China‘s government is continuing to stonewall the international community by hiding details and information related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by a group of former Trump administration officials.
In response, the ex-officials are urging that sanctions be imposed on China and say Congress should pass legislation to punish Beijing for mishandling the COVID-19 outbreak that has caused more than 3 million deaths and ravaged the global economy.
“Whether one believes COVID-19 originated in a zoonotic host, a bat cave, a frozen food shipment, or a Wuhan lab’s dangerous ‘dual-use’ research supporting undeclared bioweapons programs, the world needs answers from the Chinese Communist Party,” the former officials said in a report published this week by the Hudson Institute, a think tank.
The report, “A Just Response to Beijing‘s COVID-19 Abuses,” urges the Biden administration to halt all funding for dangerous research, such as “gain-of-function” work to make viruses more infectious to humans.
The former officials also recommend that the administration address Beijing‘s violations of international treaties, including International Health Regulations that require consultation and sharing of data with treaty members.
“Beijing‘s military programs need to be verified as complying with the ‘peaceful purposes’ clause of the Biological Weapons Convention,” the report states.
Additionally, the report called on the secretaries of State and Treasury to impose sanctions on the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which many see as a potential origin point for the pandemic.
The report calls for increasing efforts to prepare for future pandemics and ending all funding to the EcoHealth Alliance, the NGO which received more than $100 million in federal funds but which critics say failed in its mission of predicting the pandemic.
“The administration should adopt a better strategy, such as establishing a public-private partnership to develop and deploy a global network of bio-threat detection sensors,” the report said.
“China would be expected to be a founding plank holder for this international bio-sensing network, as this initiative’s purpose is to share data akin to weather prediction and seismology joint detection, prediction, and coordination,” the report said. “At least we would get the benefit of much earlier warnings of natural or man-made disease outbreaks from this epidemiological ‘Open Skies’ initiative.”
The report was produced by former State Department officials Miles Yu, David Feith and Thomas DiNanno, along with David Asher, a weapons expert who took part in a department-led inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus pandemic in the final months of the Trump administration. Matthew Zweig, a State official who worked on Syria issues and now a senior fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also co-authored the study.
Mr. Yu was the department’s policy planning official for China affairs under Mr. Trump and Mr. DiNanno headed the arms control compliance bureau that was the most active in seeking to identify the origin of the pandemic. Mr. Feith worked as a China specialist in the department’s East Asian and Pacific Affairs bureau. The Biden administration ended the inquiry after taking office in January.
The former officials also recommended that Congress should establish an independent commission of experts to study the virus’s origins.
“As a counterweight to the [World Health Organization], this commission could provide an objective analysis of COVID-19’s origins, including both possible natural zoonotic and lab-associated origins,” the report said. “To highlight future U.S. vulnerabilities, it could also include an all-source analysis of China‘s gain-of-function research activities and programs related to viruses, including classified R&D and military strategy and policy toward synthetic biology and viral [biological weapons] capabilities.”
The State Department’s latest annual arms compliance report states that China has engaged in activities that raise concerns regarding possible violations of a global ban on offensive biological weapons.
Other congressional action recommended in the report includes stronger curbs on “dual-use abuse” — the use of civilian research as a cover for military weapons development.
China is engaged in what U.S. officials have said is a major technology acquisition program called civil-military “fusion,” designed to assist the People’s Liberation Army large-scale buildup of nuclear and conventional arms, as well as the Chinese economy.
Congress should examine U.S. criminal code, including the War Crimes Act, in seeking ways to bolster prohibitions against “gray zone biowarfare,” the report added.
Legislation also should include stronger sanctions, such as amending the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act to sanctions people, companies and governments that “have engaged in gross or significant negligence with respect to the maintenance of their biological facilities and/or the deliberate withholding of information in response to a significant event,” the report said.
The first institutes to be sanctioned should be the Chinese military-linked Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the report’s authors say.
The Biden administration is also being urged to support civil lawsuits against China if Beijing fails to provide adequate cooperation related to the pandemic, including direct access to physical evidence, in a specified time frame.
“Congress could empower civil litigants to seek compensatory damages against PRC individuals, agencies or instrumentalities whose conduct in connection with the development and spread of COVID-19 was grossly negligent or intentional,” the report said.
To conduct such action, Congress would have to expand statutory exceptions to allow federal courts to enforce any judgments against Chinese nationals or agencies that are found to be directly or indirectly responsible for the pandemic.
“There is an opportunity for a bipartisan, bicameral initiative to establish a 21st-century framework for defending the United States and international partners against the prospect of another devastating pandemic,” the report concludes. “We cannot afford further impunity by Beijing and passivity from Washington as we enter what may be a century of synthetic biological adventurism and potential biowarfare.”