Imagine, if you will, a scenario.
A pandemic occurs under a Democrat president. The origin of the infection is in China — and China badly botches the response, which leads to more fatalities.
Separately, a man is arrested with vials of biological material stuffed inside a sock in his bag at Boston’s Logan International Airport right around when the virus was first developing.
It was cancer cells that he wanted to transport back to China to publish under his own name at a Chinese university — a purported case of intellectual property theft.
There’s no alleged connection with the virus, mind you — but he’s one of three people charged in separate cases all having to do with China and the sciences.
Now, what do you think the level of media invective directed at China would have been?
They would have, a la Spinal Tap, made sure their amps went up to 11. They wouldn’t have just called it the “Wuhan Chinese virus,” it would have been the “very China-y China virus from Wuhan did we mention China? No? Then China. Again.” It’s a bit of a mouthful, but MSNBC would make that kind of time.
The president is Republican, however, and the focus is not on how China mismanaged the coronavirus outbreak and its various perfidies but how President Donald Trump and his administration mismanaged the outbreak and all of its various perfidies.
That’s why you’ve never heard of Zaosong Zheng.
“In August 2018, Zheng entered the United States on a J-1 visa and conducted cancer-cell research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston from Sept. 4, 2018, to Dec. 9, 2019,” the Department of Justice said in a news release.
“It is alleged that on Dec. 9, 2019, Zheng stole 21 vials of biological research and attempted to smuggle them out of the United States aboard a flight destined for China. Federal officers at Logan Airport discovered the vials hidden in a sock inside one of Zheng’s bags, and not properly packaged.
“It is alleged that initially, Zheng lied to officers about the contents of his luggage, but later admitted he had stolen the vials from a lab at Beth Israel. Zheng stated that he intended to bring the vials to China to use them to conduct research in his own laboratory and publish the results under his own name.”
Zheng is now charged with “one count of smuggling goods from the United States and one count of making false, fictitious or fraudulent statements. “
According to The New York Times, his arrest, just before he was about to board Hainan Airlines Flight 482, was part of “an escalation in the F.B.I.’s efforts to root out scientists who, the authorities say, are stealing research from American laboratories.”
Visiting researchers, almost entirely from China, were described by FBI Director Christopher Wray as “nontraditional collectors” of intelligence for the government in China as part of an attempt to “steal their way up the economic ladder at our expense.”
Zheng’s case itself was evidence of an escalation on the part of those “nontraditional collectors.”
“This is one of the few cases where there’s been stealing of physical material as well as the stealing of ideas,” Dr. Ross McKinney Jr., chief scientific officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said. “It’s an escalation over most of what we’ve been seeing.”
Thankfully, Customs and Border Protection had been warned that Zheng represented “a high risk for possibly exporting biological undeclared biological material.”
When confronted, he claimed the vials were unimportant to his research, according to the DOJ. When that line didn’t work, he said a friend had given them to him.
“Zheng could not explain why he was attempting to leave the United States with the vials concealed in a sock in his checked bag,” Kara Spice, the FBI special agent assigned to the case, said in a statement.
Prosecutors said this theft “was not an isolated incident.”
“Rather, it appears to have been a coordinated crime, with likely involvement by the Chinese government, as two other Chinese nationals working in the same lab have also stolen biological materials and smuggled them out of the United States,” they said in a statement asking for bail to be denied.
So, where’s this story being amplified?
It doesn’t have to do with the virus directly, unless a Chinese foreign minister decides to try to use this as evidence that the virus was really smuggled out of an American lab by one of these researchers that the government deliberately let through. This isn’t out of the realm of possibility, of course.
Instead, it has to do with the virus indirectly — especially when it comes to the role that the Chinese government plays as an unreliable and dishonest actor on the world stage.
The Chinese government lied about the spread of COVID-19. It jailed doctors who dared speak out about the virus. If it had acted three weeks earlier, according to one study, 95 percent of cases could have been precluded.
This shouldn’t have been a surprise, though, not when the Chinese government has allowed massive IP theft like the one Zheng is alleged to have taken part in. And yet, this case mostly disappeared as impeachment ramped up and then coronavirus hit.
Trump is right. The Chinese aren’t our friends and we can’t deal with them as such — not when the stakes are so high.
Perhaps instead of discussing how “Chinese virus” is racist, we ought to spend more time discussing that.