In just a few days, Boris Johnson will welcome world leaders to the G7 Summit in Cornwall. We can expect the usual combination of diplomatic hot air and stage-managed flummery – hopefully enlivened with a bit of Boris brio and unpredictability.
But the biggest question the leaders ought to address may simply be too uncomfortable for a gathering that is structurally uncontroversial, designed to convey to the world a simple message: ‘Don’t worry, guys, we’re in charge. We’ve got this.’
Except… they haven’t got it.
Because the uncomfortable questions that will hover over next weekend’s meeting will challenge some of the most fundamental assumptions of our modern, technocratic, globalised age.
They are: whether our ruling elite know what they’re doing; whether ‘experts’ have the answers and can be trusted to handle complex decisions beyond the comprehension of us mere mortals; whether we should continue to welcome China into the international fold in the hope that more economic engagement will make Beijing change its ways.
The question that challenges all these assumptions is simple: what caused the coronavirus pandemic? It has been the worst global disaster in a century, claiming millions of lives, upending the world economy and saddling us with debts that will take decades to pay off.
China’s President Xi Jinping (pictured) will never admit that his nation is at fault
Mostly, our leaders have insisted the pandemic was a natural disaster – a new, virulent strain of a common virus that made its way from bats in China, through some other unspecified animal host, to humans in Wuhan and from there to the rest of the world.
Yet as early as February last year, weeks before the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic, two Chinese scientists, one from the Wuhan University of Science and Technology, published a paper arguing that the ‘killer coronavirus probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan’.
They based this claim on circumstantial evidence: the bats that carried the virus were from 1,000 miles away, whereas right on the doorstep of the outbreak was the Wuhan Institute of Virology which had for years conducted experiments on bat coronaviruses.
The incendiary paper was quickly taken down by the Chinese authorities. The Wuhan Institute’s head of infectious diseases who had openly speculated that the pandemic virus might have escaped from her lab, suddenly changed her tune. The Beijing regime closed down access, destroyed records and installed one of its senior military leaders to supervise what now looks like a cover-up.
Shamefully, instead of questioning these authoritarian moves, the rest of the world took China’s denials and reassurances at face value.
The WHO, and then most of the media (with The Mail on Sunday a noble exception), parroted Chinese state propaganda.
Any suggestion that the virus escaped from the Wuhan lab was dismissed as a conspiracy theory designed to discredit China in the eyes of the world. Social media ‘fact-checkers’ labelled the ‘lab-leak theory’ (as it came to be known) as dangerous misinformation that must be suppressed.
But over the past few weeks, all of this has been turned upside down in the most humiliating establishment retreat in memory.
The same politicians, pundits and scientists who derided as a Trumpian hoax the idea that the pandemic originated in a Chinese laboratory now agree this is the most likely explanation.
Meanwhile, an even more disturbing part of the story has come into view. What exactly was it that might have leaked from the Wuhan lab? What were they working on, and why?
What exactly was it that might have leaked from the Wuhan lab? What were they working on, and why?
For many months, a number of us have been pursuing these questions in the face of scepticism and hostility from much of the media.
Ian Birrell has led the charge in this newspaper, and I have been running a special investigation on my Fox News show, The Next Revolution. Public records and published scientific papers show that the researchers in Wuhan were carrying out a series of risky and controversial experiments designed to make bat coronaviruses more contagious and more dangerous (exactly as the two Chinese scientists pointed out in their paper from February last year) at the explicit request of the US Government. This took the form of research grants awarded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The institute is run by Dr Anthony Fauci, who for much of the past year has been an untouchable figure in American society, the trusted public face of the pandemic response under Presidents Trump and Biden.
Could this man, who has dedicated his career to fighting disease, be in any way responsible for creating the worst pandemic in a century?
To understand that, you just need to read the chilling words written by Dr Fauci himself in an article in the Washington Post ten years ago. He said: ‘Engineering a potentially dangerous virus in the laboratory is a risk worth taking.’
He was talking about a new field of scientific research – ‘gain of function’ – which uses genetic technology to make natural viruses more dangerous. Through manipulation in the lab, viruses could ‘gain new functions’ – such as becoming airborne instead of just being transmitted surface to surface.
Dr Fauci was the leading international champion of this kind of research, in the belief that it would enable mankind to better prepare for future pandemics. In 2014, he authorised a series of projects designed to anticipate a potential recurrence, in an even more deadly way, of the 2008 Sars epidemic.
The documents detailing the work are all available on US Government websites. They specify the use of ‘gain of function’ techniques to see if bat coronaviruses could become airborne and infect the human respiratory system. And they list the Wuhan Institute of Virology as the place where these experiments were to be conducted.
Progress reports and documents renewing the project in 2019 all confirm beyond doubt that as part of the project, bat coronaviruses were manipulated in ways that precisely match the pandemic virus.
For months, in response to our inquiries and most recently in testimony to Congress, Dr Fauci has flat-out denied that he or his institute ever authorised ‘gain of function’ research in Wuhan.
But his story has started to unravel. Thousands of Dr Fauci’s emails published last week in response to a Freedom of Information request show that he and other senior public health officials took the ‘lab leak hypothesis’ seriously from the start, and were concerned that fingers might point in their direction.
Whistleblower accounts from within the US State Department revealed that a senior government official tried to close down an investigation into the Wuhan lab leak theory for fear that it would ‘open a can of worms’.
But perhaps the most damning evidence about Dr Fauci’s role is provided by his own words at a ‘gain of function’ academic conference in 2012.
Boris Johnson has an opportunity to speak for the world, and to lead it in demanding answers and even compensation from China and America
He listed the various techniques involved in such research – including specific terms that are included in official descriptions of the work carried out on his behalf in Wuhan. And this brings us back to Boris Johnson at next week’s G7 Summit. Because it is now becoming frighteningly clear that the pandemic was caused not just by the behaviour of the Chinese regime, but the US Government, too.
We can certainly condemn China for the biosecurity lapses that led to the virus escaping in the first place, and for the denial and cover-up that allowed it to develop into a global pandemic.
But any fair accounting must also assign blame – perhaps even more blame – to Dr Fauci and the public health bureaucracy in America. Think of the human misery and economic cost of this pandemic. And then consider that it was most likely caused not by an unavoidable and unpredictable act of nature but by the entirely avoidable actions of the two most powerful nations in the world, actions with consequences that were indeed predicted by many who warned of lax security in China’s labs and the dangers inherent in Dr Fauci’s experiments.
It is vital that there is accountability for this. Not least to make sure we prevent the next pandemic by outlawing risky genetic research of the kind that went so disastrously wrong in Wuhan.
But who is going to fight for such accountability? China’s President Xi Jinping will never admit that his nation is at fault. President Biden has at least, belatedly, ordered an investigation into the origins of the pandemic. But America does not have clean hands in this, not by a long way. So Boris Johnson has an opportunity to speak for the world, and to lead it in demanding answers and even compensation from China and America.
President Biden has ordered an investigation into the origins of the pandemic but America does not have clean hands in this
Thankfully, the PM seems to have abandoned the disgraceful kowtow to China that has characterised UK governments’ position for too long.
Indeed, we have witnessed Ministers parade the monstrous dictator Xi through the streets of London in a gilded coach while his goons beat up pro-democracy protesters yards away.
They have turned a blind eye to torture, genocide and the construction of an Orwellian surveillance state – all in a desperate bid for business contracts and favours.
Britain has invited China to build critical parts of Britain’s energy infrastructure such as nuclear power stations. This has been an abject humiliation of the British Establishment falling over itself to help a vile communist dictatorship spread its evil tentacles of control around the world with its Belt and Road Initiative, a neo-imperialist global infrastructure development strategy.
In my short time in Downing Street as David Cameron’s strategy adviser, I fought hard against this China swoon, with one modest success: the prioritisation of India for the first large-scale prime ministerial visit.
Now, surely, after Hong Kong, the Uighurs and the pandemic, it is time for Britain to stand up to China with might and moral authority.
Germany won’t do it: Angela Merkel is as cravenly complicit in the suck-up to China as our own government once was. Emmanuel Macron can’t do it: he is a weak leader facing an uncertain political future. And Biden, of course, is in no position to lecture anyone on anything to do with the pandemic, given America’s role in its origins.
Boris Johnson, by contrast, has an open field before him and the wind at his back with the most successful vaccine rollout of any major country and failing political opposition at home.
At the G7 Summit, he should mobilise the West against China, and mobilise the world against ‘gain of function’ virus research.
That would be the perfect way to establish British leadership in the post-Brexit, post-pandemic world.