Curse or proverb? That is the question often attached to an ancient Chinese saying, “May you live in interesting times.” After news this week, ironically relating to the national source of that phrase, we may be on the verge of times so interesting, the last three years will pale in comparison.
The Biden administration has been executing a slow crawl, step-by-step admission that the COVID-19 virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, first buried in a classified Energy Department report and then by a direct admission from FBI Director Christopher Wray that “The FBI has for quite some time now assessed that the origins of the pandemic are most likely a potential lab incident in Wuhan.” Baby steps. It came from Wuhan. Then from a lab in Wuhan. Then, it was an incident at a lab in Wuhan. What will the next step be and what is the full story they are leading us toward?
Before the next shoe dropped, however, a former Chinese scientist may have revealed the end game sooner than the administration could get there, and if it proves to be true, the significance would be massive.
Dr. Li-Meng Yan is a Chinese medical doctor and virologist who fled to the U.S. from Hong Kong in April 2020. Since that time, she has publicly drawn attention to her belief that the virus originated in a lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Upon publishing her conclusions, critics immediately attacked Yan’s research, her credentials, even her ethics. Anyone who cited her and her theories was labelled a “conspiracy theorist” and so-called “fact check” organizations rushed to dismiss her claims as false.
If she is to be believed—and why would anyone risk the wrath of the Chinese government on herself and her family if it were not true—there is one major factor that favors Yan over her critics. She actually worked on the COVID virus in a Chinese virology lab and understands the inner workings of such an operation. With this knowledge, Yan pointed out that viruses do not simply escape accidently from these facilities. An accidental lab leak, says Yan, “would be impossible given the protocols and other surveillance systems.”
In the past, the Washington Post argued similarly that “Too many perfect coincidences would have had to take place for it to have escaped from a lab,” and National Public Radio reported that there was “virtually no chance” that the virus escaped the lab because to do so “would have required a remarkable series of coincidences and deviations from well-established experimental protocols.” Strangely, none of these critics of the story seemed to entertain the notion that the leak might not be accidental or a coincidence, but rather an intentional act.
Which brings us to major revelations this past week. First, the U.S. government’s growing acknowledgement that Yan’s first major point was accurate, that the virus came from a lab in Wuhan. Upon reading about the Energy Department report and the FBI director’s admission, fact-check sites began quickly revising their assessment of the issue and making all kinds of excuses about their earlier attacks on the theory. Also, once-harsh critics have either fallen silent, tried to explain their earlier rejections of the idea, or continued to hold to them, claiming the government must be wrong. The tide, however, is turning quickly in favor of Yan’s point of view.
There is no institution, perhaps in the world, that has led the study of COVID-19 more thoroughly than the Johns Hopkins University. On Tuesday, Dr. Marty Makary, professor of surgery at the school, testified before a Congressional subcommittee and was asked about the origin of the virus.
“The [COVID] epicenter of the world,” he responded, “is five miles from one of the only high-level virology labs in China. It’s a no-brainer that it came from the lab. I mean, at this point, it’s impossible to acquire any more information, and if you did, it would only be affirmative.”
If many scientists, journalists, and policymakers who once dismissed Yan and what she has argued are now at least making room for the idea that she may have been right all along, one would think there would be a wider acceptance of her latest revelation. To date, however, very few significant news organizations have covered Yan’s latest conclusion that the virus was not only created in a Wuhan lab, but it was released by the Chinese government intentionally.
Imagine the implications. The Chinese government intentionally released COVID-19 on the world. In the U.S. alone, the virus contributed to the deaths of more than one million Americans. Worldwide, it was a factor in the deaths of at least seven million and likely many more. Is this the revelation toward which the Biden administration was slow-walking us with its progression of public acknowledgements? If so, what would be the response of the U.S. government to such a discovery?
For some perspective, the 1915 sinking of the passenger and cargo liner Lusitania was the final blow that pushed the U.S. government to join the fight in World War I. Nearly 1,200 passengers died when a German U-Boat torpedoed and sunk the vessel off the coast of England. Of these, 128 were American citizens. That war cost the lives of more than 116,000 American soldiers. A quarter century later, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and the deaths of 2,403 Americans brought the U.S. into World War II. That war cost the lives of more than 400,000 Americans. After losing just shy of 3,000 people in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the U.S embarked on the longest war in its history.
What then, will the U.S. do if Yan’s allegations are proven with irrefutable evidence? Though it is unlikely we will see U.S. jets and missiles firing on the Asian superpower, sanctions at least as strong as those imposed on Russia would likely befall the government in Beijing and its people. The result would be enormously devastating to China but also, and unavoidably, to the United States.
Hunter Biden’s laptop was framed as a crazy conspiracy theory until he acknowledged that it was his. The idea that the FBI was working with Twitter to silence conservative voices on the social media platform was only true in the minds of ultra-right wing zealots, until Twitter records revealed weekly meetings between the two. It took $44 billion for Elon Musk to uncover that truth. The media and the pundit class dismissed this same Chinese scientist when she said the virus originated in a lab, until the FBI acknowledged they had been convinced of the truth of it “for quite some time now.”
This history with Yan’s earlier story may be tempering the reaction to her latest, much more sinister revelation. They were burned once by doubting her, so they are not taking any chances this time. Perhaps, having seen so many “crazy conspiracy theories” turn out to have a basis in fact, Americans have grown tired of the knee-jerk reaction against anyone who posits a controversial new idea. Whatever the reason, there has so far been precious little reporting, good or bad, on Yan’s newest bombshell.
The End of the Chinese Empire
Beginning in 1980, with their nation’s population growing far too rapidly, the Chinese government implemented a “one-child-policy” that restricted each family to having a single child only. For nearly a half century this policy was the keystone of a wider program to limit the birth rate. While effective in its goal, the policy lacked a very important element—foresight. By limiting the number of births, the government started the clock on a demographic time bomb that is fast reaching the point of detonation.
By limiting the size of at least two generations of its people, the nation has arrived at a place where there are far more older, retired citizens than there are younger people who can generate the economic activity to support them. Without enough youthful workers the cost of labor, famously low in China for decades, has risen sharply, causing major manufacturing operations to seriously consider “reshoring” their operations to countries with cheaper labor, such as Mexico, whose costs are now one-third that of China.
Not surprisingly, the size of the country’s labor force peaked in 2015 and is now in the midst of a sharp downward trend as more older Chinese move out of the workforce and there simply are not enough younger people to take their place, drive the economy forward, and provide the communist government with the ability to care for its older population. Recently, the Chinese admitted that they had overcounted their population by a hundred million people, worsening the reality that the size of its younger population may be insufficient for its economic survival.
China is the world’s largest importer of food and energy. It is dependent on foreign imports of oil to help power its electrical grid. Spikes, or worse, permanent upward shifts, in world energy costs further darken China’s economic future. Demographic researcher and best-selling author Peter Zeihan wrote in 2022 that “China is by far the most vulnerable country in the world right now… Three decades of growth has strained the country’s electricity system; the country has no spare capacity—it runs all of its power generation flat out regardless of the input fuel—so any input shortage would at a minimum lead to large scale rotating blackouts.”
Enter the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its impact on the supply of oil and natural gas in the region. China is already looking at the possibility of economic collapse in the not-so-distant future. Within a year or less, we could see the Chinese economy failing in ways that it cannot correct. This is a country of 1.4 billion people. Imagine the reaction among a populace of that size to their government’s support of Russia in a war that could end very badly for Moscow and make permanent the decline in its outward flow of energy exports. Add to this the inability of Beijing to remedy energy and food shortages, and then mix in the reaction to the discovery that its leaders intentionally unleashed the COVID-19 virus on the world. This a recipe for epic disaster and deep destabilization in a nation of more than one-sixth of the World’s population.
Before you celebrate the potentially imminent demise of the ancient Chinese Empire, consider the enormous detrimental effect this would certainly have on the United States.
Look around your living room or kitchen. So much in our lives needs a lithium-ion or nickel-cadmium battery, or semiconductors or both. Not just the cell phones, laptops, and tablets, but the digital clock, the television, the game console, the cable box, and on and on, all made with the help of a group of about a dozen or more minerals.
A modern automobile, for example, can use as many as 3,000 semiconductors. More than two years ago, major automakers such as Ford, Mercedes, and General Motors closed plants because they lacked the microchips to make their products work. Local dealers saw their lots empty while they tried to maintain cash flow by shifting to used vehicles. The jump in prices for both new and used contributed significantly to inflation.
The automobile microchip shortage exposed the lack of additional capacity in the manufacturing world to meet the growing demand for technology. There are three billion more smartphones in the world today than there were in 2020. In 2021, customers across the globe bought seven million new electric vehicles, each of which, on average, requires a battery the size of 5,400 cell phone batteries. All of these rely on a combination of those minerals, and the supply of many of these are reaching their capacity in terms of mining and processing. Most of the mining rights, processing capacity or both of things like cobalt, lithium, nickel, copper, and rare earth minerals are controlled by China. Replacing its role in the production of these minerals, if it is possible at all, would take years, even decades.
As badly as the supply of semiconductors negatively impacted the auto industry, similar shortages are on the horizon for other products that we have become dependent upon in our daily lives, even with uninterrupted Chinese production. The rising cost of labor, the shortage of mineral deposits worldwide, and China’s suddenly much higher energy costs are sure to cause higher prices, if not outright shortages in the near future. And that’s if China remains as stable as it is today, which is increasingly unlikely.
If Dr. Yan’s tale of a diabolical act by the Chinese government proves to be true—and at this point that is an enormous “if”— every nation in the world that lost citizens to the pandemic—which is every nation in the world—would be pressured, if not compelled to join in a regime of sanctions that would quickly devastate an already fragile Chinese economy. Almost simultaneously, the resulting impact on its manufacturing output could very likely ignite a worldwide recession—or worse.
If the Biden administration is already aware of the true origins of the virus—remember, it took months for it to finally acknowledge that it “most likely” was released due to a lab “incident” in Wuhan—they must already be wrestling with their choice of responses to include bad or worse. Bad: Reacting harshly toward China, which would likely be the overwhelmingly popular choice among Americans, would cause immediate and lasting harm to our national economy, and destabilize the world’s economy for years to come. Worse: Reacting in any other way would essentially pardon an intentional act that led to the deaths of 458 times as many Americans as were killed by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor.
On Sunday morning, the Chinese government announced that it intended to increase spending on its military by nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars this year in order to “boost combat preparedness and enhance military capabilities,” despite a lack of a known military threat from any nation.
Perhaps it is anticipating such a threat.
We are about to live in very interesting times.