Mike Pence: Evidence 'strongly suggests' COVID-19 came from a Chinese lab

  • Mike Pence spoke out on China at the Heritage Foundation.
  • A new paper posted the same day says there's no evidence COVID-19 originated in a lab.
  • Pence also called out corporations, including Nike, for not criticizing China.

WASHINGTON – Former Vice President Mike Pence, in a blistering speech about China on Wednesday, said the United States must demand that Chinese leaders "come clean" about the origins of COVID-19.

"The evidence strongly suggests the coronavirus leapt out of the Chinese lab," Pence said during remarks at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank where he is a visiting fellow. 

Pence, who lead the Trump administration's coronavirus task force, did not elaborate on that evidence. 

In a paper posted last week, a team of 21 virologists said there's currently no evidence that the coronavirus began in a lab. But there is "substantial body of scientific evidence supporting a zoonotic origin," the scientists wrote.

Pence criticized the Biden administration for rejoining the "Chinese-controlled World Health Organization without demanding a single concession" and for terminating "our administration's inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic before later reversing course."

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Former vice president Mike Pence speaks during the Road to Majority convention at Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, Fla., on Friday, June 18, 2021.

Biden asks for more intel on COVID origin

After the intelligence community did not reach an agreement on the likely origins of COVID-19, President Joe Biden in May asked for a redoubling of effort.

While two elements of the intelligence community leaned toward the likelihood that the virus emerged from human contact with an infected animal, one leaned toward the possibility of a laboratory accident. Their assessments were made "with low or moderate confidence," and the majority of members of the intelligence community did not believe "there is sufficient information to assess one to be more likely than the other.”

A new report is due at the end of August.

House panel holds first hearing on virus origin

The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on Wednesday held the first congressional hearing on the origins of the virus.

Rep. Bill Foster, the Illinois Democrat who chaired the hearing, said the Chinese government's lack of transparency is not in itself evidence of a lab leak or something more sinister. He cautioned that answers may not be known even after the August report from the administration.

"If epidemiology were easy, we’d have the answer by now," he said in his prepared remarks. "If the intelligence community were in possession of a smoking gun about COVID origins, I believe we’d know about it." 

Pence calls out corporations, farm subsidies over China

Pence had been a leader in the Trump administration's efforts to portray China as a pernicious threat, though he praised Trump in 2018 for cultivating "a strong personal relationship" with China's president that Pence said could lead to a thaw in U.S.-China relations.

On Wednesday, Pence not only attacked China as a bigger challenge than the Soviet Union was during the Cold War, but he also went after American business leaders who, he said, preach social justice at home but refrain from criticizing China while they "profit from slavery abroad."

"I hope Nike understands the American people are watching," he said.

Pence called on Congress and Biden to end all farm subsidies for land owned by foreign nationals, to prohibit Chinese investment in critical infrastructure and ban Chinese nationals from getting visas to work for American technology companies.

The former vice president also appeared to take aim at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the lab at the center of the COVID-19 origin inquiry which previously received funding from the National Institutes of Health through the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance.

When America funds scientific research in China, Pence said, the U.S. becomes "complicit in every abuse committed."

"Under no circumstance," he said, "should the United States allow public or private funding of scientific laboratories in communist China."

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