Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) claimed Tuesday that a conspiracy theory that the COVID-19 coronavirus could be a biological weapon created by China is “worthy of investigation,” despite scientific research showing that the virus has natural origins.
King made the remarks during a Tuesday appearance on right-wing news outlet Newsmax TV. The theory that the virus is a biological weapon has been thoroughly debunked and discredited by scientists who have studied the pathogen. King did not endorse the theory but claimed it was plausible when asked about Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) promoting the notion.
“I think it’s worthy of investigation, not that they intentionally released it,” King said. “I can see them working on some type of chemical and biological warfare and have it escape, have it get out. Again, I don’t think they would want it going around the world, also starting in China. Again, who knows? I don’t think so.”
King explained that he wasn’t in full agreeance with scientists on the issue because he did not trust China, who he believed could have unintentionally released the virus from a lab due to negligence.
“I think more likely if they were doing it, it was something that escaped through negligence, through error. And people I’ve spoken to, they have not been able to track that down, they don’t believe that’s the case, but again I don’t trust China at all,” said King.
“They’ve been disgraceful on this from the start, and it raises suspicions about why they wouldn’t let doctors and scientists from other countries go there immediately to try to help out with the situation,” he added.
Newsweek reached out to King for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication.
Many Republicans including President Donald Trump have been framing the pandemic as “Chinese” in recent days, ignoring criticism that needlessly assigning an ethnicity to a pathogen could inspire racist attacks against Asians.
Critics have also levied that Trump and Republicans are attempting to shift the focus to China after the administration came under heavy fire for earlier handling of the emerging health threat. Before infections began to spiral out of control in the U.S., the president frequently minimized the crisis, comparing COVID-19 to seasonal flu and calling concerns about the virus part of a “new hoax” by Democrats during a rally on February 28.
Although some have continued to promote the conspiracy theory, research has shown that COVID-19 is not a biological weapon. A study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nature Medicine on Tuesday concluded that the virus has clear natural origins. There is no credible evidence indicating that it was created in a lab.
The conspiracy theory may have been popularized by a February 22 New York Post opinion piece by Steve Mosher, an anti-abortion activist known for authoring a number of books critical of China, including 2017’s Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream Is the New Threat to World Order.