Beijing: The SARS-CoV-2, better known as COVID-19 is mired under controversy about whether it was a man-made disaster or a natural pandemic, writes Thu Dao, a Hanoi-based journalist and worked as a content manager and strategist at Foreign Affairs Newsdesk in Tuoi Tre in Indo-Pacific Centre for Strategic Communications (IPCSC).
There are good reasons to be concerned about Chinese work in biotechnology that could be unethical and alarming.
Although Beijing has never admitted to a developed bio-weapons program, in the past China has reportedly produced biological weapons that include weaponized ricin, botulinum toxins and causative agents for anthrax, cholera, plague and tularaemia in violation of the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972 that declares the development, production, and stockpiling of bio-weapons a war crime, reported IPCSC.
Historically, some of the most devastating global pandemics in the past have emerged from China e.g. the plague or Black Death that ravaged Africa, Asia and Europe from 1346 to 1353 and claimed around 200 million lives.
The 1918 influenza pandemic often referred to as the “Spanish flu” and considered the deadliest pandemic of the century killing 50 million people globally had originated in China, a year before.
Moreover, a recent report (Dec 14, 2022) on the origins of COVID-19 released by Republicans on the US House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) has concluded that SARS-CoV-2 may have been developed as a biological weapon by China, said Thu.
The committee assessed that China’s PLA’s Fifth Institute of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences (AMMS) has a long history of working with bio-weapons programmes and coronaviruses.
China itself had declared in 2006 that the Fifth Institute specialized in conducting research on SARS Corona-viruses. The Institute works in close collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV).
A review of academic research on the PubMed database shows that Fifth Institute scientists have extensively published research on corona-viruses including work conducted with the WIV suggesting a close integration of medical science with military research.
It is worth noting that there are two known Chinese biological weapons production facilities; one in Beijing and a second in Lingbao, Henan province. The Lingbao plant is near Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus that caused COVID-19 first emerged. Hence the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 as a biological weapon cannot be ruled out, said Thu.
In recent years, the PLA’s medical institutions such as the Fifth Institute have emerged as major centres for research in gene editing and other new frontiers of military medicine and biotechnology.
There are also reports that Chinese military virologists collected dangerous viruses from wild animals around the world, or stole them while posing as co-researchers, as they did from National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Canada, reported IPCSC.
Meanwhile, data of the extensive Chinese collection of viruses were hidden offline or withdrawn from international databases. Even data about the Mojiang Miners affected by COVID-19 like lethal pneumonia was collected but suppressed and misrepresented as a fungal infection.
China has also been leading the world in the CRISPR gene-editing technology and the number of trials on humans. It is learnt that China in a joint collaboration with Pakistan is doing research titled “Collaboration for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Studies Biological Control of Vector Transmitting Diseases” at a Biosafety Level 4 facility lab (BSL-4), where the most dangerous and infectious agents are being supposedly tested and developed, reported IPCSC.
The DSTO is located at Chakala cantonment, Rawalpindi and is headed by a two-star General. This joint collaboration is certainly not for scientific experiments but to weaponise pathogens. Those in the intelligence and scientific community warn that by using Pakistan, China has outsourced a highly contagious network of laboratories where antigens a hundred times more infectious than Covid could be created.
In view of the above, international organizations must keep a watch on the development, production and stockpile in the field of biological weapons, said Thu.
Countries engaged in offensive or defensive bio-weapons programmes should come under scrutiny and thorough inspection of their laboratories and facilities from a safety level point of view must be carried out to keep future pandemics at bay in order to avoid large-scale devastation as has been in the case of COVID-19.