The Chinese government admitted research to create man-made viruses posed “a huge latent threat to mankind” – and said “accidental mistakes in biotech laboratories can place mankind in great danger” – in terrifying warnings contained in Beijing’s own declaration to a UN meeting under the Biological Weapons Convention.
Chinese authorities also spoke of the “increased threat of biological weapons” and discussed using viruses as “genetic weapons” saying systems biology “can also create the potential for biological weapons based on genetic differences between races”, making the comments in treaty documents unearthed for What Really Happened in Wuhan, a forthcoming book about the origins of Covid-19.
The People’s Republic of China’s submission to the Seventh Review Conference of the State Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Biological and Toxin Weapons – dated November 23, 2011 – includes the disclosure that biotechnology research presented challenges complying with the Biological Weapons Convention.
China’s submission to the conference, held in Geneva in December 2011, also raises the issue of how research could “significantly increase the destructiveness of biological weapons” by “making biological attacks more stealthy”.
The 2011 document is the last detailed submission from China relating to the convention – Beijing lodged a scaled-back paper in 2016 at the next, and last, review.
It says “foreign genes or viruses can be introduced into the target population asymptomatically by means of gene-therapy vectors, enabling a biological weapon attack to be mounted covertly”.
There is no evidence that Covid-19 was a biological weapon, nor that China has carried out a biological attack.
The Australian is reporting for the first time that the Chinese government included a discussion about these threats in its official submission to the UN meeting under the Biological Weapons Convention as relevant issues that could affect compliance with the Convention.
The discovery of the details of China’s declaration to the meeting comes as Joe Biden’s intelligence agencies probe whether Covid-19 has a natural origin or if it may have originated in a laboratory with links to the Chinese military.
Under the terms of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, a major international treaty which prohibits signatories from pursuing biological weapons, review conferences are held every five years to ensure the convention is upheld and examine new scientific developments of concern.
China, along with almost every other nation, has acceded to the convention where governments submit declarations on research and relevant developments in science and technology as well as assessments of the state of compliance with the convention.
China’s submission discloses the extreme risks of laboratories “synthesising man-made pathogens in the laboratory”.
“Accidental mistakes in biotech laboratories can place mankind in great danger,” it states.
“Synthetic biology in some civilian biotechnology research and applications may unintentionally give rise to new, highly hazardous man-made pathogens with unforeseeable consequences.”
Danger of lab accidents
This admission in their own document contradicts claims from scientists aligned with the Wuhan Institute of Virology that an accidental laboratory leak is a conspiracy theory that did not warrant investigation.
China’s submission suggests biosafety management controls and regulations should “tighten” especially around the virulent pathogens in laboratories.
“State parties should, in keeping with the purposes and principles of the Convention, apportion responsibility and assign tasks for biosafety regulation, constantly tighten biosafety management – especially of virulent pathogens – in their laboratories ... and eliminate biosafety risks,” it states.
Chin states at the start of its declaration that since the sixth conference, held five years earlier in 2006, “there have been almost daily developments in biotechnology – rapid advances in synthetic biology, genomics, systems biology, drug targeting technology and microbial forensics, for instance – throwing up fresh challenges and opportunities for compliance with the Convention”.
The first section in China’s submission is on “synthetic biology enabling the creation of man-made pathogens”.
Man-made pathogens can be created through gain-of-function research which results in new viruses that are more infectious to humans than existed previously.
Richard Ebright, the board of governors professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers University, said only two laboratories had reported conducting gain-of-function research on SARS-related coronaviruses prior to the pandemic: the Wuhan Institute of Virology and the University of North Carolina in the US.
The Australian has previously reported China’s coronavirus research was partially funded by the US National Institutes of Health through a sub-grant.
China’s submission to the UN conference says “the many technological strands of synthetic biology constitute a new science which is making rapid advances, from the chemical synthesis of the genome to the ability to create man-made living organisms” and notes American research in these fields. It says while this research can help with the development of new drugs, “they also have the potential to be used for evil ends”.
“Theoretically speaking, synthetic biotechnology poses a huge latent threat to mankind, as it could be used in the future to create pathogens of even greater toxicity and infectiousness than those currently known, and which are resistant to traditional vaccines and drugs as well as hard to isolate and identify with present day technology,” it reads. Medication to treat such pathogens that have been manipulated and synthesised would be rendered useless, the submission states.
“The sequencing of pathogen DNA has opened the way to the development of new diagnostic methods, drugs and vaccines. But the same data can also be used to synthesise new pathogens and modify pathogen antigenicity, infection specificity, toxicity, and resistance to drugs, causing traditional means of dealing with infectious disease to fail and rendering the prevention and control of such disease even harder.”
‘No surprises’: Members of Chinese military were on Wuhan lab oversight committee
China’s declaration includes a discussion about a truly terrifying area of research involving weaponising genetic-specific viruses. It states that the Human Genome Project has helped “to reveal population-specific genetic variations across the genome”.
It says that there are variations in genes for susceptibility to infectious diseases among different populations.
It says this knowledge can “lay the theoretical foundations for an across-the-board improvement in levels of human health, but it can also create the potential for biological weapons based on genetic differences between races.
“Once hostile elements grasp that different ethnic groups harbour intrinsically different genetic susceptibilities to particular pathogens, they can put that knowledge into practice and create genetic weapons targeted at a racial group with a particular susceptibility.”
Under a section in the submission titled “Increased threat of biological weapons”, Beijing states that the rapid development of biological sciences “may significantly increase the destructiveness of biological weapons”.
“One way it may do so is by increasing the virulence of pathogenic micro-organisms … Another way is by rendering traditional medicines and vaccines ineffective,” it states.
“A third way is by making the target population more susceptible to pathogenic microbes. RNA interference can make inactive specific genes in the body, inhibit expression of important bodily proteins, disrupt physiological function and heighten the effects of a bioweapon attack.
“And a fourth way is by making biological attacks more stealthy. Foreign genes or viruses can be introduced into the target population asymptomatically by means of gene-therapy vectors, enabling a biological weapon attack to be mounted covertly.”
China’s declaration begins by noting that modern biological sciences play an “important role in helping mankind combat disease and improve health”.
“At the same time, the use of new kinds of biotechnology for hostile purposes, posing a latent threat to human society, is also growing,” it states.
It goes on to say: “The ‘dual use’ nature of biotechnology enables it, on the one hand, to pose many challenges to full and strict compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention.”
‘Chills up my spine’
The existence of China’s submission became known to Miles Yu when he was working for former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo as his top China adviser.
Yu came across a paper that featured the research fields China had spoken about in its submission. He raised it with Mr Pompeo and also alerted the State Department’s Arms, Control, Verification and Compliance bureau in December, 2020.
Neither Mr Yu nor the State Department were able to locate China’s full, original submission prior to the change of administration. When Mr Biden took office, the Pompeo-authorised State Department investigation into the origins of Covid-19 was shut down.
An investigation for What Really Happened in Wuhan led to the discovery of China’s original and full submission.
“It sent chills up my spine when I saw the PLA submissions and the type of research China’s biological weapons experts had been working on, as China proudly announced to a world biological weapons convention, right there in black and white,” Yu said the document in an interview for the book. “It bore macabre significance because anything China’s bio-labs do might well be connected to the PLA’s biological weapons of mass destruction of the most lethal and sophisticated kind.”
Bio-research road map
The US State Department’s former lead investigator into the origins of Covid-19, David Asher, who has previously investigated biological, chemical and nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, said the submission “essentially laid out a road map of developments in biotechnology pertinent to the biological weapons convention that the Chinese indicated as particularly salient”.
“It wasn’t clear from their declaration whether this was for potential offensive use of synthetic biology and other techniques ... but it certainly appears to lay out what they felt were going to be the drivers of a more potent offence in the future decade related to biotechnology,” he said.
“This is probably the most disturbing thing to note that there could be a type of population-targeting or ethnic targeting using biology, according to the Chinese,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they did it in the case of Covid-19 or anything else but it definitely implied that they were fully aware that this is feasible and possible.”
Asked how to interpret the document given China doesn’t specifically admit this is research it is engaged in, Mr Asher said: “They lay out the cookbook and they say ‘What’s the impact of the cookbook?’”
“They say (it’s the) increased threat of biological weapons using advanced technology. They talk about increased difficulty complying with the convention,” he said.
There is evidence China has been engaged in at least some of the fields of research it raised in its submission.