On June 17th, The Daily Beast reported rumors of a top Chinese official defecting to the U.S. The Chinese official, Dong Jingwei, is said to have flown from Hong Kong to the U.S. with his daughter in February. According to The Daily Beast story, “Jingwei supposedly gave the U.S. information about the Wuhan Institute of Virology that changed the stance of the Biden administration concerning the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
If true, Dong would be the highest-level defector in the history of the Chinese Community Party (CCP). The report also claims that the CCP raised the issue in a meeting with the US and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in March, demanding that Dong be returned. Blinken has reportedly refused to return the defector.
If Jingwei provides compelling new evidence on the virus’s origins, or how the Chinese government handled the virus, his testimony could verify months of speculation that the virus emerged from a lab.
Throughout the pandemic, the theory that the virus originated from the Wuhan lab was largely off-limits from the public conversation. President Donald J. Trump had floated the idea of a lab leak amid the pandemic in April 2020; however, his toxic politics and conspiratorial thinking undermined the credibility of such a claim.
In February of 2021, The World Health Organization (WHO) sent an investigative team to Wuhan to uncover the origins of the virus and concluded that the virus likely emerged from animal food markets, not labs. However, reporting at the time found that the Chinese government barred WHO investigators from receiving key data, undermining the credibility of their findings.
Some members of the scientific and journalism community have revisited the lab leak theory. Nicholas Wade, a former science writer for New York Times, penned an article for The Bulletin outlining the possibility of such a leak. Wade’s story was closely following by an essay from Donald G. McNeil Jr., another former Times science writer, titled “How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Lab-Leak Theory,” and outlined how Times staffers argued over their reporting of the lab leak theory.
On June 3rd, Katherine Eban of Vanity Fair wrote a bombshell story delving into the fight to uncover the origins of COVID-19 which, among other things, gave more credence to the idea that the coronavirus emerged from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It wasn’t until Eban’s story that the Wuhan leak theory was taken seriously and changed the narrative in the American media on the origins of COVID-19.
“So this is one of the central mysteries of this SARS-CoV-2 outbreak that needs to be unpacked, which is, you know, how, in the dead of winter in central China in a city that doesn’t have bats, at a time when bats would likely be hibernating, would you have an outbreak like this?” Eban told NPR.
In reporting Eban’s story, most of the major media said that her story was “inconclusive” or that there has been “no scientific consensus yet on virus origins.”
However, Eban’s story does question a letter that went out last year from 27 scientists supporting the theory that COVID emerged from bats from a wet market in Wuhan. Published on February 19, 2020, in The Lancet, they “overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,” and go on to say: “We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin.”
It is worth noting that Eban does not fully commit to the lab-leak theory; however, she told Morning Joe, “the Wuhan Institute of Virology has smoke coming out of every single window.”
Since the Eban story, more reporting has emerged that place the Wuhan lab further into scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal reported in May that “three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report that could add weight to growing calls for a fuller probe of whether the COVID-19 virus may have escaped from the laboratory.”
If anything, recent reporting has shown that the conversation surrounding the origins of COVID-19 is far from over. It has been well over a year since COVID-19 shut down the United States and the rest of the world. With every passing month, the origin story is honing in with greater clarity.
If the defection of Dong Jingwei is as substantial as it appears, there may be some hard truths forthcoming about COVID-19 and the extent that the Chinese government covered up their involvement in the virus’s origins.