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AN ASSESSMENT OF CHINA’S BIOLOGICAL WARFARE CAPABILITIES AND NEED FOR GLOBAL APPROACH TO BIO-SECURITY

Brig Vivek Verma Writes :Biological weapons are made of microorganisms or natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals or plants. To act as a weapon, pathogens need a means for transmission. China has conducted considerable amount of defensive research in tularaemia, Q fever, plague, anthrax etc.

Brig Vivek Verma Writes :

This paper is being published in two parts, Part -I will deal with China’s capabilities, while Part – II will deal with the Global approach for security

PART – I

AN ASSESSMENT OF CHINA’S BIOLOGICAL WARFARE CAPABILITIES

Contextualising the Incidents of 30 December 2019

On 30 December 2019, two incidents happened. First was reprimanding of Dr Li Wenliang, the whistle blower of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19), by the Public Security Bureau on his alleged sharing of details about the deadly virus to his colleagues. He was accused of making false comments and disturbing the social order. On 07 February 2020 he died of COVID-19 infection. The public outcry over his death compelled CPC to restore his honour and compensate the family with 800,000 Yuan. The second instance which was not noticed in the din of happening was the three years imprisonment and fine of three million Chinese yuan awarded to He Jiankui, a Chinese biophysics researcher and an associate professor in the Department of Biology of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen. His charges were “forged ethical review documents” and “misled doctors into unknowingly implanting gene-edited embryos into two women”.[1] Arrested in November 2018, it took more than one year to finish the trials which were not made public due to privacy related issues. However, it has brought to centre stage the growing threat from the biotech heroes like Jiankui and the need for biosecurity and bio-surveillance.

China and Biological Weapons

Biological weapons are made of microorganisms or natural toxins to produce disease in humans, animals or plants. To act as a weapon, pathogens need a means for transmission. China has conducted considerable amount of defensive research in tularaemia, Q fever, plague, anthrax etc. After the 2003 SARS epidemic, the government of China initiated a plan to construct Bio Safety Level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory system to prepare for and respond to future infectious disease outbreaks. Within the framework of the Sino-French Cooperation Agreement on Emerging Infectious Diseases Prevention and Control, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a BSL-4 laboratory, was constructed in 2015 under the aegis of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Sciences.[2] The reported leakage of COVID-19 is from this BSL-4 laboratory in Wuhan. Apart from China the other countries having BSL-4 laboratory are the USA, UK, France, Canada, Germany, Australia, Sweden and South Africa.[3]

In 1952 China acceded to the 1925 Geneva Protocol that called for the prohibition of the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous, or other gases, and of bacteriological methods of warfare. The April 1972 Biological Weapon Convention (BWC) on the prohibition of the development, production, and stockpiling of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons and their destruction were ratified by China after twelve years in 1984. China has been circumspect about signing protocols and is secretive about its biological programme. Hence, one is compelled to glean through the western source whose complete credibility cannot be guaranteed. Nonetheless, it provides the issues that concerns the West and the rest and can be used to confront China.

China’s Biological Warfare Development

Analysis of Publications and Projects. Advances in biotechnology and genetic engineering have exciting applications in medicine — yet, also alarming implications, including for military affairs. China’s national strategy of military-civil fusion has highlighted biology as a priority, and the PLA could be at the forefront of expanding and exploiting this knowledge. A review of Chinese publications points to the growing case of use of biological warfare as part of Chinese national strategy:

  • Guo Jiwei, professor with the Third Military Medical University, in his 2010 book ‘War of Biological Dominance’ indicated the importance of biological warfare in future warfare.
  • In 2015, Major General He Fuchu, former President of Academy of Military Medical Science (AMMS) and currently Vice President of the Academy of Military Sciences looking after China’s military science enterprise, talked about bio-technology to be the new ‘strategic high ground’ of national defence driven by the biomaterials and brain control weapons.[4]
  • In 2016, AMMS doctoral research on “The Evaluation of Human Enhancement Technology” indicated three methods of improving the troops combat efficiency – firstly through use of Modafinil drug for cognitive enhancement. Secondly through use of transcranial magnetic stimulation – a type of brain stimulation. Thirdly, the research pointed out at the use of a revolutionary gene editing technology that can edit Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) with remarkable precision – Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat (CRISPR) or CRISPR/Cas9. The research indicated that this technology could be also used as military deterrence.[5]
  • In 2017, the PLA National Defence University “Science of Military Strategy” added a new chapter on biology as a domain of military struggle.
  • Zhang Shibo, retired general from the PLA National Defence Universit
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