Biden and UK to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines in new pushback on China

By Kevin Liptak and Maegan Vazquez, CNN

Updated 8:21 AM ET, Thu September 16, 2021

https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/15/politics/us-uk-australia-nuclear-powered-submarines/index.html

(CNN)President Joe Biden on Wednesday unveiled a new effort to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines, a major step toward countering China as he works to build international backing for his approach to Beijing.The announcement came as part of a new trilateral partnership among the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom that the three countries’ leaders jointly revealed Wednesday afternoon.”The United States, Australia and the United Kingdom have long been faithful and capable partners and we’re even closer today,” the President said. “Today, we’re taking another historic step to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations, because we all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.”

The partnership kicks off what is expected to be a flurry of diplomatic engagements for Biden this autumn, from next week’s United Nations meetings to a White House summit of Asian leaders to October’s Group of 20 talks in Italy.

Underpinning his efforts is a desire to rally the West and US partners in Asia in the battle between “autocracy versus democracy,” one of the defining objectives of his presidency. Biden has made countering China a central aspect of his foreign policy as tensions grow over the South China Sea and Taiwan, and has said he wants American allies on board.

The new partnership between the US, UK and Australia — three English-speaking maritime democracies — is not specifically about China, officials insisted ahead of the announcement. Instead, they said the three countries would hold a schedule of meetings over the coming months to coordinate on cyber issues, advanced technologies and defense in a bid to better meet modern-day security challenges. The new partnership is called AUKUS, pronounced “aw-kiss.”Enter your email to sign up for CNN’s “What Matters” Newsletter.close dialog

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Sign up for CNN What Matters NewsletterEvery day we summarize What Matters and deliver it straight to your inbox.Sign Me UpNo ThanksBy subscribing you agree to ourprivacy policy.Yet it is the move toward establishing nuclear submarine capability in Australia, which officials said will allow the country to operate at a vastly higher level militarily, that will amount to the center of the announcement. Nuclear submarines are able to maneuver at greater speeds and endurance, and more stealthily, than conventional ones, which must surface more often.

Sailors assigned to the Australian Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG 77) prepare to receive hotel services and supplies during bilateral training event with USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) on September 13, 2019.Sailors assigned to the Australian Collins-class submarine HMAS Sheean (SSG 77) prepare to receive hotel services and supplies during bilateral training event with USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) on September 13, 2019.”This allows Australia to play at a much higher level and to augment American capabilities,” a senior administration official said ahead of the announcement. “This is about maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”Biden, during Wednesday’s announcement, also maintained that the establishment of AUKUS is necessary because “we need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve.””Because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead. This is about investing in our greatest strength, our alliances, and updating them to better meet the threats of today and tomorrow,” the President added.On Thursday, China’s US embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said countries should “shake off their Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice,” according to Reuters, following the announcement of the AUKUS deal.Liu added that nations “should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties.”

‘This technology is extremely sensitive’

Top officials from Australia were in Washington on Wednesday meeting with their counterparts, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, ahead of the formal announcement. During remarks Wednesday evening, Biden announced that Austin would lead efforts for the US government in close collaboration with the State Department and Department of Energy.American officials said the details of the new partnership had been closely held as they were developed over the past weeks and months, but that other allies and government stakeholders would be briefed on the specifics in the coming days.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the new trilateral partnership as not “adversarial towards any other power.” Addressing the UK parliament on Thursday, Johnson said the deal “merely reflects the close relationship that we have with the United States and with Australia.””Obviously, we also have a shared interest in promoting democracy, human rights, freedom of navigation and freedom of trade around the world.”The US and UK plan to dispatch technical and strategic teams to identify the best pathway for Australia to acquire nuclear submarines over the next 18 months. The new plan will mean the cancellation of a $90 billion deal Australia had already made with France for conventional submarines.French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the Australian government’s decision to renege on the contract for diesel-powered subs with French manufacturer Naval Group as a betrayal of trust.”Speaking politely, it’s a real stab in the back,” Le Drian said on radio station France Info Thursday. A veteran diplomat, Le Drian is rarely heard speaking so frankly, no doubt a sign of the upset that this move has caused.”We had established with Australia a relation of trust … that trust has been betrayed. And today I am angry, with much bitterness at this break,” Le Drian said.”This is not done between allies,” he said, flagging the two years of negotiations that had preceded the deal. Le Drian had played a leading role in these talks, which began in 2014, he said. Australia had wanted “a form of strategic autonomy” through the deal, which had included considerable transfer of technology, Le Drian added. The deal was due to last 50 years.As recently as a few days ago, Le Drian and the French minister of armed forces, Florence Parly, held a video conference with their Australian counterparts about the deal, Le Drian said. He said that apart from “some small adjustment problems,” there was no sense that the deal would be broken.The decision also sparked tensions between New Zealand and Australia, with NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern issuing a statement on Thursday saying Canberra’s nuclear-powered submarines would be banned from her country’s waters.”New Zealand’s position in relation to the prohibition of nuclear-powered vessels in our waters remains unchanged,” Ardern’s office said in a statement to CNN. However the statement added that New Zealand welcomed increased engagement by the UK and the US in the Asia Pacific region.American officials described the effort to assist the country with nuclear propulsion as an exceedingly rare step between allies, undertaken only once previously, that in some ways goes against established US practice.”This technology is extremely sensitive. This is, frankly, an exception to our policy in many respects,” the official said.It was necessary, they said, in order to send a message of reassurance to countries in Asia. It comes amid rising tensions between the US and China, who are maneuvering to limit each others’ global influence.US officials insisted the intent of the new partnership was not to challenge China specifically.”This partnership is not aimed or about any one country, it’s about advancing our strategic interests, upholding the international rules based order, and promoting peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” the official said.

Uniting allies against China

Still, the announcement is the latest step by the US to push back against China’s military and technological rise. Next week, Biden will host an in-person summit of the QUAD partnership of Japan, Australia and India — another grouping viewed as a way to assert American leadership in Asia. He has also sought to engage other Asian leaders, and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Singapore and Vietnam late last month.Last week, Biden held a 90-minute telephone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, their first direct communication in seven months. Officials described the conversation as “familiar” and “candid,” but said Biden did not directly raise the new strategic partnership with Australia and the UK.Biden on Tuesday denied reports that Xi, in their phone call, turned down an invitation to meet in person. US officials say they still hope to set up an in-person meeting between the two leaders, but aren’t sure it will occur on the sidelines of the G20 at the end of October. That is primarily because Xi has not confirmed he will physically attend the summit, which is being held in Rome. Xi has not left China in roughly 600 days, since before the start of the coronavirus pandemic.It’s possible Xi participates in the summit virtually, and US officials aren’t ruling out a virtual meeting between Biden and Xi. Biden, however, has said in-person sit-downs with foreign leaders are preferable to virtual meetings or phone calls, telling aides privately he doesn’t believe as much can be accomplished when meeting remotely.

Proof of commitment

After a chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan that led to questions about Biden’s willingness to remain engaged abroad, officials said the new announcement should act as proof of the President’s continued willingness to stand with allies and uphold a rules-based order in Asia.”Over the last several years there have been questions: does the United States still have the stomach, do we have the wit and wisdom, that we want to continue to play that role?” a senior administration official said.”What President Biden is saying with this initiative is ‘Count us in.’ We are all in for a deeper, sustained commitment to the Indo-Pacific. And we recognize that one of our critical roles in indeed the maintenance of peace and stability there,” the official went on.Also hoping to play a larger role in Asia is the United Kingdom, which under PM Johnson has sought to pursue a “Global Britain” strategy of greater engagement abroad. That effort has been sputtering at times, particularly as Johnson works to contain the Covid-19 pandemic at home and buffer his country from the economic fallout of Brexit.Still, American officials have received indications from their British counterparts that the UK hopes to “substantially step up its game in the Indo-Pacific,” and believe the new partnership with Australia can help advance that goal.Ahead of the announcement, Johnson undertook a major reshuffle of his cabinet ministers, including reassigning his foreign secretary. The shake-up did not appear directly related to his later announcement with Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.American officials said the cooperation between the three countries was limited only to nuclear propulsion, and said Australia has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons.During his remarks on Wednesday, Biden emphasized that the AUKUS submarine project would be using conventionally armed submarines, not nuclear-armed ones.

“We’re not talking about nuclear-armed submarines. These are conventionally armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors,” Biden said. “This technology is proven, it’s safe, and the United States and UK have been operating nuclear powered submarines for decades.”This story has been updated.

China threatens to send warships inside US territorial waters

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/china-threatens-to-send-warships-inside-us-territorial-waters/ar-AAOeMVj?ocid=winp1taskbar

Washington Examiner

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© Provided by Washington ExaminerChina threatens to send warships inside US territorial waters

China, on Wednesday, threatened to send warships into U.S. territorial waters.

The Global Times called on People’s Liberation Army Navy warships to travel to “U.S. military bases in the Asia-Pacific and the U.S. allies’ coastlines to conduct close-in reconnaissance operations and declare freedom of navigation.” The editorial added that “the U.S. will definitely see the PLA show up at its doorstep in the not-too-distant future.”Adbrunchescrunches.comBig Change In Winthrop Leaves Drivers Fuming

This isn’t simple ranting. The Global Times operates under Central Foreign Affairs Commission Director Yang Jiechi. Its words represent a credible threat.

Why is China so furious?

It laments the “naked provocation” of a U.S. Navy destroyer’s transit, on Wednesday, within 12 miles of a Chinese artificial island in the South China Sea. Yang’s mouthpiece warns that “only by making the U.S. have a taste of its own medicine can we touch the nerves of the U.S. and its allies, and reshape the Western world’s understanding of U.S. bullying in the South China Sea.”

This assessment bears little relation to reality. China’s claims of ownership over the South China Sea are both geographically absurd and politically imperialist. Instead, China is escalating its militarization of the sea for two distinctly unjustified reasons. First, to make these waters safe for unilateral Chinese communist resource extraction. Second, to extract political concessions from other nations in return for their access to the sea. China’s leverage is the $3.5 trillion-$4 trillion in annual trade flows that move through the South China Sea.

The Trump and Biden administrations have rightly resisted China’s actions with U.S. naval actions such as that on Wednesday. They recognize China’s threat to trade, sovereign government, and a key principle of the post-Second World War U.S.-led international order: free transit. But while America’s European allies have been unwilling to conduct the U.S.-style transits that so upset China, nations such as Australia, India, Japan, and Vietnam are moving closer to the U.S. position. China thus senses it may face a more robust multilateral challenge.

The language Beijing has employed, here, of conducting “freedom of navigation” activities off “U.S. military bases in the Asia-Pacific and the U.S. allies’ coastlines” is clearly intended as a threat to send PLA warships within 12 miles of Guam, Australia, and Japan. (While the Philippines is a U.S. treaty ally, its president has made himself into a human pet for Xi Jinping).

Regardless, U.S. Navy transits of international waters are one thing. PLA transits within 12 miles of sovereign U.S. or allied coasts would be a very different matter. Put another way, where the U.S. is walking through a public park, China claims a right to seize public parks and then engage in home invasions. The reality is clear: By its intent and international law, any Chinese incursion as threatened would constitute an act of provocation bordering on war.

China has no justification to blur the waters.

China changes law to allow married couples to have up to three children

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/china-changes-law-allow-married-couples-have-three-children-n1277374

The change comes as the world’s most populous country grapples with a demographic crisis.

Newborn Babies In Jingzhou Hospital

A medical worker takes care of a newborn baby lying inside an incubator on February 11, 2021 in Jingzhou, China.Huang Zhigang / VCG via Getty ImagesAug. 21, 2021, 1:39 PM PDTBy Nicole Acevedo and The Associated Press

China will allow married couples to legally have up to three children amid concerns that the number of working-age people in the world’s most populous country is falling too fast, consequently threatening its hopes of increased prosperity and global influence in the future.

The ceremonial legislature amended the Population and Family Planning Law on Friday as part of a decades-long effort by the ruling Communist Party to dictate the size of families in keeping with political directives.

Xinhua news agency, a Chinese state media organization, reported back in May that the law change had been approved during a Communist Party Politburo meeting chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Communist Party has enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth. China’s declining birthrate is partially a result of a one-child policy imposed in 1979. The country long touted such policy as a success in preventing 400 million additional births, thus saving resources and helping drive economic growth.

Couples who didn’t abide by the one-child policy faced losing their jobs and being fined. In some cases, mothers were forced to have abortions or be sterilized. A preference for sons also led parents to kill baby girls, leading to a massive imbalance in the sex ratio.

Restrictions in family planning laws were eased for the first time in 2015, allowing families to have up to two children as officials acknowledged the looming consequences of the plummeting birthrate. But that change did little to curb the country’s declining birthrate.

Statistics show that there were 12 million births last year, down from 14.65 million in 2019, an 18 percent decline, continuing China’s descent to a near six-decade low.

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At the same time, the number of Chinese people over the age of 60 reached 264 million, accounting for 18.7 percent of the country’s total population in 2020, which is nearly six percentage points higher than in 2010.

During that same time period, China’s working-age population fell to 63.3 percent of the total from 70.1 percent a decade ago.

A combination of these trends has caused an overwhelming fear that China will grow old before it becomes wealthy.

At its session Friday, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress canceled the leveling of fines for breaking the earlier restrictions and called for additional parental leave and childcare resources. New measures in finance, taxation, schooling, housing and employment should be introduced “to ease the burden on families,” the amendment said.

It also seeks to address longstanding discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace that is considered one of the chief disincentives to having additional children, along with high costs and cramped housing.

China reports first human case

China’s National Health Commission (NHC) announced Tuesday that a 41-year-old man had been confirmed as the first human case of infection with a rare avian flu called H10N3. The case was recorded in the Chinese province of Jiangsu in eastern China. Many different strains of bird flu exist in China, and some infect people sporadically, usually those who work with poultry. There is currently no evidence that H10N3 can be easily transmitted to humans.

The man, a resident of Zhenjiang City, was hospitalized on April 18 and diagnosed with H10N3 on May 28, the health commission said. He did not give any details about the man’s infection. It is now stable and ready to be released. Investigation of his close contacts revealed no other cases, the NHC said. No other cases of human infection with H10N3 have been reported worldwide, the commission said.

A weakly pathogenic virus

H10N3 is low in pathogen, which means it causes relatively less severe disease in poultry and is unlikely to cause widespread epidemic, the NHC added. The strain is “not a very common virus,” said Filip Claes, regional laboratory coordinator for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Emergency Center for Cross-Border Animal Diseases at the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

Analysis of the virus’ genetic data will be needed to determine if it looks like older viruses or if it is a new mix of different viruses, Claes said. Since the H7N9 strain killed around 300 people between 2016 and 2017, there have been no significant number of human infections with avian flu.

‘What can we do?’ Chinese discuss role of climate crisis in deadly floods

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/jul/26/chinese-discuss-role-climate-crisis-china-deadly-floods

Media and citizens have begun asking if China has properly prepared for climate emergency

People ride in the front of a loader to cross a flooded street in Zhengzhou, Henan province
People ride in the front of a loader to cross a flooded street in Zhengzhou, Henan province. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Vincent Ni China affairs correspondentMon 26 Jul 2021 11.19 EDT

At about 5pm last Tuesday, as heavy rainfall continued to pound her apartment building in Zhengzhou, the climate policy researcher Zhang Jin headed out to her local supermarket. But the buns and vegetables were all gone, and the queue in the supermarket was “over a hundred metres’ long”, she later recalled.

<img src="https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/161aaddeb9c4d254f1b711069c238628f64f0124/0_449_4740_2844/master/4740.jpg?width=460&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=18ba1b748a3dd1df6f6ab9b3c50ec761" alt="China Henan Xinxiang Rainfall Rescue – 22 Jul 2021

After learning that some of her relatives were trapped elsewhere in the city, she decided to drive out to help them. But she was surprised to discover other drivers abandoning their vehicles. Zhang realised something was very wrong, and turned back.

“Even though I have knowledge of climate change, I wasn’t fully aware that natural disasters triggered by climate change could arrive at any time,” the 32-year-old said. “Let alone non-specialists [in climate], or government officials.”

The Chinese government appears to have been caught equally by surprise. Heavy rains and floods in the past week have so far cost at least 63 lives in one of China’s most agriculture-focused and populous provinces, Henan, affecting more than 11 million people, many of them in Zhengzhou, the provincial capital. The government estimated the economic cost to be at least ¥65bn (£7.3bn).

Sinkholes have opened on some road surfaces, raising concerns about the quality of their construction, while others have questioned the disaster response.

A flooded street sinks into a hole at Mihe town on July 21, 2021 in Gongyi, Henan Province of China. Mihe town in Gongyi city, which is administered by Zhengzhou, is one of the hardest-hit areas
A sinkhole in a flooded street in Gongyi, Henan province. Photograph: VCG/Getty Images

Local meteorological authorities claimed that they had issued the highest-level alert. However, China had yet to develop a coordinated emergency response mechanism for such situations, said Cheng Xiaotao, a member of the China national committee on disaster reduction.Advertisementhttps://1594d1ed2c07b712b6700d9756db1d63.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“For example, after the warnings, under what circumstance should we halt work and manufacturing? How should various [government] departments coordinate with each other?  How to despatch various disaster relief resources? And what are the actual emergency actions to take in response?” Cheng asked in Chinese media.

The media and ordinary citizens have begun to discuss the role of the climate crisis in the disaster, and asking to what extent the government is prepared for future climate emergencies.

Shortly after the heavy rainfall made national headlines, official Chinese media outlets began to publish articles asking whether the floods, and recent disasters elsewhere in the world, were related to the climate crisis.

“As extreme weather occurs in many parts of the world of late, is there anything common behind them?” asked an article published on Thursday on several official Chinese-language websites, including the official news agency Xinhua and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. “What can we do when facing such natural disasters?”

Quoting Petteri Taalas, the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organisation, the article noted: “Had it not been [for] climate change, we wouldn’t have observed such high temperatures in Canada and on the west coast of the United States. This is an obvious sign of climate change.”

The next day, Jia Xiaolong, the deputy head of the national climate centre, told China News Agency that the heavy rainfalls in Henan occurred “against the backdrop of global warming”.Advertisementhttps://1594d1ed2c07b712b6700d9756db1d63.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“This year, whether it’s in China or elsewhere in the world, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are all closely related to global warming,” he said.

It is not the first time Jia spoke of the danger of the climate crisis. Last summer, he told the national broadcaster CCTV that extreme weather events “will occur more frequently in China as a result of global warming – something the country is particularly vulnerable to”.

People wade across a flooded street in the city of Zhengzhou in China’s Henan province.

Awareness of the climate emergency has been growing in China over the last decade, in part due to Beijing’s involvement in high-profile international initiatives such as the Paris agreement. In a China Center for Climate Change Communication survey in 2012, 55% of the respondents said the climate crisis was mostly caused by human activities. In 2017, 75.2% believed they had already experienced impacts of the climate emergency, and nearly 80% were worried about it.

But to Zhang, last week’s massive flooding and its devastating human costs – which some Chinese media have described as “unseen in 1,000 years” – is a reminder that the impact of extreme weather events can only be minimised with a better emergency response mechanism and the public’s engagement.

“It’s absolutely necessary to strengthen the public’s knowledge [of the climate crisis],” she said. “We cannot wait until the arrival of disasters to face them.”

Biden Promised Diplomacy, But He’s Overseeing Military Buildup Against China

Joseph Robinette Biden squints into the sun, having forgotten his signature aviator sunglasses
President Joe Biden walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, on July 16, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

BYAnn WrightTruthoutPUBLISHEDJuly 21, 2021SHAREShare via FacebookShare via TwitterShare via Email

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Shortly after Joe Biden took office, the president delivered a speech at the U.S. Department of State, declaring, “I want the world to hear today: America is back…. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy…. By leading with diplomacy, we must also mean engaging our adversaries and our competitors diplomatically, where it’s in our interest, and advance the security of the American people.”

Instead of de-escalation with China, we are witnessing an enormous U.S. military buildup through massive military exercises in the Pacific.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfX0%3D&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1416155682978467842&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Ftruthout.org%2Farticles%2Fbiden-promised-diplomacy-but-hes-overseeing-military-buildup-against-china%2F&sessionId=06d7aca25ebc522bdeba48f35bd7e7c13868d33d&siteScreenName=truthout&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

A huge, 17,000 personnel, U.S. military land exercise named Talisman Sabre is now going on in Australia, causing much concern to many people there. Talisman Sabre 2021 involves practice for amphibious assaults, movement of heavy vehicles, use of live ammunition, and the use of U.S. nuclear-powered and nuclear-weapon-capable vessels.

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Annette Brownlie, chairperson of the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network said:

Talisman Sabre is a threat to the [Great Barrier] reef and to the environment…. The objective of Talisman Sabre is to integrate the Australian military further into the U.S. military, which is ranked among the world’s worst polluters and is the world’s greatest organizational consumer of oil…. Let us not forget that during Talisman Sabre in 2013, the U.S. jettisoned four unarmed bombs on the Great Barrier Reef when they had difficulty dropping them on their intended target, Townshend Island.

Additionally, in mid-July, 25 F-22 stealth jet fighters (a remarkable number), 10 F-15 E Strike Eagles and two C-130J cargo planes have flown into Guam, a U.S. territory, and Tinian Island in the Northern Marianas, one of two U.S. commonwealths, as a part of “Pacific Iron 2021.” This maneuver is described by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper as a key part of the “kick down the door” force for a possible conflict with China. Retired Lt. General Dan Leaf, a former deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said he was not aware of a previous exercise using this many F-22s.

The Pacific Air Force command in Honolulu said that Iron Pacific 2021 will have more than 35 aircraft and 800 personnel. They will have operations at three airports on Guam and one airport on Tinian, 100 miles north of Guam. U.S. aircraft that dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 76 years ago flew from Tinian. Runways on Tinian, had fallen in disrepair until recently when major U.S. Air Force construction began to create an alternate air base to Guam.

Currently, Guam is also the site of the U.S. Army’s land war maneuvers called Forager 2021. About 4,000 U.S. personnel from the U.S. Army’s First Corps will be involved in various aspects of an airborne operation with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force and 1st Special Forces Group, and an Apache attack helicopter live fire exercise. The war maneuvers also include eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicles called Strykers; lightweight, highly mobile, easily transportable surface-to-air missile fire unit with eight Stinger missiles in two missile pods named Avengers; and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems. Forager 2021 tests the Army’s capability to rapidly deploy personnel and equipment in order to counter enemy forces.

Activists in Guam are mobilizing against the military buildup. Lisa Natividad, professor of social work at the University of Guam and primary convener of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice, told Truthout that the change has been stark: “Our concrete houses have been shaken from the military maneuvers by aircraft we have never seen before.”

Natividad described Guam’s vulnerability as a staging ground for U.S. military exercises.

“Guam is being overwhelmed by the number of U.S. military war maneuvers that are taking place on our land, ocean and airspace,” Natividad said. “Military maneuvers are so frequent that they’re ongoing and continuous. These exercises take place on Guam and throughout the Mariana Islands and in civilian spaces like the airport and hospitals. The destruction of our land for the construction and expansion of military bases is heartbreaking, and underscores how we as a U.S. territory truly have no political rights or voice to make decisions in our own homeland.”

According to The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the U.S. Army has been moving Patriot batteries around the Pacific in a message to China, with upcoming plans to test the system in Hawaii. “Next month we are moving another (Patriot battery) from Okinawa to Hawaii for another exercise,” said Army Col. Matt Dalton. “We are trying to demonstrate our ability to quickly move our units around the Indo-Pacific to be able to counter any threat that is out there (with) our ability to move to different locations quickly, set up and establish defense of a particular asset.”

So much for the highly touted diplomacy in the Biden administration.

Military Ships Vie for Space in a Crowded South China Sea

These U.S. military forces come in addition to the two dozen ships in the U.S., French, Dutch, Japanese, South Korean and Australian armada that are patrolling the South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits in “Freedom of Navigation” maneuvers. The U.S. aircraft carrier USS America and its numerous security vessels steaming in close proximity make for a crowded South China Sea. In July 2021, the naval exercise Pacific Vanguard includes U.S. Australian, Japanese and South Korean ships.

With the “Western” armada in the waters off China, the Chinese navy has added its vessels to the mix. The Trump administration increased tensions with China by sending the highest-ranking U.S. officials in over 40 years to Taiwan, and the Chinese government responded with the largest naval exercises in its history and sent numerous flights of up to 28 aircraft to the edge of Taiwan’s air defense zone.

Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of Pacific Air Forces with headquarters at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, described a new operational strategy called “agile combat environment” (ACE), of disbursing air assets to many small locations and spokes “so that we would be moving between the hubs and spokes multiple times per day, multiple times per week. Creating a targeting problem for an adversary that would have to target many locations instead of one or two large bases, dilutes the firepower the adversary can put on any one location.”

A Pacific Air Force spokesperson said the goal is to create targeting challenges for enemy hypersonic, ballistic and long-range cruise missile threats, thereby increasing survivability for U.S. forces by having outposts on small islands where refueling of aircraft can take place instead of relying on large bases, which are easily identified targets.

More Congressional Funding for the Pacific Region

In addition to the military war maneuvers, the House Appropriations Committee of the U.S. Congress recently advanced the 2022 defense budget that includes $2.2 billion for the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard as a part of the 20-year, $21 billion U.S. Navy project to upgrade four government-operated shipyards.

The defense appropriation bill includes $62.4 million for a missile defense system for Guam against ballistic, hypersonic and cruise missiles. A letter from a bipartisan congressional group had requested $350 million for the Guam defense system. Admiral Phil Davidson, the former chief of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, requested $4.68 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative for fiscal year 2022.

In one of the most controversial budget allocations, despite the Pentagon zeroing out funding requests from the Hawaii congressional delegation for a Homeland Defense Radar (indicating that the U.S. military does not want the radar), the appropriations committee, acting on a radar request from the Hawaii delegation, allocated $75 million. The radar is intended to track North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, but the Department of Defense shelved the Homeland Radar and a separate radar as they could not track hypersonic missiles, reviving a focus on space-based sensors to identify these threats.

Due to residents’ formidable opposition to the radar on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the Defense Missile Agency is now looking at the Barking Sands Missile Test Facility, located on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, for the site of the massive 85-foot-tall structure sitting atop a 25-foot foundation. Yet opposition on Kauai, too, is growing as the scale of the project becomes clearer. Questions are mounting about whether Kauai’s infrastructure, roads and bridges can handle the heavy equipment and massive amount of concrete needed to construct the radar. Local officials are concerned about housing the hundreds of new employees on an island that already has chronic housing shortages and a homeless population that has an encampment just outside the fence of Barking Sands.

Added to those issues is the disturbing Notice to Airmen, issued by the Federal Aviation Administration about “electromagnetic radiation continuously existing at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (on the island of Kauai) from June 1, 2021, to June 1, 2022.” The notice, which was recently discovered by local citizens, states that, “Aircraft within the above airspace will be exposed to direct radiation which may produce harmful effects to personnel and equipment.”

There has been no response to inquiries from local citizens or local news outlets from the U.S. Navy Public Affairs office, which handles inquiries for the Pacific Missile Range Facility about the source of the electromagnetic radiation and why the public was not notified of this dangerous situation.

Where Is U.S. Diplomacy in the Pacific?

In March 2021, the first face-to-face meeting between the Biden administration and Chinese officials got off to a heated start in Anchorage, Alaska. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that the Biden administration would bring up “deep concerns” about some of China’s actions around the world was met with immediate pushback from Chinese counterparts, sparking an unusually public exchange of diplomatic barbs.

Four months later, not much has changed on the diplomatic front. On July 11, Blinken called on China to stop its “provocative behavior” in the South China Sea. Blinken followed on July 13, in his first meeting with ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) foreign ministers and on the fifth anniversary of a ruling by an arbitration tribunal rejecting China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, with a statement that the United States stands with Southeast Asian countries and rejects China’s unlawful maritime claims in the South China Sea. China does not accept the arbitration ruling, and claims much of the waters within a so-called Nine Dash Line, which is also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

As more U.S. funding is allocated toward military buildup in the Pacific, those of us who oppose war, militarism and imperialism must be vocal in our concerns to the Biden administration, as well as our congressional delegations who vote for military instead of peaceful resolutions of economic and political disputes in the region.

New Data Leads To Rethinking (Once More) Where The Pandemic Actually Began

https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/07/19/1016005828/new-data-leads-to-rethinking-once-more-where-the-pandemic-actually-began

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July 19, 20214:39 PM ETHeard on All Things Considered

Michaeleen Doucleff 2016 square

MICHAELEEN DOUCLEFFTwitter

New Data Leads To Rethinking (Once More) Where The Pandemic Actually Began

Audio will be available later today.

Back in May, a group of scientists — many at the top of the virology field — shifted the debate about the origins of COVID-19. They published a letter in the journal Science saying the lab-leak theory needs to be taken more seriously by the scientific community.

Given the current evidence available, the scientists wrote, the outbreak is just as likely to have originated from a laboratory — specifically the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which studies coronaviruses — as from an infected animal. “We must take hypotheses about both natural and laboratory spillovers seriously until we have sufficient data,” they concluded.

Now one of the scientists who signed that letter says new data has come to light. And that information, summarized in an online review, has changed his thinking.

https://apps.npr.org/dailygraphics/graphics/covid-wuhan-20210714/?initialWidth=613&childId=responsive-embed-covid-wuhan-20210714&parentTitle=Outbreak%20Expert%20Points%20To%20Huanan%20Market%20Origin%20For%20Pandemic%2C%20Citing%20New%20Data%20%3A%20Goats%20and%20Soda%20%3A%20NPR&parentUrl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.npr.org%2Fsections%2Fgoatsandsoda%2F2021%2F07%2F19%2F1016005828%2Fnew-data-leads-to-rethinking-once-more-where-the-pandemic-actually-began

“I do think transmission from another species, without a lab escape, is the most likely scenario by a long shot,” says evolutionary biologist Michael Worobey at the University of Arizona.

In fact, Worobey thinks, the most likely scenario, given the current information, is that the pandemic began at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, even though the World Health Organization says it’s unlikely to have started there. “The data are very consistent with it starting at the market — very consistent,” Worobey says.

A Sherlock Holmes in the world of pandemics

Over the past decade, Worobey has become a bit like the Sherlock Holmes of pandemic origins. His work has helped explain how the 1918 flu emerged and how HIV came to the U.S. earlier than people thought. “It got to New York City pretty darn early, probably around 1970, 1971, somewhere in there,” Worobey told NPR in 2016.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Worobey has been studying how SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19, spreads around densely populated cities such as Wuhan, China, where the outbreak is thought to have begun. Using this information, he built computer simulations to model how SARS-CoV-2 may have transmitted through Wuhan early in the outbreak, before doctors detected the first cases, likely in December 2019. The models could estimate key aspects of the early outbreak, such as when the first case occurred, how long the virus spread in the city before doctors noticed it and how many cases were in the city at that point.Article continues after sponsor message

A few months ago, Worobey says, his models couldn’t differentiate between the lab-leak theory and the alternative theory — that the virus jumped directly from an animal into people. Both theories were consistent with the data. “So I was on that Science letter,” he says, “asserting that more investigation is needed of both possibilities.”

Then two new pieces of information came to light. First, Woroby started to look more closely at the geography of early known COVID-19 cases — cases that occurred in December 2019. He took data from the World Health Organization’s report from March and plotted the date on a map if where people with confirmed cases lived in Wuhan.

Why the location of the market and the lab matters

Then he did something that the WHO didn’t: He added to the map the location of the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where scientists studied bat coronaviruses. “It’s a very simple thing to do,” Worobey says. “But it really paints a pretty clear picture, right?”

The dots show the cases starting right near the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market and then radiating out from there. “The Huanan market seems like the bull’s-eye of this outbreak. It’s pretty extraordinary.”

What about cases near the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), which is more than 10 miles from the market? “There are no cases around the WIV,” Worobey says. “If the outbreak did start in the lab, the bottom line is, it would be odd for it not to be spreading from there rather than from elsewhere.”

The other piece of data, which helped shift Worobey’s thinking, concerns the products sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. Was there anything at the market that has been previously known to spread SARS coronaviruses?

Since the pandemic began, the Chinese government claimed the vendors at the market didn’t sell any illegal wildlife. “They said the market was operating completely legally,” says biosecurity expert Gigi Gronvall at Johns Hopkins University. “And just on the face of it, you just know, that’s not correct.

“And lo and behold, it’s not,” she adds.

Last month, researchers published a study showing that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was one of four markets in Wuhan selling illegal wildlife, including palm civets and raccoon dogs, which are both known to spread SARS-CoV-2. Scientists believe civets triggered the first SARS coronavirus pandemic, in 2003.

The researchers, from China West Normal University in Nanchong, surveyed 17 markets across Wuhan between May 2017 and November 2019. They found more than 47,000 live animals across 38 different species for sale, including 31 species protected under Chinese law.

This new information about the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, along with the maps and modeling data, don’t prove an animal origin for the pandemic by any means, Gronvall says. Nor do they disprove the lab-leak theory, she says: “There are lots of pieces to still fill in, but this report [from Worobey and his colleagues] ties a lot of the pieces together that say, ‘There is a really credible story for an animal origin of SARS-CoV2.’ “

What we do know — and still don’t know — about cases

Now, of course, all the data presented to support Worobey’s hypothesis come with caveats — big caveats. The Chinese government tightly controlled and managed the information coming from China, especially information concerning the early days of the pandemic. The reported COVID-19 cases in December 2019 are only a small fraction of the actual number circulating in Wuhan at the time. The government refuses to release the raw data for patients in 2019 or allow researchers to search for even earlier cases through the analyses of blood bank samples or epidemiological interviews.

In addition, the Huanan market sits in the middle of a densely populated part of the city, where many elderly people live, points out Alina Chan, a molecular biologist at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., who has promoted the lab-leak theory online.

“There are many more people living north of the river, and there are a lot of elderly folk living there in a lot of care homes there,” said Chan, as she showed me a population density map of Wuhan, published in February 2020. “So it doesn’t surprise me that the early outbreak doesn’t map to the [WIV] lab. People don’t live at the labs.”

But, Worobey says, a closer look at the population density in Wuhan indicates the early cases aren’t in the densest part of the city. “It is certainly worth considering the degree to which population densities might play a role in explaining early cases,” Worobey wrote to NPR in an email. “But there does seem to be a pattern in the early data … of considerable numbers of cases both to the north and south of the Huanan Market, whereas the large patch of really high numbers of elderly people in Wuhan is in the very southern extent of the central cluster shown.”

Furthermore, he notes, the earliest known cases skewed young. The highest number of cases occurred in people ages 29 to 49 and then in people ages 50 to 65. The vast majority were under 65, a study found.

And so, given the data available right now, he believes the most likely scenario is that the pandemic started at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, not the lab. “It does seem a pretty weird coincidence that [a big outbreak occurs] at one of four places in Wuhan that sells things like civets and raccoon dogs, which are the likely suspects as intermediaries to SARS-CoV-2.”

But if new data comes to light tomorrow, his thinking may shift again, Worobey says. That, in many ways, is the way science works.

Wuhan markets sold mink, civets long before Covid-19 emerged, says study

https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/wuhan-markets-sold-mink-civets-long-before-covid-19-emerged-says-study

A security guard stands outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, on Jan 24, 2020.
A security guard stands outside the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, on Jan 24, 2020.PHOTO: AFP
  • UPDATEDJUN 8, 2021, 4:11 PM

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WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – Chinese markets linked to some of the earliest Covid-19 cases were illegally selling a range of wildlife from which the coronavirus may have spread, according to a study published less than two weeks after US President Joe Biden ordered a deeper probe into the pandemic’s genesis.

Mink, masked palm civets, raccoon dogs, Siberian weasels, hog badgers and Chinese bamboo rats were among 38 animal species sold live at markets in Wuhan from May 2017 to November 2019, researchers said on Monday (June 7) in a paper in the journal Scientific Reports originally submitted last October.

The hunt for Covid-19’s origins has become increasingly political amid criticism that the Chinese government has not been open and transparent with key information, including activities in a Wuhan lab studying coronaviruses.

The new findings support the conclusions of a World Health Organisation-led research mission in early 2021 that concluded that Sars-CoV-2 most likely spilled over to humans from animals – either directly from a bat or via another mammal, possibly one sold at the Huanan seafood and fresh produce market in central Wuhan.

“This report clearly places Sars-CoV-2 susceptible animals smack in the middle of Wuhan,” said microbiology and immunology expert Robert Garry from Tulane University in New Orleans, who was not involved in the research. It is a major revelation, he said in an e-mail.

Access to the detailed data in the study was serendipitous, the researchers said.

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The findings were based on routine monthly surveys of shops selling live wild animals as pets or for food across Wuhan in the years before Covid-19 emerged at the end of 2019, the authors said. That unrelated study was intended to identify the source of a tick-borne disease.

“While we caution against the mis-attribution of Covid-19’s origins, the wild animals on sale in Wuhan suffered poor welfare and hygiene conditions and we detail a range of other zoonotic infections they can potentially vector,” lead author Xiao Xiao, from the Lab Animal Research Centre at Hubei University of Chinese Medicine in Wuhan, and colleagues wrote.

Both wild-caught and farmed non-domesticated species were sold – alive, caged, stacked and in poor condition – by 17 vendors, the researchers said. None posted an origin certificate or quarantine certificate, “so all wildlife trade was fundamentally illegal”, they said.

The WHO-led research team reported that market authorities claimed all live and frozen animals sold in the Huanan market were acquired from farms officially licensed for breeding, and it found no verified reports of live mammals being sold around 2019. The market was shut down at 1am on Jan 1, 2020.https://fd67ec0c283365cde45cdab7fefd7669.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“This paper is affirmative evidence that there was obfuscation regarding which animals were being sold at the wet markets in Wuhan,” Professor Garry said.

China temporarily banned all wildlife trade on Jan 26, 2020, and permanently banned eating and trading terrestrial wild animals for food a month later.

Before the ban, most stores offered butchering services, done on site, with considerable implications for food hygiene and animal welfare. Marmots – large ground squirrels – selling for more than US$25 (S$33) a kilogram, were the most expensive, while raccoon dogs and badgers were priced at about US$15-US$20 a kg, the researchers said.

“This group was able to learn a huge amount from vendors in these stalls, who were even willing to discuss openly that they were selling illegal wildlife,” said Dr Michael Worobey, head of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who was not involved in the study.

“It is hard to imagine them being so transparent with government authorities or even the WHO. This serves as a reminder that less ‘official’ investigations can play a huge role,” he said.

MORE ON THIS TOPIC

US agencies examine reports of early Covid-19 infections in Wuhan lab

WHO rechecks research on when coronavirus first surfaced in Italy

While the prevailing theory among virologists is that Covid-19 originated in bats and made its way into humans via an intermediary animal, efforts to pin down the details or identify any infected animals have been unsuccessful for the past year and a half. In part because of that futile attempt, combined with restrictions from China in the effort to gather information, some scientists have started calling for a more detailed investigation into the lab-leak theory.

President Biden directed his intelligence agencies to delve deeper into the issue last month, after he received a report on the origins earlier in May that detailed the scientific divide over whether Sars-CoV-2 arose naturally in animals or if it was leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of the world’s foremost laboratories working on coronaviruses.

Mr Biden asked for another update in 90 days.

Any finding of a coronavirus closely related to Sars-CoV-2 circulating in wild animals would likely quell suspicions that the pandemic virus was created in a lab, said Associate Professor Joel Wertheim from the University of California, San Diego, who studies viral molecular epidemiology. Still, there is no guarantee that such a virus will ever be found.

“We don’t even know, if there’s an intermediate species, which one we’re looking for,” he said over Zoom. “And also, if it was in a market beforehand, it’s not any more.”

The Wuhan Institute of Virology. A report on the origins of Covid-19 by a US government national laboratory concluded that the hypothesis of a virus leak from a Chinese lab in Wuhan is plausible and deserves further investigation, the Wall Street Journal said. PHOTO: AFP

Meanwhile, a report on the origins of Covid-19 by a US government national laboratory concluded that the hypothesis of a virus leak from a Chinese lab in Wuhan is plausible and deserves further investigation, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said on Monday (June 7), citing people familiar with the classified document.

The study was prepared in May 2020 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and was referred to by the US State Department when it conducted an inquiry into the pandemic’s origins during the final months of the Trump administration, the WSJ report said.

Lawrence Livermore’s assessment drew on a genomic analysis of the Covid-19 virus, the Journal said. Lawrence Livermore declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal report.

Mr Biden said last month he had ordered aides to find answers to the origin of the virus.

US intelligence agencies are considering two likely scenarios – that the virus resulted from a laboratory accident or that it emerged from human contact with an infected animal – but they have not come to a conclusion, Mr Biden said.

MORE ON THIS TOPIC

Aussie expert on WHO team defends Covid-19 origin findings, amid speculation about ‘lab leak’ theory

Search for Covid-19 origin ‘poisoned by politics’, says WHO expert

A still-classified US intelligence report circulated during former president Donald Trump’s administration alleged that three researchers at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became so ill in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, US government sources have said.

US officials have accused China of not being transparent about the virus’ origins, a charge Beijing has denied.

Separately, Dr Mike Ryan, a top World Health Organisation official said on Monday the WHO cannot compel China to divulge more data on Covid-19’s origins, while adding that it will propose studies needed to take understanding of where the virus emerged to the next level.

Earlier this month, US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci called on China to release the medical records of nine people whose ailments might provide vital clues into whether Covid-19 first emerged as the result of a lab leak.

MORE ON THIS TOPIC

Lab Leaks And Covid-19: Why The Lab Leak Hypothesis Doesn’t Mean The Virus Was Engineered

https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2021/06/13/lab-leaks-and-covid-19-why-the-lab-leak-hypothesis-doesnt-mean-the-virus-was-engineered/?sh=3e73832f30f7

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https://2a398f8536a61d54b16160ced29c40bd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlJun 13, 2021,07:39am EDT|625 views

Steven SalzbergContributorHealthFollow

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Security personnel stand guard outside the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan as members of the … [+] AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The “lab leak” hypothesis about the origin of Covid-19 has been getting a lot of attention lately, and deservedly so. This is the idea that the SARS-CoV-2 virus accidentally escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, that conducts research on coronaviruses. Just a few weeks ago, a group of highly respected virologists and epidemiologists published a letter in the journal Science calling for a more thorough investigation, stating that the lab leak hypothesis was not taken seriously enough in earlier investigations.

The coincidence of having a major virus research facility, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), just a short distance from the live animal food market that was originally believed to be the source of the outbreak is too great to ignore. Even more curious is that WIV was actively doing research on coronaviruses in bats, including the bats that carry a strain of SARS-CoV-2 that is the closest known relative to the Covid-19 virus itself.

From the beginning of the outbreak, attention was focused on WIV, and various conspiracy theorists suggested, without any evidence, that the Covid-19 virus was either intentionally engineered, intentionally released, or both. Let me just say right off the bat that I don’t believe either of those claims.

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However, I do think the lab leak hypothesis is credible, and it’s also possible that “gain of function” research (more about this below) might be responsible.

In arguing against (unsupported) claims that the Chinese released the virus on purpose, a group of virologists published a paper very early in the pandemic, in March 2020, which looked at the genome sequence of the virus and concluded that “SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” Other studies since then have come to similar conclusions: the virus is very similar to naturally-occurring coronaviruses, and it is possible that it simply evolved naturally in the wild, probably in bats.https://2a398f8536a61d54b16160ced29c40bd.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Even so, the lab leak hypothesis remains highly credible, regardless of whether or not the virus was genetically engineered. Here’s why. First, we know that lab accidents can happen and viruses can escape, even if these accidents are rare. We also know that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had thousands of viruses, including coronaviruses, in its facility. And despite claims that viruses couldn’t possibly have escaped accidentally, a 2017 Nature article describing the then-new Wuhan Institute reported, perhaps prophetically, that “worries surround the [Wuhan Institute of Virology], too. The SARS virus has escaped from high-level containment facilities in Beijing multiple times.”MORE FROM FORBES VIDEOhttps://www.youtube.com/embed/Cc6_3uNXcqc?enablejsapi=1

The secrecy of the Chinese government, which has not yet allowed independent, outside scientists full access to WIV to investigate, hasn’t helped matters. We need to know if any viruses in WIV are similar to the Covid-19 virus, and at this point we can’t trust the Chinese government’s assurances on this question. Of course, even if they allow outsiders to investigate now, we cannot know that they have preserved all the viruses that were present in the lab in the winter of 2019-2020.

Now let’s talk about gain-of-function research. Gain of function, or GoF, refers to research that tries to make viruses or bacteria more harmful, by making them more infectious. This seems crazy, right? And yet it’s been going on for years, despite the efforts of many scientists to stop it. In the past, GoF research focused on the influenza virus, and in particular on a small number of scientists (highly irresponsible ones, in my view) who were trying to give avian influenza–bird flu–the ability to jump from birds into humans. I wrote about this in 2013, and in 2017, and again in 2019, each time calling on the US government to stop funding this extremely dangerous work. The NIH did put a “pause” on gain-of-function research for a few years, but the work resumed in 2019.

Now, let me explain why GoF research does not require artificially engineering a virus. Viruses mutate very rapidly all by themselves, and RNA viruses like influenza and SARS-CoV-2 mutate even more rapidly than DNA viruses. So a GoF experiment doesn’t need to engineer a virus to make it more infectious: instead, scientists can simply grow a few trillion viral particles, which is easy, and design experiments to select the ones that are more infectious. For example, some GoF research on bird flu simply sprays an aerosol mixture of viruses into a ferret’s nose (influenza research often uses ferrets, since you can’t ethically do this with people), and waits to see if the ferret comes down with the flu. If it does (and this has been done, successfully), the strain that succeeds now has a new function, because it can infect mammals. The viruses that are artificially selected (as opposed to natural selection) in these experiments will appear completely natural; no genetic engineering required.

We know that WIV was conducting gain-of-function experiments, and we know that its work included coronaviruses. Was the Wuhan Institute of Virology running GoF experiments on SARS-CoV-2 viruses from bats? Possibly. And if it was, these experiments could easily have produced a strain that infected humans. If a lab employee was accidentally infected with such a strain, that could have started the pandemic. And even if SARS-CoV-2 wasn’t the subject of GoF experiments, a naturally-occurring strain being studied at WIV could still have infected one of their scientists and thereby leaked out into the population.

I’m not saying that any of these events is likely. I am, however, agreeing with the scientists who, in their recent letter to Science, called for a deeper investigation into the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finally, let me echo a sentiment they expressed in their letter, which is best said by simply quoting them: “in this time of unfortunate anti-Asian sentiment in some countries, we note that at the beginning of the pandemic, it was Chinese doctors, scientists, journalists, and citizens who shared with the world crucial information about the spread of the virus—often at great personal cost.” Rather than seeking to cast blame, we need to uncover the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, and any behaviors that led to it, as a means to help all societies prevent future pandemics.

Fauci, Biden administration asking China for medical records of sick lab workers and miners

https://www.bostonherald.com/2021/06/04/fauci-biden-administration-asking-china-for-medical-records-of-sick-lab-workers-and-miners/

Fauci, Biden administration asking China for…

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as he speaks with reporters in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as he speaks with reporters in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

By ALEXI COHAN | alexi.cohan@bostonherald.com | Boston HeraldPUBLISHED: June 4, 2021 at 8:43 p.m. | UPDATED: June 4, 2021 at 8:45 p.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and members of the Biden administration are asking China to release medical records of lab workers and miners who fell ill prior to the coronavirus outbreak, as they may provide clues about the origins of the virus, according to reports.

“I have always felt that the overwhelming likelihood — given the experience we have had with SARS, MERS, Ebola, HIV, bird flu, the swine flu pandemic of 2009 — was that the virus jumped species,” Fauci told the Financial Times. “But we need to keep on investigating until a possibility is proven.”

The medical records in question are from three researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology who reportedly fell ill in November 2019 and six miners who got sick after entering a bat cave in 2012. Two of the miners died.

Scientists from the Wuhan Institute of Virology later visited the cave to collect samples from the bats.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.463.0_en.html#goog_1263257357PauseNext video0:29Full-screenRead Morehttps://c14deb9db86ee93aaa37abb094336ae7.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“It is entirely conceivable that the origins of SARS-CoV-2 was in that cave and either started spreading naturally or went through the lab,” Fauci said.

President Biden’s chief medical adviser called on China to release the medical records, according to the Financial Times report. China’s foreign ministry declined to say whether it would consider releasing the records at a press briefing on Friday.

Biden last week ordered U.S. intelligence to come to a conclusion within 90 days about what started the pandemic. Speculation about a lab leak has ramped up in recent weeks, but public health professionals have said it is highly unlikely.

Last month, the World Health Organization released a report in which it stated a lab leak, “was considered to be an extremely unlikely pathway.”

Fauci has said several times he believes coronavirus was first transmitted to humans via animals.