Dr. Pippa: Pishi and Porcupine: Discussing Issues that Are Too Prickly to be Touched

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Human beings, especially human beings in positions of high authority, can be amongst the most overconfident, un-self-aware prickly people you’ll ever meet. Power pumps up the ego and raises the risk of screw-ups which makes humans defensive, brittle, and paranoid. Politics with a small “p” makes people separate into little groups of like thinkers. Priesthoods form. These are divided into acolytes and enemies these days. If you come in and start speaking truths about Emperors wearing no clothes, the reaction is not to reconsider but to shut the questioner down, as we all know.

by Dr. Pippa on Dr. Pippa’s Pen & Podcast:

There is no trickier subject right now than the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 and the possibility that it, and the vaccine for it, were manufactured in a lab by scientists who deliberately or inadvertently created something that damages humans.

This matters now because the perception gap between particularly the US and China on this may be propelling the two nations toward confrontation. The question is, why is Xi Jinping ramping up his war machine in the aftermath of securing total control over the power apparatus of China? He literally walked his enemies off the stage. Surely now would be the time to focus on restoring the domestic economy as China slowly removes the Zero-COVID policy. But, no. He has appointed Taiwan experts to the top of the People’s Liberation Army and Navy. He has accomplished two goals at once. The military report to him, not the CCP, and the top soldiers and naval officers are now “well-versed in operational command” and are “politically reliable.” Is this because he really prioritizes taking back Taiwan? Is it because war is one way to have a highly controlled restart of an economy that is otherwise not very competitive anymore? War tends to create full employment. Could it be that he needs an excuse to commence this? What if he has it, and it’s not Taiwan but COVID-19? I would suggest that there are good reasons why China stands behind Russia’s allegation that the US is engaged in biological warfare against both China and Russia. Absurd as this sounds to Western observers, it is worth remembering that the greatest suspicion arises when you yourself are engaged in whatever you are accusing others of doing.

Alarm bells have been ringing in the West for some time about China’s genome strategy which collects not only domestic DNA but foreign DNA. There are grave concerns that China aims to build biogenetic weapons, especially ones that can be used against a single person or a single ethnic group. This fear is why the Pentagon has long warned against at-home DNA testing and why they’ve been worried about the BGI Group (formerly the Beijing Genomic Institute) and its ties to the Chinese military. BGI is China’s most advanced firm in the mass “genomic surveillance” space, where the police and authorities systematically gather DNA from all people of all ages and all geographies including from all over China and Tibet and from AmericansBritish and Europeans, Africans, and all over the world. Let’s remember that everybody who ever had a COVID test gave their DNA to the COVID test maker. It seems that most of the tests were, not surprisingly, made in China by BGI or allied firms. Similarly, Chinese-made pregnancy test kits are also potentially DNA-gathering devices. In response to these allegations, BGI said, “BGI strongly rejects any accusations about links with the PLA, particularly in relation to our COVID-19 test kits.” 

This is one reason why the US has just widened the investment ban on BJI Genomics. It is also why the Pentagon has banned military officers from doing personal 23 & Me-style DNA tests since two years ago.

As for Russia, there is no doubt about its biowarfare capabilities. The Soviet Union and Russia post-Soviet Union amassed a huge stockpile and had a long history of lying about it.

We think of war as a battleground involving tanks, troops, ships, and planes. But technology has made it possible for a new battleground involving DNA, cells, organs, and scientists in labs. The human body is the battleground in an era of hybrid biogenetic warfare. We have a situation now where China is accusing the US of engaging in such warfare. The US is fearing that China might engage in such warfare. 

Westerners find the allegation that the US launched bioweapons in the form of SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 and the vaccine, utterly absurd.  This article is not the place to get into who is right and who is wrong. Instead, now is the time to appreciate the persistent and intensifying fear that we are all facing a biowarfare threat. It matters that the US also has a persistent and intensifying fear that they are facing a biowarfare threat from China. Eric Schmidt, of Google and the Chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and founder of the Special Competitive Studies Project, recently spoke about the “near-term concern”, saying that he particularly fears the combination of AI and genetics.  â€œThe biggest issue with AI is actually going to be something which we don’t talk about very much, which is its use in biological conflict”. “It’s going to be possible for bad actors to take the large databases of how biology works and use it to generate things which hurt human beings.” China and the US alike are certainly combining AI and supercomputing with DNA research.

The backdrop is tense. The reason for reviewing all this is to try to better understand the actual negotiating environment at a monument in history when the superpowers are on high alert. China is barking at Russia to stop threatening nuclear weaponsAdmiral Charles Richard, the Commander of US Strategic Command, has just said he is concerned about Chinese nuclear weapons as a “near-term problem”. The editorial Board of the Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial on November 4th quoting Richard saying, “The big one is coming. And it isn’t going to be very long before we’re going to get tested in ways that we haven’t been tested” for “a long time.”  Meanwhile, the US is nudging the President of Ukraine to soften his position on not negotiating with President Putin under any circumstances. President Putin continues making reference to the nuclear option, most recently in a conversation with President Macron. Fears are higher now because it seems that the Russian military has been reviewing the logistics of nuclear options. They may be readier to help execute that dark vision than we thought. Americans are slowly concluding that Ukraine is not worth the destruction of relations among the superpowers, especially with China.

So, what’s behind the biowarfare angle? Vanity Fair and ProPublica suggest that the Chinese side knew of the virus before alerting the public. They wanted to announce the vaccine before announcing that the virus was loose. They also knew that they did not know how to run a Level 4 Lab. The Chinese scientists were under massive pressure to perform cutting-edge experiments and generate breakthroughs while operating in a sloppy lab where irregularities and accidents were occurring frequently. The SARS virus had already leaked from “a top lab in Beijing” which led to a “mini outbreak” in 2004. That’s what caused China to procure a world-class $44m Level 4 Lab from France which is the now infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology Level 4 Lab (WIV) in 2018. The researchers in the lab, the also infamous Ms Shi, the Bat Woman, partnered with Eco Health Alliance. They made a proposal to the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). “The proposal called for possibly enhancing the viruses with something called a furin cleavage site to boost their entry into human cells” which is what they call “gain of function”. This allows a virus to bond with human cells far more easily, hence some say it constitutes a weaponization of a virus. The article says, “DARPA rejected the grant proposal for not adequately assessing the risks posed by a supercharged virus.” Eventually Eco Health Alliance eventually got the funding from NIH, as we now know from FOIA requests. Although to be clear, the use of funds for so-called “gain of function” was not permitted by NIH grant rules. But, the research was done with NIH funds in the WIV nonetheless. It looks like the US team simply outsourced to the cheapest provider (China). China is also far away, so a safer place, from an American perspective, to do such truly risky and dangerous research. The US scientists were equally under huge financial and reputational pressure to make historic breakthroughs using as little money as possible. Everybody was taking risks with viruses.

No one agrees on the origin story but the question keeps looming larger as we discover more about what actually happened. So, was it a Chinese screw-up or an American bioweapon? Or was it both a bioweapon and everybody’s screw-up?

The authors point out that Xi Jinping himself wrote a pishi on the SARS-CoV-2 /WIV file. In other words, the problem went all the way to the top. In China, “pishi” is a highly nuanced and sophisticated system that allows the addressing of issues that are too hot to be openly discussed. Geremie Barmé, who is an emeritus professor of Chinese history at the Australian National University describes it as, “The style of self-protection, of rounding things out, of avoiding the truth, is a highly developed, bureaucratic art form.” All governments have pishi. Here’s a pinyin dictionary definition that beautifully captures the combination of “this is an annoying trifle that could become a very problematic godamned serious something if anybody says this out loud”:

·       æ‰¹ç¤º pÄ« shì: to write comments on a report submitted by subordinate written comments from a superior

·       å±äº‹ pì shì: (vulgar) trifling matter, mere trifle, goddamn thing, goddamn business

·       è¾Ÿå®¤ Trad. é—¢å®¤ pì shì: lit. to open a room fig. to settle in a quiet room behind closed doors

Why did Xi personally write a pishi on the file? Maybe because there was already clear evidence that President Biden’s son was raising money for EcoHealth Alliance, the company that was doing the gain of function research in the WIV. Hunter Biden also had ties to Metabiota, a firm that was actively involved in the Pentagon’s efforts to construct and fund some 46 Biolabs in Ukraine. Both of these allegations were initially totally dismissed by Americans and the Western media. But, with time, the Pentagon has confirmed that it funded and/or constructed some 46 Biolabs in Ukraine. The Pentagon Fact Sheet says they were Biolabs for peaceful purposes. The Chinese and Russians say “dual-use”, meaning that all Biolabs can be used to make all kinds of pathogens. By the way, the US had been concerned about â€œdual use” biological agents for decades as well. The fact that the US government and the WHO encouraged the Ukrainians to destroy all pathogens in these labs after Russia commenced the war further flamed suspicions on the Chinese side. The optics here are not good.

Now internal politics in the US is shifting the arguments in favor of China’s perception. Now that the Republicans look set to take control of the House and probably the Senate as well, the origins of SARS-CoV-2 and its vaccine is becoming even more politicized. We’ll move from a world where the origins of COVID could not be discussed in part because of White House pishi to one where it will become part of a focused effort to pin the blame on corruption in the White House. The Republicans will ultimately seek to prove that the Democrats were responsible for the creation of a virus (the disease and its vaccine) that has wreaked havoc on the world. Until now the White House could use pishi to control any efforts to dig into the ever-evolving Hunter Biden story. However, once the Republicans control the committees again, everything will change. They’ll want to pursue the story as an example of corruption in the White House. The Democrats will lose control of pishi. Every bit of evidence the Republicans find will be noted by Russia and China. They don’t care if it was the Democrats or the Republicans that funded the creation of a deadly virus. For them, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, and the COVID vaccines are biological warfare.

The problem is gaining further momentum as new information arrives from a wide range of medical researchers and from employees of vaccine firms. For example, Pfizer’s admission to the European Parliament that they never tested the vaccine with regard to its ability to prevent transmission is fuel to the flame. Pfizer and experts will say the novel technology was not the vaccine, the payload itself, but rather the platform for the payload. This was a new platform for delivering vaccines. They tested the platform, not the payload. From China’s perspective, this is all just hairsplitting. They see medical researchers discovering the links between COVID, or the vaccine, and the risk of myocarditis or vascular problems including deadly clotting.

China is behaving as if they truly believe that Russia was right and the US has been brazenly lying. Was Xi’s realization right or wrong or just convenient? That’s to be debated. But China is behaving as if they believe it to be true. That’s why they joined Russia in asking the UN Security Council to investigate the situation. The Security Council just rejected the request in the last few days. In response, China’s Deputy Representative to the UN, Geng Shuang, reiterated China’s concerns that this issue must be given “full attention”. This is set to be yet another example for China and Russia that the West gives lip service to global rules and international organizations but won’t allow the procedures to be invoked against themselves. 

No one agrees on how the virus got into the open. But when NIH only marginally pulled back the funding for Eco Health Alliance and lightly scolded them for doing this dangerous research in China, it confirmed to China and Russia alike that this was a bioweapons program. Otherwise, the US would have shut the whole thing down as a public health hazard. Rather than diving into the minutiae of who is right and who is wrong, it seems more pressing to understand that this fear may be driving China into a vastly more confrontational stance with the US than might otherwise make sense. It perhaps explains the sharp escalation of Chinese military vessels and aircraft around Taiwan. The headlines from the US are not helping. The NYTs reports that the US aims to turn Taiwan into a “porcupine” bristling “with enough weapons to hold out if the Chinese military blockades and invades it, even if Washington decides to send troops.

The penning of pishi and the arming of a porcupine are prickly subjects that needle us to think harder about geopolitics. They are central drivers of our ability to understand geopolitical risk and politics. For those that are investing in biotech and trying to understand how modern wars are being fought, the complexity of biogenetic warfare is shifting the battlefield from a landscape to a human scape. Defense spending in the future might mean more and better Biolabs, not less, because accidents happen everywhere.

Dr. Pippa can be contacted about public speaking via LinkedIn or her website DrPippaMalmgren.com and is creator of the substack site Dr. Pippa’s Pen & Podcast where this article was originally published.