At the end of HBO’s miniseries “Chernobyl,” Soviet nuclear scientist Valery Legosov warns: “Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later that debt is paid.”  

We have spent the last 18 months witnessing China’s Chernobyl in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just like the Soviet Union during the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown, from the earliest days of the pandemic when the virus emerged in Wuhan, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has engaged in a concerted campaign to pile lies on top of lies about the virus and its origins.   

Consider that the CCP refused to allow U.S. Centers for Disease Control experts access to Wuhan, and critical data from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) that could have helped the world get ahead of the disease suddenly disappeared. Chinese academics and doctors who raised the alarm were silenced, forced to release hostage-style videos recanting their “erroneous” statements, and even put under house arrest for daring to challenge the official narrative.  

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Abroad, the CCP’s “wolf-warriors” on social media spewed disinformation, going so far as accusing the U.S. Army of creating the virus in order to divert attention from the CCP’s own culpability. Countries like Australia, which called for an investigation into the origin of the pandemic, faced withering Chinese economic sanctions and coercion.  

All of these actions suggested the communists were engaged in a systematic coverup designed to avoid culpability for its mishandling of the pandemic that has killed over 3 million people.   

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Unfortunately, the CCP was not the only organization trying to throttle open scientific debate about the origins of the pandemic at its outset. Much of the corporate news media in the United States, along with giddy censors at social media companies, began pushing a narrative put forward by a small group of heavily-conflicted scientists who, like Beijing, wished to stop all inquiry into COVID-19’s genesis.  

Over a year later, despite their best efforts, the evidence continues to stack up in favor of the lab-leak hypothesis, particularly with recent revelations that lab workers at the WIV were hospitalized prior to the broader outbreak in Wuhan.   

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Some scientists and legacy media mouthpieces who initially threw cold water on the lab leak theory – and called its proponents conspiracy theorists – are being forced to concede that we need an investigation into the lab-leak hypothesis (even as they rush to stealth edit their old articles).  

Facing mounting political pressure, President Biden even ordered a 90-day intelligence community review of the origin of the pandemic. Yet there remains a reticence to tackle this issue with urgency, perhaps for fear of provoking the CCP.   

Understanding China’s Chernobyl, no matter how much it angers the CCP, is the most important question in the world right now for at least three reasons.  

First, we need to know how this pandemic started so we can best prevent the next one. If the pandemic resulted from natural spillover from a host population such as bats and made its way to humans, then it stands to reason we should take steps to minimize human contact with certain animal species and expand our early-warning capabilities on the spread of coronaviruses, particularly in key parts of Asia. 

 If, on the other hand, the virus emerged from a laboratory leak at the WIV, then it would make sense to focus on safety standards in domestic and foreign labs, and re-impose the U.S. government’s 2014-2017 moratorium on risky “gain-of-function” research that genetically modifies viruses to make them artificially more communicable in order to anticipate potential mutations.  

The strength of the CCP right now is that they are articulating a vivid and coherent vision of the future.

This leads to the second reason for investigating the origins of the virus. American taxpayer dollars may have played a role in funding this dangerous gain-of-function research at the WIV. For example, a new report reveals that the WIV’s Dr. Shi Zhengli (known as the “Bat Woman” for her research on bat coronaviruses) listed more than $1.2 million in U.S. government support from 2014-2019 on her CV, and a 2017 paper she co-authored, which described experiments involving modified or “chimeric” bat coronaviruses, acknowledges funding from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the US Agency for International Development.  

The EcoHealth Alliance run by Peter Daszak – the foremost critic of the lab-leak hypothesis and only American allowed on the WHO investigative team – worked closely with Dr. Shi and received over $30 million from the Defense Department, $2.5 million from USAID, and $1 million from an initiative the Department of Homeland Security calls the “Ground Truth Network,” which paid a network of scientists to “contextualize information pertaining to biological events.” The U.S. Intelligence Community released a statement in April 2020 concurring with the “wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.”  

Taxpayers need to know if the intelligence community uncritically accepted the analysis of “experts” like Daszak who had profound conflicts of interest. No matter what the origin of the virus, this is the biggest intelligence failure since 9/11. We need to own it, understand it and make sure it does not happen again.  

Finally, if we funded gain-of-function research at the WIV (where American officials had flagged security concerns two years prior to the pandemic), it was likely due to the naïve assumption that Chinese institutions could be trusted to act responsibly and transparently. This mirrors a broader naïve assumption that by integrating China into the global economy and key multilateral institutions like the WHO, we could moderate the CCP’s aggressive behavior. This did not happen. 

Under General Secretary Xi Jinping, the CCP has grown more aggressive and more hostile to American and its allies. We must understand what happened in Wuhan in the fall of 2019 in order to better understand our adversary and win this New Cold War.  

The strength of the CCP right now is that they are articulating a vivid and coherent vision of the future, terrifying though it may be, while the United States appears hopelessly divided. The CCP’s vision is for a techno-totalitarian state in which the elites control the media, science and what is true by decree, use the latest in surveillance and AI technology to quash dissent before it can even form, and can harness that power to wipe whole populations from the map if it serves party whims as we are seeing in Xinjiang. It is a vision of the Total State on AI-powered steroids. 

The United States and its allies must articulate a vision to counter that put forward by the CCP. This should start with Wuhan. The more evidence we see, it is becoming clear that the totalitarian impulses of the CCP gave birth and fuel to COVID-19. 

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In contrast, scientists and private companies in the West not only have developed the world’s most effective vaccines against this virus, but also a whole new platform-technology for making vaccines using mRNA that has the potential to save countless lives combating a variety of pathogens beyond COVID-19. 

 Wuhan matters because the CCP gave the world the virus. The freedom and ingenuity of the United States and its allies gave the world the most effective vaccines. There can be no starker illustration of the difference between totalitarian societies and free societies. 

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