– – Wednesday, February 17, 2021
Advancement in genetic engineering and biotechnology have wondrous utilization in medicine yet also frightening implications, including for military affairs.
In a new discovery, China’s biggest biotech company BGI Group (Beijing Genomics Institute) have been found to share strong ties with People’s Liberation Army. At the fulcrum, the company has been named as having “evident links” to the Chinese government.
Tracing back the company’s history, the BGI was formed in 1999 to participate in the Human Genome Project, which grew from a research institute that decoded the DNA of pandas and rice plants, to an institute active in animal cloning, health testing and contract research.
In association with the PLA, the BGI Group has been working on a number of projects, including a genetic research that would benefit soldiers in border zones. Since the company has an opaque structure, it is difficult, if not impossible, for outsiders to grasp the extent of their operations, finances and ownership but the history of the projects undertaken by the BGI clearly shows an eagerness to pursue anything as long as it vaguely involved DNA.
It is worth noting that this is not the first incident where the BGI has garnered public’s suspecting eyes. It has been part of criticism and controversies previously on a number of occasions — in 2019, there were allegations raised of genetic surveillance in Xinjiang and also human rights abuse and in 2020, it was accused of delivering faulty COVID-19 kits in Sweden.
A tech industry panel chaired by former Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, had raised the danger signal last year in last year about China’s increasing financial aid for its biotechnology sector and the PLA’s interest in potential military applications. In response, China’s foreign ministry has said that the U.S. is deliberately misconstruing China’s military-civil fusion policy in order to smear its reputation.
Moreover, the recent findings have made it clear that President Xi Jinping intends to integrate private technology companies into military-related. China’s military has never been known for its advanced medical research but since around 2005, PLA can be seen investing heavily into recruiting scientists as a part of its strategy to modernize military. And it very well reaped the fruits of its efforts when the world witnessed PLA’s growing expertise in medical research and how it played a huge role in development of the coronavirus vaccine which was first in the world to be approved for restricted use.
Alongside its more conventional branches, i.e. the Army, Navy and Air Force, the PLA established cyber and space warfare branches in 2016. A Science and Technology Commission also became one of 15 newly formed military “sections.” From a fairly primitive and undeveloped military in the ’80s it has now developed into a technologically advanced indomitable military.
The PLA’s passionate interest in advances in biology is evident from the extensive and evolving literature by Chinese military scholars and scientists which emphasize the impact of biology on future warfare arguing that biotechnology will become the new “strategic commanding heights” of national defence.
The Chinese Central Military Commission since 2016 has funded strategically diversified projects on military brain science, biological and biomimetic materials, advanced biomimetic systems, human performance enhancement and “new concept” biotechnology.
The military of other states also indulge themselves in medical research but considering the size of the PLA and the pace at which its conducting noteworthy scientific transformations is an alarming situation for many, especially given the growing political tensions. Foreign governments are legitimately concerned about growing impact of the PLA on medical research. The U.S. Justice Department charged two Chinese nationals in July last year for snooping on three U.S.-based companies working in medical research to fight the coronavirus
Due to the increasing geo-political influence, Chinese tech entities have constantly been on U.S. radar of increasing scrutiny. Even the administration of President Biden has gestured toward a continued tough attitude to what they see as a rising threat from Beijing in weaponizing biotech.