Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, says: “The Chinese understand us extremely well. We understand them extremely poorly.” Charles Moore, in an incisive and important critique of Sir Richard’s comments, published in The Daily Telegraph, warns that there is “so little time left” for western democracies to deal with the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.
Was Covid-19 created in a lab? China has some urgent questions to answer
Given the regime’s history of lying, we should take seriously the theory that the virus may be man-made
CHARLES MOORE5 June 2020 •: The Daily Telegraph
In his interview with this paper’s Allison Pearson on Thursday, Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, said: “The Chinese understand us extremely well. We understand them extremely poorly.”
This is important and true. Since Deng Xiaoping first moved his country away from Maoism in 1978, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – which wholly runs China – has studied the West deeply. It wants to copy it, get rich from it and, by the middle of this century at the latest, beat it.
It has done this through commerce, finance, property, science, cultural links, Western universities, and by cyber-penetration and spying. Its work has been consistent, intense and purposeful. Our response has mostly been credulous, lazy and greedy. I would guess that for every one Westerner who has troubled to learn Mandarin, there are 10,000 Chinese people who have learnt good English.
As a result, we barely noticed the ominous change of pace and tone which came with Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012. Thanks to Covid-19, and the ensuing nearly 400,000 deaths worldwide, we have noticed now.
In the past couple of weeks, our Government – having been slower than the United States and Australia – has at last begun to move. It is now turning against Huawei’s involvement in our 5G future. It has focused on the plight of the people of Hong Kong, boldly promising them a “path to citizenship” because China has broken the Sino-British Agreement of 1984 which is supposed to protect them until 2047. But there is so much more that needs understanding, and so little time left.
Sir Richard’s interview chiefly concerned a new learned paper about the hunt for a Covid-19 vaccine, written by distinguished scientists, the vaccinologist, Birger Sorensen, and the immunologist, Angus Dalgleish, in the Quarterly Review of Biophysics Discovery. Having first held back the news of the disease, the CCP finally made it public towards the end of January. Sir Richard’s intelligence-service mind made him suspicious about the speed with which the Chinese then rushed out a series of publications fixing guilt on pangolins and bats. So he is interested in the Sorensen/Dalgleish theory.
Obviously, you cannot get the right vaccine without knowing the nature of the virus. This lack of full knowledge explains the failure of vaccines so far. In the authors’ view, the virus they are trying to vaccinate against is what scientists call a chimera – in this case, as Dr Sorensen put it to me, “constructed in such a way that it can make use of co-receptors on human epithelial cells”. Another way of putting it is that it was built by human beings to see how infectious it could be to human beings. This does not mean that the purpose was to make people ill – it was, rather, experimental – but it does, according to this theory, mean that it was created in a laboratory and is extremely dangerous.
Dr Sorensen insists that “the world will be misled unless we can see the data that matters.” The Chinese authorities have “not revealed that data properly or correctly”. He is working on a follow-up paper to study in detail what data they gave us, and what they withheld.
As you can imagine, the political consequences are big. If we know that China has not been straight with us about the virus, that would affect all our dealings with it. This may explain why the scientists had some difficulty getting an earlier version of their article published. The well-known magazine Nature was particularly sticky. It has published earlier work dismissing any idea of a lab-created virus. The magazine’s editor is on record giving extravagant praise to the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
It is also noteworthy how quickly some people have rushed to slap down Sorensen /Dalgleish. One newspaper yesterday reported that Sir Richard’s former sister organisation, MI5 – which has neglected Chinese subversion in this country – had dismissed the chimera theory, saying the infection began in the Wuhan wet market. This was particularly odd since, in mid-May, the CCP publicly withdrew the wet-market explanation as the origin of the virus, perhaps because that line could no longer hold against mounting evidence.
Given the danger of political polarisation, another learned article, just out, is helpful. In the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a publication with a Left-wing character, Milton Leitenberg, a biological weapons expert, begins with a denunciation of Donald Trump and his allies for being “as notorious a gang of fabricators as will ever likely be recorded in American history”. In his lengthy review, however, of all the published data – including data put up on Chinese websites and then removed by the CCP – he goes on to say that “the possibility of a laboratory escape of the pathogen was a plausible, if unproven, theory.” That theory was not invented by Trump.
In 2015, Leitenberg continues, the Wuhan Institute of Virology “initiated construction of novel chimeric coronaviruses” and subsequently published on this. These were what are known as “gain of function” experiments to make a virus capable of infecting a new kind of cell. He also produces evidence about inadequate security at the two relevant labs in Wuhan, especially at the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Quite separate work by Alina Chan and others at the Harvard/MIT Broad Institute, the leading genetic lab in the world, aligns with the argument that the virus is extraordinarily well pre-adapted to infect human beings.
Putting this and other emerging work together, one can fairly say that China has scientifically well-founded questions to answer about the origin and nature of the virus. And fairly add that it has not been frank or honest so far. This is a matter not only of getting the history right, but also of life and death. Chinese concealment is hindering the search for a vaccine.
If we did not expect such concealment, we do not understand the Chinese leadership.
I said earlier that the CCP has worked earnestly for 40 years to understand us. One thing it has never understood, however, let alone liked, is our love of freedom and openness. To Chinese leaders, these things seem dangerous, even unpatriotic.
So it has been a constant source of pain to them that a free entity, Hong Kong, exists – or should I say existed? – on their doorstep. Deng and his successors had the wit to see that the wealth of the former colony should not be destroyed; but they regarded all that stuff about free speech and emerging democracy as a form of subversion. Hence Xi’s attempt to impose a new national security law on the territory.
The current CCP leaders hate the fact that those fighting for freedom in Hong Kong are overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese, so they have to assert that such people are stirred up by foreign interests. Their close study of past events – the weak reaction to the Tiananmen Square massacres 31 years ago this week, their entry into the World Trade Organisation without being made to observe the rules of free trade, our timidity about the Hong Kong protests last year, and British feebleness over Huawei just before Covid struck – all these have convinced them that we shall huff and puff a bit, and then let them get away with it.
Perhaps they are right. Perhaps they understand us all too well. It will need the entire free world to prove them wrong.