time,” she said.
The session Tuesday included testimony from experts and lawmakers investigating the origin of the virus.
“The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took malicious actions to conceal the origins of COVID-19 and the World Health Organization (WHO) is complicit in its cover-up,” the panel’s statement said.
Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Chinese authorities have detained doctors to prevent them from speaking and silenced journalists who tried to alert the world to the disease by having them “disappeared.”
Beijing authorities also ordered the destruction of laboratory samples of the virus that were needed to help combat the pandemic. Chinese health authorities initially promised to provide virus samples to a laboratory in Texas but ultimately reneged on the promise and refused to send the samples for study.
China also refused to permit a serious investigation into the origin of the pandemic, which began in Wuhan in December 2019 and spread globally within several weeks.
Among those who testified at the session was Steven Quay, a virus expert who provided key facts that back the idea that the virus was the result of gain-of-function research and ultimately a laboratory accident allowed the new virus to escape into the local population in Wuhan.
Dr. Quay also provided key information that challenged the widely promoted theory among many scientists that the virus originated at a wild animal market.
Brett Giroir, a former assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, told lawmakers that the most likely starting point for the pandemic was an accidental infection of WIV lab workers that spread to the local population in Wuhan and then globally.
Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican, urged the federal government to assist investigations into the virus’ origin by releasing intelligence and issuing subpoenas to virus experts at the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based organization that worked closely with the WIV. He said Congress should also investigate whether taxpayer funds were spent on virus research at the WIV. China‘s work on potential biological weapons also should be investigated, he said.
U.S., INDONESIA HOST JOINT TRAINING CENTER
The Pentagon’s latest step to prevent a Chinese military takeover of the South China Sea advanced recently with the groundbreaking for a joint U.S.-Indonesian maritime training center in Batam, Indonesia.
Ostensibly a counternarcotics and transnational crime-fighting center, the joint center will have important regional implications for the Pentagon in countering China‘s attempt to turn the South China Sea into a Beijing lake.
“We are pleased with the coordination, and we look forward to the center’s completion,” said Pentagon spokesman John Supple.
Construction for the center began Friday on an island at the mouth of the strategic Malacca Strait across from Singapore, where U.S. warships frequently dock at the Changi Naval Base.
The strait is a 580-mile-wide waterway between Malaysia’s Malay Peninsula and Indonesia’s island of Sumatra. As the main shipping channel between the Indian and Pacific oceans, the narrow strait is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.
The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta said the $3.5 million project is being carried out by the Indonesia Maritime Security Agency, known as Bakamia, and a component of the Indo-Pacific Command, along with U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command, the U.S. Coast Guard and the embassy’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) office.
“This training center will be an important foundation for Bakamla to improve our personnel capabilities in responding to the challenges of ensuring security and safety at sea,” Indonesian Rear Adm. Tatit Eko Witjaksono said during the groundbreaking ceremony.
Adm. Tatit said the center will include a vessel launch ramp, classrooms, office space, barracks and a dining galley, and will train up to 50 students at a time with 12 instructors. The training will focus on trade route security issues.
American Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Y. Kim said that, “as friends and partners of Indonesia, the United States remains committed to supporting Indonesia’s leading role in advancing regional peace and security by countering domestic and transnational crime.”
Indonesia’s government had been reluctant to partner with the United States on regional security because of its past policy of seeking to remain independent of major global powers. However, State Department officials said Jakarta has joined other regional states in privately voicing growing fears of Chinese military hegemony.
China has reclaimed more than 3,200 acres of disputed islands in the South China Sea and in 2018 began deploying anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles on the islands.
The Indonesian government has been concerned about frequent Chinese maritime incursions into Jakarta’s exclusive economic zones. Beijing, however, gained support from Indonesia in May by helping recover the wreckage of the Indonesian submarine Nanggala, which sank in a mishap.
In October, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Jakarta and sought to strengthen ties with Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority state.
Mr. Pompeo noted that the government there balked at a proposal to service and refuel U.S. maritime patrol aircraft but noted that the government expressed “a real appetite for increased engagement from the United States.”
“Indonesia has no illusions about the threat posed by China,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Indonesia has taken a very resolute view to protect their own sovereignty when they were under a threat from China,” he said, a marked shift from policies of just three years ago.
UYGHUR CAMP SURVIVORS TO JOIN PROTEST
Uyghur survivors of the Chinese Communist Party detention camps in western China will take part in a protest march from the White House to the State Department next week.
Three survivors of the camps that are part of a Chinese government campaign that the State Department has labeled genocide and crimes against humanity will join the march on Monday, the East Turkistan National Awakening Movement, which is sponsoring the protest, said in a statement.
The three women are Tursunay Ziawudunand, Mihrigul Tursun and Zumret Dawut.
Ms. Ziawudunand, who spent nine months inside a Xinjiang internment camp, told the BBC in February that the Chinese authorities’ goal is “to destroy everyone” who is Uyghur. Her harrowing account helped ignite international recognition of the Xinjiang genocide, which the Chinese government has denied.
Beijing insists its activities toward Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in western China are benign “reeducation” efforts. However, Ms. Ziawudunand charged that the Chinese are engaged in an organized system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture.
Ms. Tursun recounted how many Uyghurs were killed, including her young son, by the Chinese government in its campaign.
Ms. Dawut told The Washington Post how she, her husband, Imran Muhammad, and their three children managed to survive internment in a camp. She also said she was forcibly sterilized by Chinese authorities. The detention included cramped cells and a daily routine that included forced recitation of Chinese propaganda and praise for Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The U.S. government estimates that more than 1 million Uyghurs and other repressed minorities have been placed in a vast network of labor camps.
The march is being held to mark what the movement calls the brutal July 5, 2009, massacre in Urumqi, the capital of what Uyghurs call Chinese-occupied East Turkistan, and to protest Beijing‘s hosting of next year’s Winter Olympics. Chinese military forces cracked down on protests in the city, shooting many and arresting thousands.
“Despite an ongoing genocide, blatant human rights abuses and vicious crimes against humanity, Beijing is set to host the 2022 Winter Olympics,” the group stated.
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter @BillGertz.