On March 17, 2020, Bitter Winter told the story of how a paper on the virus responsible for COVID-19 by two respected Chinese scientists, Dr. Botao Xiao from South China University of Technology, Guangzhou, and Dr. Lei Xiao, from Wuhan University of Science and Technology, was first uploaded and then cancelled from the international scholarly database ResearchGate.

The paper regarded it as probable that the virus might have leaked from a laboratory in Wuhan.

Bitter Winter and other international media that covered the Xiao and Xiao incident were promptly attacked by the CCP and its fellow travelers throughout the world, which claimed that “mainline science” had “conclusively proved” that the virus had not been artificially created in a laboratory, and that such “conspiracy theories” had been “debunked.”

The two Xiaos were compelled to state they had been wrong.

Three weeks have passed, and what might have looked like a marginal hypothesis is now the official theory about the origin of the virus of the government of the United States, with Secretary of State Pompeo claiming it is backed by “enormous evidence.” 

Somebody may object that this is just part of the American electoral campaign, but in Australia The Saturday Telegraph, the Saturday edition of one of the country’s largest newspaper, The Daily Telegraphobtained and summarized a report prepared by the “five eyes,” i.e. the intelligence services of the U.S.A., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, with similar findings.

Most international media upgraded the Wuhan laboratory theory from “fake news” or “conspiracy theory” to “reliable hypothesis.”

Predictably, the enormous international propaganda apparatus of the CCP is not sitting idle. It is massively answering, once again, that “science” has proved that the Wuhan laboratory theory is false. What is false here is, however, the Chinese propaganda. It cleverly creates confusion between two different theories. It is thus all-important to understand how this propaganda operates.

Theory 1: A laboratory in Wuhan artificially created the virus

The CCP uses a well-known propaganda tactic: it lumps together two different theories, and by criticizing one it tries to eliminate the other as well. The first theory is that one of two laboratories in Wuhan, probably the Wuhan Institute of Virology, created the virus as a biological weapon. Then, China either intentionally released the virus, or it escaped the laboratory accidentally.

This theory has been criticized by most scientists who have studied the coronavirus. They claim that man-made viruses, no matter how cleverly produced, keep traces of human manipulation, and no such traces have been found in the virus responsible for the present pandemic.

We at Bitter Winter are not virologists. We do not play the amateur virologist game either, and have no reason to doubt the words of what seems to be a majority of credentialed scientists in the field. We maintain that minority positions should also be expressed, and criticized, freely, and that there is no reason for social media and others to prevent the expression of admittedly fringe or marginal theories on the virus, while they allow bizarre conspiracy theories on a variety of other subjects to circulate. This is, however, not the point here.

This is Theory 1, and what we presented in Bitter Winter and Western governments are embracing today is Theory 2.

Theory 2: A natural virus was stored in a Wuhan laboratory, and ‘escaped’ from there

Theory 2 is that the virus responsible for COVID-19 was found in nature, most probably in bats. It was not created in a laboratory. There is ample evidence, however, that a laboratory in Wuhan collected and stored viruses that had infected bats, as well as the infected bats themselves.

There is evidence that some of these viruses were at least remarkably similar to the one responsible for COVID-19. There is also evidence that security in the Wuhan laboratories was lower than international standards dictate.

Theory 2 suggests that the virus was stored in a Wuhan laboratory and “escaped” from it. There are many possibilities. A bat may have escaped, or the virus may have contaminated somebody working in the laboratory, who then infected others.

Let us repeat it once again, Theory 2 is different from Theory 1. It does not assume that the virus is man-made. The objection that man-made viruses leave traces, and that no such traces have been found, may be effective against Theory 1 but says nothing against Theory 2.

Some scientists still maintain that transmission of a virus that originated in animals to humans is much easier in a wet market than in a laboratory. They may be right, but they have not personally inspected the security environment of the Wuhan laboratories. Also, we hear more and more about leaked documents and conversations within the CCP and Chinese intelligence officers suggesting that the Chinese authorities themselves were considering the leak from a laboratory in Wuhan as a serious possibility.

Conclusion: The CCP lies as usual

Did science “debunk” the theory of the Wuhan laboratory? Mainline scientists criticized Theory 1, but their criticism does not affect Theory 2. Claiming that Theory 2 had been “debunked” by “science” is just CCP propaganda. Entertaining the confusion between Theory 1 and Theory 2 is typical CCP strategy.

Has Theory 2 been “proved”? We never said so, and the notion of “proof” in science is more complicated than in a court of law. We maintained that Theory 2 is possible and perhaps probable, and that the objections against Theory 1 never applied to Theory 2.

Ultimately, Theory 2 relies on the likelihood of an accident, not on traces that can be found in the virus. Scientists will not be able to prove Theory 2. But they will not be able to disprove it either. Evidence corroborating Theory 2 may come in the future from Chinese internal documents obtained by foreign intelligence agencies, or from Chinese defectors.

It is more than possible that some of this evidence, as Mr. Pompeo and others implied, is already in the hands of Western leaders. If it is so, we hope that it will be presented to the world as early as possible, and that no amount of Chinese pressure or threat of commercial retaliation would prevent this necessary disclosure.

Massimo Introvigne is an Italian sociologist of religions. He is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), an international network of scholars who study new...