Columbia professor who thanked Fauci for Wuhan lab messaging maintains close ties to China

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A Columbia University professor who expressed his gratitude to Dr. Anthony Fauci for downplaying the possibility that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology maintains close ties to China, including Chinese Communist Party members. 

Walter Ian Lipkin, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University, who is known as a “virus hunter,” thanked Fauci last year for publicly dismissing notions that the virus could have originated and leaked from the Wuhan lab. 

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Fauci’s coronavirus-related emails showed that he had worked behind the scenes to sow doubt about the virus leaking from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Washington Examiner noted in early June. 

“We deeply appreciate your efforts in steering and messaging,” Lipkin wrote to Fauci on May 5, 2020, a day after he cast doubt on the lab leak theory. 

The “we” referenced in Lipkin’s email to Fauci appears to include a Chinese government figure. As part of the message, Lipkin forwarded an email from Chen Zhu, China’s former Minister of Health, who is currently a vice-chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China. Li Zhanshu, a prominent figure in the Chinese Communist Party and a top advisor to China President Xi Jinping, chairs that governmental body. 

The entire contents of Zhu’s message are unknown due to redactions made before the email’s release to Buzzfeed News, which obtained Fauci’s coronavirus communications through a Freedom of Information Act request. The publication received and made public 3,200 pages of Fauci’s email correspondence. (Lipkin’s email begins on page 706). 

Walter Ian Lipkin thanked Dr. Anthony Fauci for being publicly dismissive of the lab leak theory.
(Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)

In addition to his government ties, Zhu also acts as president of the Red Cross Society of China, an entity that claims it is independent of state control. China’s Red Cross, however, is funded and directed by the Chinese government. The honorary president of China’s Red Cross, Wang Qishan, is also a member of the Chinese Communist Party and assists President Xi Jinping on foreign issues. 

Lipkin and Zhu’s relationship dates back to at least the early 2000s, when the pair had worked together on the SARS outbreak. At the time, Lipkin had served as an intermediary between the World Health Organization and the Chinese government. 

In late January 2020, Lipkin traveled back to China to study the coronavirus outbreak. As part of the effort, he partnered with a Chinese research crew spearheaded by Lu Jiahai, a public health professor at Sun Yat-sen University. This institution is subordinate to China’s Ministry of Education. Luo Jun, a Chinese Communist Party member, steers the university.

Lipkin shot down the lab leak theory just two weeks after reentering China. During an NPR segment in mid-February 2020, Lipkin said they had “examined the possibility that some have suggested that this virus might have originated in a biocontainment lab or might be some sort of biologically defined weapon.” They had found “no evidence for that whatsoever,” he said. 

Before returning to China, Lipkin’s extensive history with prominent Chinese researchers and government officials had earned him several accolades from the communist body.

In 2016, the Chinese government presented Lipkin with the International Science and Technology Cooperation Award, the country’s highest honor to foreign scientists. The ceremony was presided by President Xinping.

“I am deeply honored by this award,” Lipkin said at the time. “It solidifies my relationship with dear friends and colleagues in the Chinese Academy of Science, Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Health, and with the people of China.”

In early January of this year, Lipkin was presented with a medal at the Chinese Consulate of New York. China’s Central Government, Central Military Commission, and State Council provided the award. 

Lipkin has also praised China’s response and transparency early on in the coronavirus pandemic, despite indications that the Chinese government engaged in a cover-up.  

Lipkin did not respond to a request for comment. 

During the onset of the pandemic, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., raised measured questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which ignited condemnation from Democrats and many media outlets, who chalked them up as “fringe conspiracy theories.” Then-President Trump, likewise, consistently questioned whether the virus had leaked from the lab, further igniting left-wing media and political figures to paint the lab leak as a fringe theory. 

However, the media and other skeptics have made an about-face and are now saying the lab leak theory deserves further investigation. Reports emerged stating that China had controlled an on-site World Health Organization inspection, including who the researchers spoke to at the lab.  

Lipkin wasn’t the only person to shower Fauci with praise for his messaging on the lab. Peter Daszak, a zoologist who leads EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit that directed nearly $600,000 in National Institutes of Health sub-awards to the Wuhan Institute of Virology to study bat coronaviruses, also thanked him for his public comments. 

“I just wanted to say a personal thank you on behalf of our staff and collaborators, for publicly standing up and stating that the scientific evidence supports a natural origin for COVID-19 from a bat-to-human spillover, not a lab release from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” Daszak wrote to Fauci in April 2020. 

“From my perspective, your comments are brave, and coming from your trusted voice, will help dispel the myths being spun around the virus’s origins,” Daszak said. 

Daszak’s nonprofit provided $1.3 million in funds to Lipkin’s institution, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2020, the group’s tax forms show. 

Columbia has received millions in foreign funding from China. According to the College Foreign Gift and Contract Report database, which relies on universities self-reporting their foreign cash, the university has raked in at least $17.7 million from China for research, facilities and professorships.  Columbia did not provide a comment on the funding. 

China conducts numerous influence campaigns within the United States, including targeting institutes of higher learning. 

“China is in a league of their own; there’s no question about it,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., told Fox News in a video interview (above). “I saw it as an FBI agent where I worked for 14 years, where we did counterintelligence, cybersecurity, counter-terrorism investigations. The one thing we learned about China – and I now sit on the Intelligence Committee, which is confirmed, everything I was getting briefed on as an agent – is that what China does – and other countries do the same – is they identify what they call the spheres of influence.” 

“China’s identified five [spheres of influence] essentially in the United States,” he added. “It’s academia; it’s the media, it’s Big Tech, it’s Hollywood and professional sports. They view those as the five influencers of human behavior in American culture. Essentially what they try to do is silent sabotage – soft influence old government approach – where they nestle in and engrain themselves in these institutions financially to make people economically dependent on them, and then they use that as a platform to get their message out – mainly in propaganda.” 

Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., echoed a similar sentiment concerning China and academia to Fox News. 

“I would say it’s been going on for a couple of years, very, very subtly with the Confucius Institutes that were widespread in the country,” Foxx added. “Some of us have raised the issue many years ago – probably 10, 12 years ago – about our concern with the Confucius Institutes. It’s taken a while for people to start paying attention to it, but we believe they are trying to change the way Americans think about China. They’re very subversive. They’ve changed their name now to Chinese Cultural and Language Institutes and they claim they’re teaching the Chinese language.”

“One of the things we’re concerned about is the Chinese trying to make American students believe that the communists in China are good people,” Foxx said. “They want them to believe that the culture in China is good, and we know the culture of China is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party – and that is definitely not good for Americans.” 

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Columbia University was the only Ivy League school to host a Confucius Institute, which it has since quietly dissolved. 

But while the institute was in operation, the university had failed to disclose at least $1 million in Chinese government funding towards it, the Washington Free Beacon reported. Part of that money was used for professor Dedong Wei, an adviser to the Chinese regime’s propaganda department, to lead the institute. 

As China pours significant sums into universities across the United States to expand its influence, its actual cash totals remain unknown. 

A Department of Education probe into universities last year found $6 billion in unreported funds from foreign countries, including China.

Joe Schoffstall is a Washington, D.C.-based reporter for Fox News.


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