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China’s leading ‘spy catcher’ defected to US, reports claim


Dong Jingwei

Dong Jingwei

Dong Jingwei

Rumours that China’s top “spy catcher” has defected to the United States were swirling last night amid a growing focus in Washington on the theory that Covid-19 escaped from a Wuhan laboratory.

 Dong Jingwei, a vice-minister of state security who assumed responsibility for counter-intelligence three years ago, was reported to have flown from Hong Kong to the US in February with his daughter. 

Although there was no official comment from China, the social media account of the Central Political Legal Affairs Commission, the top law enforcement agency, claimed Mr Dong had warned spies to watch out for “insiders” who collude with “anti-China” forces. He was also quoted as warning against “people who bankroll their activities behind the scene.”

Dr Han Lianchao, a former Chinese foreign ministry official who is now a pro-democracy activist in the US, claimed Mr Dong had defected. Dr Han, of the Citizen Power Initiative for China in Washington, said the situation was discussed by senior US and Chinese officials meeting in Alaska last month.

Nicholas Eftimiades, a former CIA and Pentagon expert on China, told the SpyTalk newsletter, which first reported the alleged development, that Dr Han was “trusted for his integrity”. However, he said the suspected defection was “exactly what it is, a rumour”. Mr Eftimiades said such claims of Chinese officials defecting “happen all the time” and are not necessarily correct.

If Mr Dong has defected he would be the most high-profile Chinese official ever to do so.

The rumour came as Washington continues to struggle to get information about the origins of Covid-19. Last month, President Joe Biden ordered US intelligence to deliver a report on how the pandemic started within 90 days. He said US officials had already “coalesced around two likely scenarios”: that Covid-19 passed from animals to humans; or that it was a laboratory accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

A former  US government official, who worked on an investigation into the Wuhan laboratory theory under Donald Trump’s administration, told The Daily Telegraph the only way to prove it would be to encourage defectors.

He said: “If you offer $5 million (€4.2m) and citizenship there wi ll be plenty of people wanting to defect. We’ve been sitting on our asses for a year and a half looking for needles in haystacks. We need human intelligence. We need to hear from Chinese people who were direct witnesses. Then you’re off to the races.”

He added: “We have a lot of reason to be suspicious that it was a lab leak. We should be treating this like a potential crime scene.

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“I’ve never seen a bigger whitewash. China’s approach has been systematic cover-up and denial. If this had started in a lab in Oxford you can bet the UK government would be responsive to us.”

The former official added: “People get executed for [messing up] in China. So it is possible the Wuhan people covered it up from their own government.”

This week, Shi Zhengli, the Wuhan coronavirus researcher known as China’s “bat woman”, gave a brief, rare interview to The New York Times, in which she vehemently denied the outbreak started at the laboratory.

She said: “How on Earth can I offer up evidence for something where there is no  evidence? I don’t know how the world has come to this, constantly pouring filth on an innocent scientist. I’m sure that I did nothing wrong.”

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