1. China witnessed the first case possibly in early Dec 19, by the time it realized that it was facing a crisis of an unknown and unparalleled nature it was middle of Dec 19. WHO declared it as Public Health Emergency of International on 30 January 20. Please refer to WHO official website. It was only on 11 March 20 that the WHO DG declared it as a Pandemic. By this time China had already flattened the graph of growth of COVID19 in its country but the virus had started playing havoc in the rest of the world. At the time of writing this article the global figures stand at 964,603, with deaths at 49,242 and recoveries just stand at 203,274. On the other hand China is sitting pretty at their new Covid 19 cases falling to almost negligible.
2. Important takeaways from events till now is that as time passes growth becomes exponential. However, in case of China the growth has come under control within six to eight weeks. So what is so dramatic that China was able to do that rest of the developed countries with excellent medical facilities and low density of population are unable to achieve. It is this aspect which is raising questions in the minds of many. Voices are coming from many quarters that it was a bio weapon plan of China that prematurely got initiated and given China’s advance knowledge they were able to deal with it very effectively & efficiently?
3. Reality Check of Bio Warfare. On the face of it and given the allegation and counter allegation by US and China on each other in the media, impression of a bio weapon agent getting awry leading to the Pandemic are gaining ground. However, a number of experts like Captain Raghuraman former Secretary, Government of India NATGRID has suggested against this idea. Besides, China having ratified the Biological Weapons Conventions in 1984 (Convention has 182 countries), the uncontainable nature of bioweapons in terms of space and strain of mutation makes it unusable. These characteristics are likely to endanger the attacking country as well, hence normally militaries world over do not prefer bio weapons. In addition, the reaction of the international community against a defaulting country is likely to be very severe with unacceptable consequences. Hence, China is unlikely to have planned for a bio warfare. However, now that China has successfully, put an end to the epidemic, exploitation of the situation in the aftermath of COVID19 cannot be ruled out – especially to further its economic interests. Whether it can do so is a moot point and subject of another discussion.
4. Who Can Use Such a Weapon? Above notwithstanding, the situation can be exploited by the non-state actor brigade led by ISIS and AQ. There have been a number of instances of use of Bio Weapons by non-state actors in the past. Some examples are Tokyo Subway Sarin attack in Japan by Aum Shinrikyo, Anthrax attacks post 9/11 in USA and attempt by followers of Godman Rajneesh to use Salmonella typhimurium bacteria to affect a local election by infecting doorknobs and salad bars in restaurants in Oregon, USA.  These incidents may motivate the current crop of Islamic radical groups such as ISIS, AQ, Pak based groups like LeT, JeM, HuM to use COVID to spread bio terror. In the instant case of COVID-19, no evidence is suggesting till now of a non-state actor of being involved in either in initiation of COVID-19. However, it may be noted that non state actors may use their suicide squads to spread COVID19 in countries against whom they are fighting. Therefore, we need to be careful of groups such as AQ, ISIS and Pak based terror groups such as LeT, JeM and HuA unleashing suicide squads to attack India, US and other countries considered by them as enemies of Islam. This calls for the intelligence agencies to remain alert to such a possibility and security forces to take pre-emptive action to neutralize such a threat when detected.
5. However, the important lesson that emerges for us is to institute necessary disaster and disease management control, either due to an accidental release of bio agent or its intentional use by a state or a non-state actor (terrorists). The NDMA and SDMAs have to prepare themselves in right earnest and build capability to deal with bio disaster and epidemics.
6. Blame Game and Information Warfare. The allegation of China possibly having indulged in bio war or even delaying the reporting of cases has forced China to launch a concerted disinformation campaign. As highlighted earlier, demand is coming from a number of quarters in the public to make China accountable for COVID-19. Even China realizes this and has made some attempts to throw the blame at the door step of US. For example the Guardian has reported that in China, a spokesman of PRC ministry of foreign affairs suggested that the US military could be to blame for the virus. Chinese government officials and the CCP’s propaganda machine is busy promoting this conspiracy theory. Guardian goes on to add that even the US is leaving no stone unturned to put the blame on China. It also stated that one of the Republican senator called it a Bio Weapon. The truth can only be ascertained after a detailed investigation by a neutral agency probably under the UN. Till then we are likely to see an intense information warfare campaign. Recent hacking attempt on WHO site and overplaying of the Robert Redfield’s video, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted by the People’s Daily. Redfield was asked whether there may have been deaths attributed to influenza that could actually have been the result of Covid-19. He responded in the affirmative. Other reports that are flooding the Chinese media following this video read, “The US has finally acknowledged that among those who had died of the influenza previously were cases of the coronavirus. The true source of the virus was the US!” one commentator said. “The US owes the world, especially China, an apology,” another said. “American coronavirus,” one wrote. The theory has gained further traction over the past few weeks, after a respected epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan, said in a passing remark at a press conference on 27 February that although the virus first appeared in China “it may not have originated in China”. Later on Zhong clarified that the first place where the virus was discovered does not equate to the source of the virus but it also does not mean that virus came from abroad. However, the Chinese media and authorities have underplayed his clarification and overplayed his initial statement. Similarly, China has started re writing the time lines to deflect the blame of delay in reporting by going back and making changes within online media, as evidenced by the adjustment of the Global Times headline of Jan. 18: “Wuhan pneumonia: China confirms 4 new cases, 2 deaths,” on March 25 became, “Novel coronavirus related pneumonia: China confirms 4 new cases, 2 deaths.”
7. Chinese allegations pointing fingers at US and even Italy may not be trueas majority of experts feel that the virus was first detected in China and the consequent delay to cover up the cases by the CCP led to the virus going out of control for which the entire world is now paying a heavy price in terms of lives and economic cost. India is also reeling under the impact of COVID-19 thanks to incidents like that of Tabligi Jamat.
8. In conclusion, what emerges clearly is that post COVID – 19, a number of questions will have to be answered by China? The best way to ascertain this would be through an impartial and neutral enquiry under the aegis of UNO. NDRF & SDRF also need to develop sound bio, chemical and radiation disaster capability. Similarly, Armed Forces should also look at enhancing their CBRN capabilities. Intelligence agencies need to remain on guard for a likely use of COVID-19 by terrorists to spread COVID cases in India. Security forces must also remain alive to the possibility of bio terrorism. Finally, important aspect for us at the diplomatic and strategic level is to remain on guard from China and avoid getting misled by its information war and against Pakistan from a possible bioterrorism threat through its proxies like LeT, JeM and other Pak based terror groups under control of the Pak deep state.
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