China hawks in the House and Senate are introducing bills to sanction the Chinese Communist Party if it does not allow a comprehensive investigation into COVID-19’s origins, including full access to the Wuhan labs, as Republicans seek to pressure China amid reluctance from the Biden administration to do the same.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, introduced the COVID Act of 2021 on Monday, with the companion COVID–19 Origins Accountability Act of 2021 being introduced by Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican, on Tuesday, and the duo proposed sanctions against the Chinese government and Chinese scientists if an independent and international investigative team is not allowed to examine the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other Chinese labs.
“The Chinese Communist Party does not want a full, forensic investigation into the origins of COVID-19. If they did, it would have happened at some point during the last 18 months,” Rubio said in a statement. “Instead of hoping the Chinese authorities will suddenly cooperate, the United States needs to compel them to cooperate. One obvious step in that direction is to cut off Federal funding for research conducted with these state-run Chinese entities. Additionally, we must impose sanctions against the leadership of these entities and exact a personal cost. It is time for the U.S. to take action and lead an international response that settles for nothing less than through a full forensic investigation of the Wuhan labs.”
The U.S. and its allies are largely pinning hopes for a second COVID-19 origins investigation in China on the World Health Organization, despite the WHO-China joint study team’s visit to Wuhan earlier this year that essentially dismissed the lab leak hypothesis being widely considered a failure. Meeting minutes from discussions between Wuhan lab scientists and the WHO-China team reveal lab leak concerns were referred to as “conspiracy theories.”
So far, the Biden administration has declined to lay out any specific punishment if China continues to block an independent investigation into how the pandemic began.
Gallagher told the Washington Examiner: “The CCP has lied repeatedly about the origins of this pandemic, blocked access to important records from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, and corrupted the World Health Organization. This is unacceptable. The world deserves answers so as to prevent something like this from ever happening again. The United States must hold the CCP accountable through sanctions on the Chinese Academy of Sciences and by cutting off federal support and cooperation with Chinese scientists.”
The new House bill language states that “if, by not later than the date that is 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President is unable to certify that the Government of the People’s Republic of China has allowed a transparent international forensic investigation of suspect laboratories in Wuhan to commence, including of the Wuhan Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences,” then President Joe Biden “shall” impose sanctions “with respect to individuals employed by or professionally affiliated with the state-run CAS, including its more than 100 affiliated institutes and laboratories, 13 local branches, 2 universities, and more than 430 science and technology enterprises based in the People’s Republic of China across 11 industries that were created by CAS or founded with CAS investment.”
If China fails to cooperate, the bill would also direct the president to “prohibit Federal funding for any joint research or other collaborative projects between United States-based researchers and CAS researchers across all academic fields” and “prohibit United States-based researchers and institutions that receive Federal funding from engaging in collaborative projects involving gain-of-function research on viruses with individuals or institutions” based in China.
During a press conference in Geneva following a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden did not directly answer media questions about whether he would press Chinese President Xi Jinping on Chinese blocks on the origin investigations.
Biden national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN over the weekend: “We are not, at this point, going to issue threats or ultimatums.” Sullivan told Fox News that the goal was to get China to face a “stark choice — either they will allow, in a responsible way, investigators in to do the real work of figuring out where this came from, or they will face isolation in the international community.”
The newly proposed law states that the investigation must be one that is “objective, data-driven, inclusive of broad expertise, subject to independent oversight, and properly managed to exclude individuals with conflicts of interest.” The House bill also lays out a long list of requirements, including that “relevant research laboratories and hospitals open their records to examination by the investigative team and grant the investigative team unfettered access to any and all facilities and other sites of interest, and to any and all forms of epidemiological or virological data of interest, including serological records pertaining to the earliest confirmed or suspected cases of COVID–19, or cases of similar illnesses that may have been misdiagnosed, which appeared in and around Wuhan in the fall and winter of 2019,” and “a full forensic investigation” of the Wuhan lab.
The National Institutes of Health’s RePORTER website said the agency provided $15.2 million to Peter Daszak’s New York-based EcoHealth Alliance over the years, with $3.74 million toward understanding bat coronavirus emergence. Daszak, a key member of the WHO-China joint study team earlier this year, maintained a long working relationship with Wuhan lab “bat lady” Shi Zhengli, sending at least $600,000 in NIH funding for bat coronavirus research.
Daszak has criticized the Biden administration for skepticism of the WHO’s findings, defended China on Communist Party-linked outlets, and recently recused himself from the Lancet’s COVID-19 origins investigation.
The new bill calls for full access to “all laboratory logs and notebooks” kept by Shi and other Wuhan lab researchers, to “the full range of virus cultures, isolates, genetic sequences, databases, and patient specimens stored at these facilities as well as all chimeric synthetic viruses” at the Wuhan labs, to the “database of approximately 22,000 samples and virus sequences, including 15,000 taken from bats, which was previously available to the public but taken offline” in September 2019, to “all research related to the 293 bat coronaviruses” reportedly isolated by Shi and the Wuhan lab team, to all of the “security logs, surveillance video footage, audio recordings, and electronic logs of employees entering and leaving” the Wuhan lab, and to “the abandoned copper mine in Mojiang Hani Autonomous County in Yunnan province, where Wuhan Institute of Virology researchers are known to have collected bat virus specimens.”
The proposed law would also require that the Wuhan lab “discloses the content of all classified and unpublished studies that the Institute reportedly conducted with the People’s Liberation Army if such studies involved gain-of-function research,” as well as calling for the investigative team to be able to “test all laboratory personnel for antibodies and other serological indicators of past infection of COVID–19.”
A State Department fact sheet released in January contended Wuhan lab researchers “conducted experiments involving RaTG13, the bat coronavirus identified by the WIV in January 2020 as its closest sample to SARS-CoV-2 (96.2% similar)” and that the lab “has a published record of conducting ‘gain-of-function’ research to engineer chimeric viruses.” The fact sheet also asserted the lab “engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military” and that lab workers became sick with coronavirus-like symptoms in autumn 2019.
The new bill says that the COVID-19 origins investigation team should be comprised of experts chosen by the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, and Japan and that “individuals who have previously ruled out the possibility of either zoonotic transmission or a laboratory leak are disqualified from participation.” The proposed law says that the Chinese government “may appoint Chinese experts to accompany and advise the team as it conducts its work” in China but that it has “no authority to dictate the selection of team members and cannot obstruct” the investigation.
The U.S. intelligence community said at least one of its 18 agencies is leaning toward the lab leak hypothesis, and Biden ordered all of the spy agencies to “redouble” their investigative efforts last month.