On May 7, The Australian revealed the existence of a Chinese military paper from 2015 that discusses weaponization of SARS coronaviruses. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. Given the virus is estimated to have caused 6.9 million COVID-19 deaths and counting, such military-scientific musings are the height of irresponsibility and should be decisively countered through new sanctions against China’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) researchers.
In the paper, Chinese military scientists and senior Chinese “public health” officials, predict that World War III, if it comes, will be decided by new biological weapons. We are no longer in the age of gunpowder or nuclear weapons. The future of war is biological, they argue.
The document is consistent with significant prior evidence of offensive Chinese biowarfare research that can access technologies such as gene-editing and viral “gain-of-function” (GOF) processes. Chinese military researchers have also shown an interest in bioweapon genetic targeting. A specific ethnic genetic attack technology would be a biological weapon that targets a specific ethnicity. Gene-editing, such as CRISPR technology, could facilitate such targeting. GOF produces new viruses that are more transmissible and lethal than their progenitors, for example, use of an avian influenza virus to evolve, in the lab, a virus that can infect humans. If China can put these technologies together, and has the will to do so, it could design a killer virus that only infects a particular race that China considers to be an enemy.
As recently as June 2020, the U.S. Department of State (DoS) expressed concern (pdf) that China was violating the Biological [and Toxin] Weapons Convention (BWC or BTWC) of 1984 through research into dual-use technologies. In 2005, DoS alleged that “China maintains some elements of an offensive [biological weapons] capability in violation of its BTWC obligations.” DoS made similar charges in 2010, 2012, and 2014. The 2019 report stated that “Information indicates that the People’s Republic of China engaged during the reporting period in biological activities with potential dual-use applications, which raises concerns regarding its compliance with the BWC.” The 2020 report was more specific, about “compliance concerns with respect to Chinese military medical institutions’ toxin research and development because of the potential dual-use applications and their potential as a biological threat,” and stated that China had an offensive biological warfare (BW) program from the early 1950s to at least the late 1980s. The report noted that China had not acknowledged the BW program, or provided evidence of its dismantlement.
The newly-discovered Chinese military paper is titled “The Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons.” Eighteen authors at the highest levels of China’s military and academic hierarchy wrote the 263-page paper. It was obtained by DoS in May 2020, and independently authenticated by digital forensics specialist Robert Potter. Additional details of the paper will be published in Sharri Markson’s forthcoming September book on the origins of COVID-19, What Really Happened in Wuhan (HarperCollins).
The Chinese military study describes SARS coronaviruses as providing a basis for a “new era of genetic weapons,” according to its authors, that can be “artificially manipulated into an emerging human disease virus, then weaponized and unleashed in a way never seen before.”
It claims that “Following developments in other scientific fields, there have been major advances in the delivery of biological agents,” and continues, “For example, the new-found ability to freeze-dry micro-organisms has made it possible to store biological agents and aeresolise them during attacks.”
The document notes that a sudden flood of patients into hospitals during a biological weapons attack “could cause the enemy’s medical system to collapse.”
In the study, the Chinese military examines optimal conditions for release of a biological weapon. “Bioweapon attacks are best conducted during dawn, dusk, night or cloudy weather because intense sunlight can damage the pathogens,” according to the document. “Biological agents should be released during dry weather. Rain or snow can cause the aerosol particles to precipitate. A stable wind direction is desirable so that the aerosol can float into the target area.”
Analysts are increasingly wary of China’s biowarfare programs, and potential leakage of U.S. and allied STEM researchers that could serve as enablers.
“Chinese military researchers have closely examined American initiatives and international advancements, which have seemed to inform and inspire the direction of developments underway in China today,” according to Elsa Kania at the Center for a New American Security, and consultant Wilson VornDick. “So too, at a time when Chinese universities and enterprises are pursuing investment and expanding global research collaborations in such fields, it is important that their foreign partners remain cognizant of the interests and involvements of their counterparts. For instance, although biomedical research involves numerous promising applications in medicine and therapeutics, there are also reasons for concern about some of the ethical and security externalities of these research engagements.”
In another article on the weaponization of biotech, Kania and Vorndick warn that “the lack of transparency and uncertainty of ethical considerations in China’s research initiatives raise the risks of technological surprise.”
My read: watch out for a surprise bio-attack from China.
Given revelations about the latest Chinese biowarfare paper, along with China’s criminal behavior related to COVID-19, genocide against the Uyghurs, highly aggressive military stance towards the United States and allies, national strategy of civil-military fusion, dangerous new technologies of gene-targeting, and facile theft of foreign technology, and one must conclude that the United States and allies should act more decisively to defend ourselves.
The Chinese military, and the exploding economy from which it acquires strength, both depend upon STEM and trade that they obtain from the United States and allies. Continued STEM cooperation with China should therefore be immediately suspended. Decreasing imports from China would impose a logical consequence, and send a message, by constricting their economy. Until China demonstrates a significant improvement in its ethics and transparency, cooperation with China’s STEM academics and business people, including STEM undergraduates, graduate students, professors, and scientists, should be banned by law in the United States, EU, Japan, India, Brazil, and among our broader circles of allies.
But if we sanction China’s STEM, make sure it does not simply flow elsewhere, or advance in isolation beyond allied science. Regulation of science in China is generally less demanding, and so China’s military science could progress at a faster rate than allied science, through for example unethical forms of human experimentation. Note that five clinical trials of CRISPR gene-editing technologies are currently underway at China’s military hospitals.
STEM sanctions against China should have been implemented in 2005 when DoS first found evidence of an offensive biological weapons capability in violation of the BWC. Continuing to cooperate fifteen years later, when China’s STEM research can be used to build offensive biological weapons that likely target the United States and allies, is irresponsible and unethical. Knowing that China’s intentions are in part illegal or even genocidal, should make those who transfer STEM, willingly or unwillingly, culpable and criminally negligent.
Let’s not wait for a surprise bio-attack. Shut down China’s bioweapons programs now, by defensively decoupling from, and thereby minimizing, the country’s STEM infrastructure. Add maximum economic and political pressure, to nudge China toward much-needed democratization. Only when the country democratizes should we allow it back into the international system.
Playing Mr. Nice Guy and tip-toeing around existential threats to America and democracy from genocidal technologies through elision, euphemism, technocratic language, and an illogical belief in political change in Beijing through the self-serving economic and scientific engagement of individuals and corporations, is no longer acceptable. We need the United States and allies to defensively decouple, and quickly.
Anders Corr has a BA/MA in political science from Yale University (2001) and a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a Principal at Corr Analytics Inc., Publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He authored “The Concentration of Power” (forthcoming 2021) and “No Trespassing,” and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies.”