On August 12, the Chinese Communist Party-run China Daily tweeted out a cartoon with the accompanying text: “Groundless accusation #ChinaDailyCartoon #US #coronavirus."
The cartoon depicts Uncle Sam – representing, of course, the United States – giving a speech in which he says: “The country where the virus was first identified. That country is the virus maker.”
As we know, SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, was first identified in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. And China disputes the suspicion that it may have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a research lab that experimented with bat viruses.
But the next slide takes it to a whole new propaganda low: A picture of a monster bearing the acronym AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) tapping on Uncle Sam’s shoulder, asking: “What did you say?”
The cartoon implies that if China can be accused of “making” the virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic, then the blame for originating the human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) should fall on the United States, where AIDS was first reported in 1981.
However, equating the two situations is false, distorts the truth about the scientific process that was used to trace HIV/AIDS to its real origins, and resurrects a conspiracy theory popularized by the former Soviet Union and others.
It was researchers at the Paris-based Pasteur Institute who first identified the HIV virus in January 1981.
That fact was recognized in 2008, when Luc Montaigner and fellow team member Francoise Barre-Sinoussi received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus.”
Montagnier and Barre-Sinoussi are credited with discovering “retroviral activity in cells taken from a [French] patient’s lymph nodes.” They initially identified HIV as lymphadenopathy-associated virus (LAV).
To be sure, U.S. scientists were competing with their French counterparts to isolate the virus. Robert Gallo, of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, claimed he discovered HIV in 1984. That lead to a contentious battle over who was first.
However, in 1991, Gallo conceded that the retrovirus he discovered had actually come from a virus sample sent to him by researchers at the Pasteur Institute.
Gallo and his colleagues were the first to provide evidence that HIV causes AIDS. And the first cases of what would later be known as the AIDS epidemic would also be identified in the United States in June 1981.
But both the HIV-1 and HIV-2 human immunodeficiency viruses originated from cross-species transmissions among African primates. Scientists believe one transmission event of simian immunodeficiency viruses from chimpanzees in southeastern Cameroon is “the principal cause of the AIDS pandemic.”
The first properly documented case of HIV in a human goes back even further – to 1959, in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The China Daily cartoon is just Beijing’s latest attempt to deflect attention from discussion of the origins of COVID-19 after the World Health Organization chief called for another series of investigations in Wuhan, China.
China has repeatedly spread the baseless conspiracy theory that the virus behind the pandemic came from a U.S. Army biolab at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Fort Detrick also featured in a 1980s Soviet disinformation campaign known as Operation InfeKtion (also Operation Denver).
That disinformation campaign spread the conspiracy theory that HIV/AIDs was created as a U.S. bioweapon at Fort Detrick.
In 1992, Yevgeny Primakov, then director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (and later prime minister and foreign minister), conceded that Soviet intelligence had fabricated the conspiracy theory. Despite that admission, the false idea that the United States manufactured the AIDS epidemic persists to this day, with adverse public health consequences.
Although some have attempted to politicize the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that "all hypotheses" remained on the table after a 14-member WHO team visited China for 27 days in January and February.
That includes a possible laboratory leak. However, as Polygraph.info and others previously reported, the WHO initially concluded it was “extremely unlikely” that SARS-CoV-2 originated in a lab and likely that the virus emerged naturally.
Tedros said the global health body’s investigation had been hindered by a lack of information from China. He called on China to help get to the bottom of the origins quest “by sharing all relevant data in a spirit of transparency.”
On August 12, The Washington Post reported that Peter Ben Embarek, who led the WHO team to Wuhan, told Danish documentarians that China had pressured the group to drop the lab leak theory from its report.
Embarek also clarified that the hypothetical scenario in which a lab employee was infected while collecting samples in a bat cave would fall both under the lab-leak hypothesis and the “direct infection from bat to human” hypothesis.
That, he said, makes it “a likely hypothesis.”
Embarek further said the Chinese Communist Party system, which “focuses a lot on being infallible,” provides little space for authorities to admit to “human error.”
Unlike the AIDs bioweapon myth, however, no one is seriously suggesting COVID-19 was intentionally engineered and released by Beijing.