Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden will speak this evening in what the White House has called “ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication between the United States and the PRC.” Biden is expected to send a clear message to Xi that China would face serious consequences should it choose to provide material support for Russia in its war on Ukraine.
The planned call is front-page news in today’s People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship newspaper. But the missive gives little away of China’s position or intentions, saying only that “the two sides will exchange opinions on questions of mutual concern.”
But while the US has continued its focus this week on exerting pressure on Putin and isolating him internationally, China has insistently sought to shift the focus to the question of US biological weapons labs in Ukraine – an allegation that has basis only in claims made by the Russian Defense Ministry on March 6. The result is a disconcerting rift in priorities that mirrors tensions in the US-China relationship. The US wants to talk about Putin’s actions in Ukraine, and China’s role in either improving or worsening the conflict. China wants to talk about US actions in Ukraine, and to parlay these into a broader international discussion about the corrosive role of the United States.
On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) again treated the Russia claims as credible, stressing that the United States has an obligation to comply with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The US, said Zhao, must “offer clarifications on issues that the international community cares about.”
Two official commentaries in the People’s Daily this week have hammered hard on claims about US biological weapons programs in Ukraine. Both commentaries are labelled as “Zhong Sheng” (钟声), an official pen name used routinely for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view. (On Tuesday, CMP profiled a third “Zhong Sheng” piece that attacked the US as a source of disinformation.)
On Wednesday, the “Zhong Sheng” commentary, anticipating Zhao’s remarks, said that the US should “act responsibly and make a full clarification of its global bioweapons activities” in order to “raise the level of global biosecurity” (生物安全). The article’s first line read: “Recently, Russia has exposed the US bioweapons cooperation program in Ukraine, further unveiling the U.S. ‘bioweapons empire.’”
Today, ahead of the Xi-Biden talk, “Zhong Sheng” follows with a commentary accusing the US of double standards. The piece suggests in its lede that discussions of US “bioweapons activities” (生物军事活动) in Ukraine have “heated up.” Obviously, there is no mention of the fact that China has played a decisive role in ensuring that these rumors run red hot.
A partial translation of today’s “Zhong Sheng” commentary follows.
Sticking to “Double Standards” Will Only Bankrupt US Credibility (Zhong Sheng) People’s Daily March 18, 2022, p. 15
Recently, discussions about United States bioweapons activities in Ukraine have heated up. Russia has released a series of original documents accusing the US of violating the Biological Weapons Convention. The US first denied [these accusations] and then tried to bite back, a but this response has only further heightened international suspicions about US bioweapons activities.
The US first dismissed the Russian allegations as “disinformation” and “conspiracy theories” and then alleged that “the Russians intend to use biological and chemical weapons against Ukraine.” Finding the situation impossible to muddle through, a group of officials from the White House, the State Department and the Department of Defense took turns in “saving the day” by claiming that the US “has a history of openness and transparency” and “fully complies with the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.” The US also released so-called “factual documents” in an attempt to “clarify” its bioweapons activities in Ukraine and around the world. However, the US clarification is full of holes, and even the most basic information about the number of its cooperative laboratories in Ukraine is inconsistent and unconvincing.
. . . . . .
As a member of the international community, the United States has an obligation to abide by international rules and give the world an account of its bioweapons activities. Holding on to double standards will only bankrupt its own credibility.