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China threatens Elon Musk over COVID lab leak tweet

Elon Musk. (Jerome Adamstein/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
March 01, 2023

Twitter CEO Elon Musk angered Chinese state media this week for suggesting that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in a Chinese laboratory, just as two U.S. agencies now say that is the most likely origin story.

Musk tweeted on Sunday that the former top infectious disease official in the U.S., Anthony Fauci, funded gain-of-function research that created the virus at a Wuhan lab. Afterward, the Global Times, a newspaper run by the Chinese Communist Party, issued an ominous warning on Chinese social media.

Global Times condemned Musk for attacking China with so-called conspiracy theories in a post titled: “Musk, are you smashing China’s pot?” according to a Google translation. The phrase is roughly a Chinese version of “biting the hand that feeds you,” according to CNBC Beijing bureau chief Eunice Yoon.

The title may be alluding to the fact that Musk has significant interests in China through his Tesla electric vehicle company. China is Tesla’s second-largest market, CNBC reported, and most of the global supply for key battery components is controlled by the Chinese government, the Washington Post reported.

Also, Tesla’s manufacturing plant in Shanghai produced more than half the company’s total output last year, according to Bloomberg.

Whether COVID-19 emerged from human-to-animal contact or a laboratory mishap has been debated since the beginning of the pandemic. In recent days, reports have indicated that two U.S. agencies – the Energy Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation – favor a Chinese lab leak as the most likely source.

The Wall Street Journal revealed the Energy Department’s “low confidence” determination in favor of lab leak on Sunday. FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday said the bureau has viewed a lab leak as the most likely origin “for quite some time now,” as reported by CNN.

Musk has previously raised the lab leak theory multiple times on Twitter. In December, he said that his “pronouns” were “Prosecute/Fauci,” adding that Fauci had “lied to Congress and funded gain-of-function research that killed millions of people.”