Security Brief: Behavior/ Leadership Week of May 24, 2021
Week of Monday, May 24, 2021 | Issue 34
Angeliki Siafaka, Behavior/Leadership (B/L) Team
U.S. President Joe Biden speaking
Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Location: United States
Parties involved: United States (U.S.), China
The event: On Wednesday, May 26, 2021, U.S. President Biden ordered the U.S. Intelligence Community to increase their efforts in collecting and analyzing information that would provide a definite conclusion regarding the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The investigation will include a closer examination of the possibility that COVID-19 emerged from a laboratory accident in China. U.S. President Biden stated that the U.S. Intelligence Community has not been able to reach a definite conclusion about the origins of COVID-19, including whether it emerged from human contact with an infected animal or a laboratory accident. The U.S. President said that it was necessary to learn more about the virus to be able to fight it more effectively, while the failure to get U.S. inspectors on the ground in the early months of the pandemic has hampered any investigation into the origin of COVID-19. U.S President Biden stated that the U.S. will continue to press China to participate in a transparent and evidence-based international investigation into the origins of COVID-19 and allow access to all relevant data and evidence.
The emphasis that U.S. President Biden placed on investigating whether COVID-19 emerged from a laboratory accident in China is likely to be used to promote COVID-19 conspiracy theories further. This emphasis is very likely to fuel conspiracy theories about the origins of COVID-19 and provide the opportunity for extremist groups, especially far-right and white supremacist groups, to weaponize the pandemic to support their apocalyptic theories. Some Republicans, including Former U.S. President Donald Trump, consistently promote the theory that the virus emerged from a laboratory accident rather than natural human contact with an infected animal. U.S. President Biden’s decision to investigate the possibility of COVID-19 emerging from a laboratory accident may be interpreted as a confirmation that Former U.S. President Donald Trump was right to promote such narratives and may also create an association between the Biden Administration and Trump’s political decisions. This means that some of Trump’s supporters who believe in elements of violent extremist ideology may be encouraged, while people who support President Biden might be disappointed by the decision to draw attention to what many consider to be a conspiracy theory without merit.
U.S. President Biden’s order for a new investigation into the origins of COVID-19, along with the suggestion that China has not been forthcoming about the details of the emergence of COVID-19, is likely to add to the already present tension between the U.S. and China and further complicate the relations between the two countries. The recent investigation into the origins of COVID-19 conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the SARS-CoV-2 virus probably jumped to people from bats through another animal, concluding that the scenario that the virus began spreading among people following a lab accident is extremely unlikely although it cannot be ruled out. Given these findings, the decision of the Biden Administration to open a new investigation into the emergence of COVID-19 and the role of China is likely to be seen as an attempt to further politicize the virus and exploit the pandemic to serve geopolitical interests, while trying to blame China for the outbreak of the global pandemic. The order to further investigate indicates the distrust towards the evidence provided to the WHO by China and likely suggests that U.S. President Biden was not satisfied with the results of the WHO’s investigation. This may be interpreted by actors who oppose U.S. President Biden’s approach as an effort to capitalize on the suspicion surrounding China’s practices.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has seen unprecedented rates of hate crimes against Asian-Americans that are most likely connected to the perceived association between people of Asian descent and the outbreak of the pandemic. Studies have shown that Former U.S. President Donald Trump's inflammatory rhetoric around COVID-19 and the use of the term “China Virus” helped to create an environment of hatred, racist attitudes, and Anti-Asian sentiment. President Biden’s order to investigate the origins of COVID-19 is likely to draw more attention to this perceived association and may contribute to a resurge of discrimination and hate crimes against Asian-Americans, while leading Asian-Americans to feel even more unsafe.
 Statement by President Joe Biden on the Investigation into the Origins of COVID-19, The White House, May 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/05/26/statement-by-president-joe-biden-on-the-investigation-into-the-origins-of-covid-19/
 Trump ‘confident’ coronavirus may have originated in Chinese lab, Al Jazeera, May 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/5/1/trump-confident-coronavirus-may-have-originated-in-chinese-lab
 4 takeaways from the WHO’s report on the origins of the coronavirus, Science News, April 2021, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-coronavirus-origin-who-report-takeaways
 Trump's 'Chinese Virus' tweet helped lead to rise in racist anti-Asian Twitter content: Study, ABC News, March 2021, https://abcnews.go.com/Health/trumps-chinese-virus-tweet-helped-lead-rise-racist/story?id=76530148