Communist China’s deceptive behavior during the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has raised new concerns about Beijing’s activity in developing biological weapons, a report said.
That activity could include population-specific research on germ weapons capable of attacking specific ethnic groups, current and former U.S. officials told The Washington Times.
“We are looking at potential biological experiments on ethnic minorities,” a Trump administration official, on condition of anonymity, told security correspondent Bill Gertz in a report published on May 14.
Retired Chinese Gen. Zhang Shibo wrote in his 2017 book, “New Highland of War,” that biotechnology advances were increasing the likelihood of offensive bioweapons, including the danger of “specific ethnic genetic attacks.”
The Chinese Communist Party is engaged in mass repression of several minorities in, including Uighurs and other Muslims in western China. An estimated 1 million are being held in concentration camps, which Chinese officials call re-education centers.
China also has targeted Tibetans for repression. The Chinese military has annexed the southwestern region, and many Tibetans remain loyal to the Buddhist leader Dalai Lama and are seeking independence.
“Details about the activities were obtained from sources with direct knowledge of the Chinese programs and are contained in intelligence reports that may be declassified for public release in the future,” Gertz reported. China hid early indicators of how infectious the coronavirus was and delayed warning the world.
“We continue to have concerns with China’s BWC compliance as well as their international obligations,” the official said, referring to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, an international treaty that prohibits the development and production of biological agents. “If we’ve learned nothing else through this COVID episode, it’s that China cannot be trusted to do the right thing.”
China signed the BWC treaty in 1984, and more than 100 other countries have joined. Article 5 requires signatories to “consult one another and to cooperate in solving any problems” related to biological threats.
National security officials focused on international biological weapons security protocols have been concerned about Bejing’s activities for years.
Sources who spoke with The Times pointed to China’s contribution to a UN guide to biological security in 2011 that detailed Beijing’s own concerns relating to rapid technological advancements to create population-specific biological weapons and other exotic pathogens capable of attacking ethnic groups.
China did not say in the document that it had its own active program to develop such capabilities, but U.S. intelligence officials and some foreign affairs experts said Beijing did and continues to have such a program.
Some said the language Chinese officials used in the 2011 UN guide, which Beijing did not make public at the time, offered a window into their government research activities.
In the document, titled “Preventing Biological Threats: What You Can Do,” Chinese officials laid out their unease that scientific breakthroughs to “combat disease and improve health” could be unleashed as effective weapons. Chinese officials also cited “targeted drug-delivery technology making it easier to spread pathogens,” as well as “population-specific genetic markers” and the “creation of man-made pathogens.”
The UN guidebook was a compilation of information from 12 nations participating in the 2011 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, known as the BWC. An addendum, “New scientific and technological developments relevant to the Convention,” includes background information on nations’ submissions.
Several participants revealed ongoing research that could have either offensive or defense biological weapons applications.
One current and two former officials told The Washington Times the prospect that China could develop ethnic-related biological weapons is chilling.
Paula DeSutter, a former assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation, said China, in the 2011 document, was “admitting to pursuing these activities, which is not surprising since each is clearly indicative of an intent to employ biological weapons, in some cases against specific populations.”
“One has to tremble at the notion that Wuhan may have been an experiment to test all of these items they were working on as far back as 2011,” DeSutter told The Times.
The notion appears to be bolstered by recent Chinese military writings.
In 2017, the Chinese military-run National Defense University’s annual Science of Military Strategy report for the first time included a section on biology as a domain of warfare. The document said germ conflict could include “specific ethnic genetic attacks.”
U.S. officials outlined their concerns about China’s biological weapons programs in a recent executive summary of the State Department’s annual arms control compliance report.
“During the reporting period, the People’s Republic of China (China) engaged in biological activities with potential dual-use applications, some of which raise concerns regarding its compliance with Article I of the BWC,” the report said.
Article 1 states that signatories to the BWC agree never to develop, produce or stockpile biological or toxin weapons, or to build weapons or equipment to deliver the arms.
The State Department’s 2020 compliance report, as well as reports produced by the department in 2005 and 2010, assessed that China maintained “some elements of an offensive [biological weapons] capability” in violation of the BWC.
The 2020 report also said China’s own confidence-building measure reports failed to document Beijing’s past offensive biological weapons program or its remaining stockpiles of those weapons.
A former senior Trump administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity expressed particular concern over the prospect that China has been conducting population-specific and other research with applications for biological weapons.
The concerns began receiving attention in the State Department’s annual arms compliance report in 2019.
China did not make public its formal submission to the 2011 UN guidebook regarding Beijing’s BWC-related research.
However, He Yafei, who was China’s ambassador to the UN office in Geneva, wrote at the time that closely monitoring bioscience and technology developments was needed to maintain the effectiveness of the BWC.
“China supports efforts to enhance the monitoring and assessment of the impacts of the advancement of biotechnology under the framework of the convention, with a view to preventing the hostile use of biotechnology and making it better serve the mankind,” He wrote.
China has said it is working on synthetic biology, which experts believe could be used to edit gene sequences to create viruses weaponized to infect a specific person.A U.S. submission to a 2016 review conference on biological security said the threat of biological and toxin weapons is neither abstract nor theoretical.
“Scientific advances and the increasingly widespread availability of key materials, equipment and knowledge put such weapons within reach of more actors — whether state or non-state — than ever before,” the submission said.
“Biological weapons have been used in the past to horrific effect, and there is clear evidence that terrorist groups, individuals, and states continue to pursue these abhorrent weapons.”The information about China’s 2011 BWC submission was contained in a report posted on the Geneva-based BWC information support unit website.