Washington Examiner

Controlling Chinese Weapons: The Wuhan Virus and Nuclear Weapons

Senior Fellow
A man wears a protective mask on February 10, 2020 in Wuhan, China.
A man wears a protective mask on February 10, 2020 in Wuhan, China.

The world is in the grips of a pandemic with economic, political, and strategic consequences and, most importantly, a human toll we don’t yet understand. Will the loss of life rival the scale of the Spanish flu of 1918 or the swine flu of 2009? We don’t yet know.

There will be time to assess what could have been done better in the response to the virus. What we should all be able to come together to focus on is the origin of the virus and its initial spread: the corruption of the Chinese Communist Party. Why is this important? Because to prevent a repeat of the circumstances of this outbreak, we must understand its origins.

While there is controversy over what to call this virus — COVID-19, the Wuhan virus, or the CCP virus — there is no controversy that it originated in the city of Wuhan. There is also seemingly no disagreement that the Chinese Communist Party knew about the outbreak of this virus for weeks, if not months, before it informed the Chinese people, other nation-states, or international health authorities.

According to the World Health Organization, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China initially knew of the “Wuhan virus” as early as Dec. 8, 2019. Some reports suggest Chinese health authorities were aware as early as November of last year. Yet, initial substantive disclosures to the WHO did not take place until Jan. 11, 2020.

If your neighbor knew the brakes on his car were faulty before he loaned you the car, you’d hold him accountable, right? Of course, you would. There will be time for accountability, and assignment of responsibility will be critical.

There will also be time to evaluate how the virus emerged. Did it, for example, emerge from an open-air wet market in Wuhan, as some have speculated? Or did it emerge from China’s only Biosafety Level 4 facility — which is rated for the deadliest pathogens to humans, rating the highest level of safety and containment, and which is located in Wuhan and opened in 2017?

Is this why the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machine is working so hard to falsely accuse the United States, and the U.S. Army in particular, of being the source of the virus? Are they attempting to inoculate themselves once the truth of the virus’s origin is known? Is this a case where “the lady doth protest too much,” as Hamlet said? The answer to these questions will come in time — but the world and the U.S. government must get answers.

What is known is that in its annual report on arms control compliance, the Department of State has found that the Chinese government “engaged … in biological activities with potential dual-use applications, which raises concerns regarding its compliance with the [Biological Weapons Convention].” Moreover, the report stated that “the United States does not have sufficient information to determine whether China eliminated its assessed biological warfare (BW) program, as required under Article II of the Convention.” Are any of these activities taking place in Wuhan?

We are at a moment of reckoning for the U.S. relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. The party’s decision to attempt to hide the virus from the world is directly responsible for its spread to our shores. Thousands of people are dead as a consequence.

Such opacity is in the genetic code of the Communist Party. Like any genetic mutation, cancer is inevitable; its malignance was not inevitable, but that is the consequence of it being ignored for too long. Imagine the consequences of this malignance for the world’s most dangerous weapons: nuclear weapons. That is just what has been happening as the world has assented to China exempting itself from nuclear arms control.

In remarks at the Hudson Institute in May 2019, Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, provided previously classified details about China’s nuclear weapons program. Ashley stated: “Over the next decade, China will likely at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile in the course of implementing the most rapid expansion and diversification of its nuclear arsenal in China's history. ... Their trajectory is consistent with President Xi's vision for China's military … that China's military will be fully transformed into a first-tier force by 2050.”

President Trump was, of course, aware of this trajectory and prudently has seen fit to push to include China in nuclear arms control. For too long, China has gotten a free ride and has been able to pursue a massive build-up of its nuclear forces, “ testing and training [more ballistic missiles] than the rest of the world combined, ” and may be undertaking activities that are not consistent with the “ 'zero yield’ nuclear weapons moratorium adhered to by the United States.

The president has noted that we’re at war with the coronavirus. In Trump’s National Biodefense Strategy, the administration stated, “biological threats … are among the most serious threats facing the United States and the international community.”

We are witnessing the dangers of biological threats. But they pale in comparison to the threats posed by nuclear weapons. We cannot afford to let the Chinese Communist Party continue to avoid its place in nuclear arms control. The president must reaffirm his push for trilateral arms control when the near-term crisis of the “Wuhan virus” has passed.

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