The Chinese scientist responsible for overseeing research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology said Tuesday that the U.S. government is incorrect in stating that her lab engages in secret projects with the Chinese military.
Dr. Shi Zhengli, known as the “bat lady” in China for her work on bat-based coronaviruses, gave the comments in response to a question from World Health Organization advisory committee member Jamie Metzl during a seminar Tuesday hosted by Rutgers University.
Metzl told the Daily Caller News Foundation following the seminar that Shi’s credibility would be destroyed if the U.S. government can prove that the WIV was indeed collaborating with the Chinese military. Metzl added that since the Chinese government’s assertion that COVID-19 did not leak from the WIV rests almost entirely on Shi’s credibility, the lab leak hypothesis would “become to seen as the most credible hypothesis,” if the U.S. government produces receipts.
“Did you have knowledge of all of the research that was being done by everyone at the WIV and the full repository of viruses that were being held there by everybody, all the laboratories?” Metzl asked Shi during the seminar, according to audio obtained by the DCNF. “To your knowledge, are the U.S. government claims of classified Chinese military research being carried out at the WIV correct, and if so, did you have full awareness of and access to all aspects of this research?”
Shi said in response: “From my knowledge, all our research work is open, is transparent. At the beginning of COVID-19, we heard the rumors that claimed our laboratory would have some project blah blah with army blah blah … but this is not correct, because I am the director and responsible for research activity. I don’t know any kind of research work performed in this lab.”
The DCNF obtained a recording of the seminar from the White Coat Waste Project.
Shi’s statement stands in direct opposition to a State Department fact sheet published Jan. 15 which stated that the WIV has collaborated on “secret projects” with China’s military.
“Despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military,” stated the fact sheet, which was published when President Donald Trump was still in office. “The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.”
Metzl wrote on Twitter following the seminar that if the U.S. government is correct in its claim that the WIV was secretly collaborating with the Chinese military, then the theory that COVID-19 could have accidentally leaked from the lab would become the “leading” origin hypothesis.
Just asked #ShiZhengli if Chinese military was doing classified research @ #Wuhan Inst of Virology. She said “all our research is open & transparent…I don’t know of any military work.” If @ODNIgov claim to the contrary true, lab leak now the leading #COVID19 origin hypothesis.
— Jamie Metzl (@JamieMetzl) March 23, 2021
In a lengthy statement explaining his tweet, Metzl told the DCNF that the Chinese government’s assertions that COVID-19 did not accidentally leak from the WIV rests almost entirely on Shi’s credibility.
“The destruction of her credibility, should her claim of no [People’s Liberation Army] involvement be proven false, would fatally undermine that line of argument,” Metzl said.
“If the Chinese military was doing secret animal pathogen research at or with the WIV and Chinese government/WIV officials were lying about this to the WHO, media, and world, the case for an accidental lab leak followed by a cover up would grow significantly stronger,” Metzl added. “Should this happen, the lab leak hypothesis would come to be seen as the most credible hypothesis, although still a hypothesis.”
Shi’s comments come as the WHO is expected to release a report detailing its findings this week from its investigation earlier this year into the origins of COVID-19 in China.
The WHO team that investigated the pandemic’s origins announced at the conclusion of its probe that it was “extremely unlikely” that COVID-19 could have accidentally leaked from the WIV.
Just days later, WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said that all theories behind the origin of COVID-19, including the lab leak hypothesis, warrant further investigation.
The WHO’s investigation has been mired in transparency issues and allegations of conflicts of interest.
The Chinese government was granted veto power over which scientists were allowed to take part in the investigation, according to The Wall Street Journal.
And the only U.S. member of the team, Dr. Peter Daszak, worked with Shi and the WIV for years prior to the start of the pandemic. Daszak’s nonprofit group, EcoHealth Alliance, routed $600,000 in U.S. taxpayer funds to the WIV in the form of subgrants as part of a project to study bat-based coronaviruses between 2014 and 2019.
Daszak revealed on March 10 that the WHO team did not even ask to review a database the WIV deleted in September 2019 that contained information on at least 16,000 virus samples it had studied prior to the pandemic because he had vouched for the lab’s credibility.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Friday it had obtained the English version of the WHO report two days prior and said its release “depends on discussions between Chinese & international experts.”
Chinese experts received English version of the WHO report on Mar. 17. Whether the report will be released next week depends on discussions between Chinese & international experts. Origin-tracing is a scientific issue that needs to be studied by the science community. pic.twitter.com/o3619f58zT
— Spokesperson发言人办公室 (@MFA_China) March 19, 2021
“International and Chinese experts work together on the report, we still don’t have the exact day of the release,” WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic told the DCNF on Tuesday when asked to what extent the Chinese government has authority to outright block the release of the report.
Metzl was one of two dozen scientists who issued an open letter on March 4 calling for a new investigation into COVID-19 origins in China. The letter said the WHO’s investigation did not have the “mandate, the independence, or the necessary accesses” to fully investigate all potential origins of COVID-19.