Washington: Rumours that China’s top “spy catcher” has defected to the United States were swirling Friday night amid a growing focus in Washington on the theory that COVID-19 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, Beijing’s top law enforcement agency, on Friday posted remarks from Dong that it said came from a seminar he gave that day.
“At present, infiltration and spying activities by foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces have increased significantly,” the read-out said. “In particular, there are individuals who have willingly become ‘insiders’ colluding with foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces and engaging in anti-China activities.”
Dr Han Lianchao, a former Chinese foreign ministry official who is now a pro-democracy activist in the US, tweeted that rumours were flying around China that Dong had defected. Han, from the Citizen Power Initiative for China in Washington, said the situation was discussed by senior US and Chinese officials meeting in Alaska in March.
Nicholas Eftimiades, a former CIA and Pentagon expert on China, told the SpyTalk newsletter, which first reported the alleged development, that Han was “trusted for his integrity”. However, he said the suspected defection was “exactly what it is, a rumour”. Eftimiades said such claims of Chinese officials defecting “happen all the time” and are not necessarily correct.
If Dong has defected, he would be the most high-profile Chinese official ever to do so.
The rumour came as Washington continues to push for information about the origins of COVID-19. Last month, President Joe Biden ordered US intelligence to deliver a report within 90 days on how the pandemic started. 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 senior US government official, who worked on an investigation into the Wuhan laboratory theory under Donald Trump’s administration, told The Telegraph, London 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 ass 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. Then you’re off to the races.”
She said: “How on Earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no evidence? I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist. I’m sure that I did nothing wrong.”