Fourteen years before White House economic adviser Peter Navarro found himself helping navigate the Trump administration’s response to the novel coronavirus, he warned that deadly viruses with “the very broadest international reach” could arise out of Chinese farming practices.
In his 2006 book The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won—one of several works in which the University of California, Irvine professor expounded on his intense and eccentric animosity toward the Asian giant—Navarro cited descriptions of Chinese factory farms from the Sydney Morning Herald and asserted they could lead to an outbreak very much like COVID-19.
“It is critical to note here that a very different and even more deadly kind of ‘pollution,’ with the very broadest international reach, results from the overflow of human and animal wastes. China has become the world’s prime breeding ground for new and exotic influenza and other viruses, including both the deadly SARS virus and avian flu,” wrote Navarro, now policy coordinator for the Defense Production Act amid a deadly lack of critical personal protective equipment. “So many different farm animals live in such close proximity to humans and other species. The resultant 'cross pollution' creates a 'soup of chemicals and viruses' that now threaten the world with new and exotic influenza and other viruses and the possibility of a pandemic in which tens of millions of people may die."
Further back, in 2005, on his personal blog at PeterNavarro.com, the professor shared a stock tip on a Chinese firm developing a vaccine for the avian flu.
“The World Health Organization thinks it’s only a matter of time before the world experiences a ‘pandemic’ flu event much like the one in 1918 that killed more people than World War I,” he wrote.
Those previous comments add another layer of complexity to the counsel Navarro has given President Donald Trump as he works through the pandemic. The pugnacious China hawk seems to have eerily foreshadowed the current crisis, privately penned memos in January and February exhorting the administration to cut off travel with China or see as many as two million Americans die, publicly downplayed fears of the crisis at roughly the same time, and then gone to great lengths to insist that no one could have seen the calamity coming. All of this has come as his boss, the president, has insisted that: “Nobody could have predicted something like this.”
Navarro’s latest utterance came in an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, during which Navarro stressed that the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak “could not have been anticipated.” Anchor Bill Whitaker noted that the intelligence community and foreign governments had raised alarm about a potential global contagion for years—a reminder that provoked an irate reaction from the academic-turned-presidential assistant.
“If an intelligence agency said ‘a global pandemic could happen’—alright, I’m sure they’ve been saying that for decades,” Navarro said. “And nobody took them seriously. Why? Well, black swans are hard to sell. And this was the 500-year-flood.”
Navarro then challenged Whitaker to share a 60 Minutes broadcast that foresaw the present crisis “and then you’ll have some credence for attacking the Trump administration for not being prepared.” Whitaker’s report noted that the CBS mainstay had aired a segment on the threat of new and unusual diseases potentially imperiling the U.S. in 2005.
In a statement to The Daily Beast on Monday, Navarro claimed that his conversation with Whitaker was far longer than the portions broadcast on television and shared online, and that the discussion touched on his previous prognostications about new diseases breeding in China. He challenged the network to release the entirety off the footage while maintaining that what nobody anticipated was that such an infection would cripple the global economy.
“60 Minutes shot over two hours of a taped interview and took remarks out of context. You can count on one hand the number of people who predicted more than a decade ago China could create a global pandemic and 60 Minutes acknowledged that prediction was prescient. If you take the interview as a whole and in context, there is no contradiction. I would welcome the release of the entire footage of the 60 Minutes interview to the general public. That would be real news.”
CBS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.