Chinese propagandists are casting blame for the coronavirus pandemic on a U.S. military research lab that shuttered its biowarfare division more than 50 years ago.
Chinese diplomats and state-run media outlets have repeatedly spread the conspiracy that the coronavirus originated in Maryland's Fort Detrick research lab, often in response to criticism about the country's response to the pandemic.
"Speaking of the truth, we would like the U.S. government to tell the truth about the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, to U.S. and the international community," Wang Wenbin, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said on July 22.
But President Richard Nixon closed down Fort Detrick's offensive biowarfare division in 1969—50 years before the first coronavirus cases were reported in Wuhan, China. Fort Detrick now focuses on defensive biological research as well as cancer research. U.S. officials have frequently criticized the Chinese government for using the Fort Detrick conspiracy theory—and other unproven allegations—to blame the outbreak on the United States.
"To have somebody … from the Chinese government come out and make a statement like that [is] completely ridiculous and it's irresponsible, and it doesn't get us to where we need to be," said Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in March.
Chinese propaganda organs have floated other countries as possible origins of the coronavirus, with a similar lack of evidence. Global Times, a leading mouthpiece for the regime, once insinuated that the virus could have originated in Spain, citing one research article that has not been peer-reviewed. The same outlet also claimed that the coronavirus was detected in Brazilian sewage back in November 2019.
Chinese social media accounts and U.S. conspiracy theorists have also smeared American military personnel as part of their Fort Detrick conspiracy, accusing one soldier of bringing the virus to China when she competed in the World Military Games held in Wuhan in late 2019. Chinese authorities, who exercise near-total control over what is disseminated on the Chinese internet, have allowed the rumors to spread. Global Times also covered the conspiracy theory in March, demanding that the United States release information about the U.S. delegation to the sports competition.