China and US trade virus conspiracy theories

Among these were the false claim that the virus was part of a Chinese Among these were the false claim that the virus was part of a Chinese

, and a baseless claim that a Canadian-Chinese spy team had sent coronavirus to Wuhan.

The claim that the virus was man-made has been pushed by numerous conspiracy groups on Facebook, obscure Twitter accounts and even found its way on to

And months into the outbreak, not only have these theories not faded away, but new, unverified claims have been promoted by government officials, senior politicians and media outlets in China and the US.

Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, has repeatedly promoted the idea - without evidence - that Covid-19 might have originated in the US.

On 12 March, he said in a tweet that

.

A day later, he tweeted an article by the website Global Research headlined

, and urged users to read and share it. The article has since been deleted.

Chinese daily The Global Times echoed Mr Zhao's sentiment. While stressing the diplomat had made the claim in a "personal capacity", his remarks resonated

, the paper said.

Mr Zhao's claims have also been amplified by a number of Chinese embassies and social media users in different parts of the world.

BBC Monitoring's China specialist Kerry Allen said that while Mr Zhao is known for being an outspoken figure - particularly on social media - he has a different persona within mainland China and does not necessarily always represent the view of the leadership.

Founded in 2001 in Canada, Global Research is the website of the Center for Research on Globalization. According to PolitiFact, a US-based independent fact-checking website, Global Research

The article Mr Zhao tweeted was penned by regular contributor Larry Romanoff, who reiterates the conclusion from his earlier piece - now deleted - that the virus did not originate in China.

But the Chinese research and articles in the magazine Science that he quotes do not actually call into question China being the place where the outbreak started. Instead, they only suggest that specifically the animal market in Wuhan may not have been the origin of the new coronavirus.

Mr Romanoff also claims that Japanese and Taiwanese scientists "have determined that the new coronavirus could have originated in the US".

But the conclusion appears to be based on a

from February and claims made on Taiwanese TV by a pharmacology professor-turned-politician from a pro-Beijing party who Mr Romanoff wrongly describes as a "top virologist" on first mention.

Mr Romanoff also claims - without evidence - that the US military germ laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland, may have been the original source of the virus. He adds that "this would not be a surprise" since the facility was "totally shut down" last year due to "an absence of safeguards to prevent pathogen leakages".

In fact,

, the facility was not shut down, but only suspended its research, and a spokeswoman said there were "no leaks of dangerous material outside the laboratory".

Mr Romanoff identifies himself as a "retired management consultant and businessman" and a "visiting professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, presenting case studies in international affairs to senior EMBA classes".

According to The Wall Street Journal,

BBC News asked Fudan University to confirm whether Mr Romanoff had any affiliations to it as a visiting professor but did not get a response.

A frequent contributor to Global Research, most of his writings seem to be critical of the US and supportive of China, including an article in which he described the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests as an

.

Among several other questionable claims,

that during its early stages, Covid-19 was "Chinese-specific" and did not infect peoples of other origins and racial backgrounds.

BBC News approached Mr Romanoff for comment but did not get any response.

Claims by elements in the Chinese government and media about the US being a possible origin of the virus prompted a response from

. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanded that China stop spreading "disinformation".

, accusing it of being "very China-centric". In response, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was "not the time" to cut funds to the UN agency.

But a number of US politicians and commentators have also made unfounded claims about the origin of the virus.

Fox News primetime host

raising the possibility that the coronavirus "accidentally escaped from a lab in Wuhan".

And Republican senators

and

have both raised the same prospect.

Read the full story at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52224331

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