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Borrell’s adviser pushes China’s contested claim that COVID came from US

A special adviser to the EU’s foreign policy chief has been parroting what the EU considers to be Chinese disinformation on the origin of the coronavirus.

Jeffrey Sachs, a professor of sustainable development at Columbia University, said he’s “pretty convinced” the virus came out of a “U.S. lab biotechnology,” although he added that “we don’t know for sure.”

The latest effort by Sachs — a long-time advocate of dismantling American hegemony and embracing the rise of China — to put blame on U.S. labs has been circulated on Chinese social media, including by the Chinese embassy to France this week.

Sachs is engaged by the European Commission as a special adviser to foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to focus on “cooperation policy.”

Chinese diplomats have repeatedly accused the U.S. of developing biotechnology that transformed into the coronavirus, a claim rejected by the EU as disinformation. The World Health Organization chief last year complained that China was not transparent enough, saying there was a “premature push” to rule out the theory that the virus might have escaped from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.

A spokesman for the EU’s foreign policy arm sought to draw distance from Sachs.

“Jeffrey Sachs is an external unpaid adviser of the HRVP [Borrell] … The external advisers are external, independent personalities. They are not EU officials. They therefore do not speak for the HRVP, nor for the Commission. Their views are their own,” the spokesman said, stressing that Sachs’ commitment was only for 20 working hours per year.

Contradicting Sachs’ latest speculation about the coronavirus’ origin, the EU spokesman said that “a laboratory accident has been categorized as extremely unlikely” according to a WHO study.

Sachs told POLITICO the virus “quite likely emerged from a U.S.-backed laboratory research program … A natural spillover is also possible, of course. Both hypotheses are viable at this stage.”

He added: “There is a lot more circumstantial evidence of relevance in support of the lab-leak hypothesis. The U.S. government so far has not presented the information that it has. Note that the U.S. intelligence community [is] also divided on the question of lab-leak versus natural spillover.”

Sachs’ contract was last renewed in April, despite him having drawn the ire of human rights advocates when he dismissed worries about rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight last year, he said: “I’m not sure why BBC started with listing only China’s human rights abuses — what about America’s human rights abuses?”

Reinhard Bütikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s China delegation and an MEP blacklisted by Beijing, said: “Ironically speaking, I would assume that Borrell has asked Jeffrey Sachs to serve as a special adviser because that would guarantee Borrell always knows exactly the Chinese line of thought, which Sachs has been echoing so consistently on a wide range of topics. As Sun Tzu said: ‘Know your enemy.’”

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