Herald on Sunday

China gripped by claim ‘spy catcher’ has defected to US

- Nick Allen in Washington

We have lots of reasons to be suspicious this was a lab leak. We should be treating this like a potential crime scene. Former US government official

Rumours that China’s top “spy catcher” has defected to the US were swirling on Friday amid a focus in Washington on the theory that Covid19 escaped from a Wuhan laboratory.

Dong Jingwei, a vice-minister of state security who assumed responsibi­lity for counter-intelligen­ce three years ago, was reported to have flown from Hong Kong to the US in February with his daughter.

Although there was no official comment from China, the social media account of the Central Political Legal Affairs Commission, the top law enforcemen­t agency, claimed Mr Dong had warned spies to watch out for “insiders” who collude with “antiChina” forces. He was also quoted as warning against “people who bankroll their activities behind the scene.”

Dr Han Lianchao, a former Chinese foreign ministry official who is now a pro-democracy activist in the US, said Mr Dong had defected. Dr Han, of the Citizen Power Initiative for China in Washington, said the situation was discussed by US and Chinese officials meeting in Alaska last month.

Nicholas Eftimiades, a former CIA and Pentagon expert on China, told the SpyTalk newsletter, which first reported the alleged developmen­t, that Dr Han was “trusted for his integrity”. However, he said the suspected defection was “exactly what it is, a rumour”. Mr Eftimiades said such claims of Chinese officials defecting “happen all the time” and are not necessaril­y correct.

If Mr Dong has defected he would be the most high-profile Chinese official ever to do so.

The rumour came as Washington continues to struggle to get informatio­n about the origins of Covid-19. Last month, President Joe Biden ordered US intelligen­ce to deliver a report on how the pandemic started within 90 days. He said US officials had already “coalesced around two likely scenarios”: that Covid-19 passed from animals to humans; or that it was a laboratory accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

A former US government official who worked on an investigat­ion into the Wuhan lab theory under the Trump administra­tion told The Daily Telegraph the only way to prove it would be to encourage defectors.

He said: “If you offer $5 million and citizenshi­p there’ll be plenty of people wanting to defect. We’ve been sitting on our a-- for a year and a half looking for needles in haystacks. We need human intelligen­ce. We need to hear from Chinese people who were direct witnesses.

“We have a lot of reason to be suspicious that it was a lab leak. We should be treating this like a potential crime scene.

“I’ve never seen such a whitewash. China’s approach has been systematic cover-up and denial. If this had started in a lab in Oxford you can bet the UK government would be responsive to us.

“People get executed for [messing up] in China. So it is possible the Wuhan people covered it up from their own government.”

This week, Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan coronaviru­s researcher known as China’s “bat woman”, gave a brief, rare interview to The New York Times, in which she denied the outbreak started at the laboratory.

She said: “I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist. I’m sure I did nothing wrong.”


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