Why a US military base became a centre for Chinese Covid conspiracies

Why a US military base became a centre for Chinese Covid conspiracies

A disinformation campaign claiming that the Covid-19 virus originated from an American military base in Maryland has gained popularity in China ahead of the release of a US intelligence report on the virus origins.

In May, US president Joe Biden ordered a 90-day probe into whether the Covid-19 virus came from a lab accident or emerged from human contact with an infected animal.

Until then, the “Wuhan lab leak” theory had been dismissed by most scientists as a fringe conspiracy theory.

But now as the report is due to be released, China has gone on the offensive. In the past few weeks, Chinese sources have been amplifying a baseless claim that Covid-19 was made in the US.

Using everything from rap music to fake Facebook posts, experts say the propaganda efforts have been successful at convincing the domestic Chinese audience to cast scepticism on international criticism of the country’s role in the Covid-19 pandemic. But, experts say, it has done little to legitimise China to the outside world.

What are the allegations?

Most Americans may have never heard of Fort Detrick, but it is becoming a household name in China.

Chinese propagandists have pushed a conspiracy suggesting that the Covid-19 coronavirus was made and leaked from the military installation in Frederick, Maryland, about 80 km (50 miles) north of Washington DC.

Once the centre of the US biological weapons programme, it currently houses biomedical labs researching viruses including Ebola and smallpox. Its complicated history has sparked speculation in China.

A rap song by the Chinese nationalist group CD Rev suggesting nefarious plots being hatched by the lab was recently endorsed by Zhao Lijian, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.

The rhythms of the song -“How many plots came out of your lab/How many dead bodies hanging a tag/What are you hiding/Open the door to Fort Detrick” – are awkward, but its sentiment “speaks our mind,” Mr Zhao wrote in a tweet in August.

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