- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 28, 2022

China carried out offensive biological weapons work until 1987 and failed to disclose the full extent of the activities for years as required under an international agreement, according to the State Department’s annual report on arms treaty compliance.

Additionally, Chinese officials for the second year in a row have refused a meeting with U.S. counterparts to discuss ongoing concerns about China’s biological warfare activities.

China is required under the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, signed by Beijing in 1984, to disclose all activities related to current or past biological warfare programs.

“The People’s Republic of China (PRC) continued to engage in activities with dual-use applications, which raise concerns regarding its compliance with Article I of the BWC,” said the report, made public last week. Article I strictly prohibits developing or stockpiling biological weapons.

The report said the U.S. government was unable to determine whether China eliminated past biological weapons as required under the Biological Weapons Convention.

The report for the first time identifies two known Chinese biological weapons production facilities, one in Beijing and a second in Lingbao, in Henan province. The Lingbao plant is near Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 first emerged.

The Chinese offensive biological weapons program began in the 1950s and continued through at least the 1980s, the report said.

“Reporting suggests that the PRC’s [biological weapons] production occurred at two facilities, in Beijing and Lingbao, prior to the PRC’s signing of the BWC in 1972.” The last operational germ weapons production plant in Lingbao ceased activities in 1987.

“Although the PRC has submitted BWC confidence-building measures (CBMs) each year since 1989, the PRC’s CBM reporting has never declared these facilities or otherwise disclosed it ever pursued an offensive BW program, and the PRC has never acknowledged publicly or in diplomatic channels its past offensive program,” the report said.

The biological weapons produced by China in the past include weaponized ricin, botulinum toxins and causative agents for anthrax, cholera, plague and tularemia, the report said.

The latest report changed its assessment of the development of those weapons from “probably” to “reportedly,” an apparent increase in the level of certainty likely based on intelligence agencies’ findings.

Studies conducted by the People’s Liberation Army at military medical institutions have stated that the military has worked on identifying and testing “diverse families of potent toxins with dual-use applications,” the report said. More information on the Chinese bioweapons program was contained in a classified annex, the report authors said.

“The United States has compliance concerns with respect to Chinese military medical institutions’ toxin and biotechnology research and development because of the dual-use applications and their potential as a biological threat,” the report said.

The report said there was no evidence that China had taken steps to destroy its biological weapons or divert them to peaceful purposes as required by the Biological Weapons Convention. China refused to meet with U.S. officials last year, the period covered by the latest compliance report. The Biden administration sought the meeting to resolve the compliance issues.

“A new date had been proposed for early 2022, but the PRC again cancelled the meeting,” the report said.

Al Mauroni, director of the Air Force Center for Strategic Deterrence Studies, wrote in a recent journal article that unclassified assessments by the Pentagon and State Department suggest China could now have a biological weapons capability and U.S. officials believe Beijing is not complying with the Biological Weapons Convention.

“In the event of a future conflict with great powers, there is the chance that biological warfare could emerge as a significant threat, perhaps in a form unrecognized from Cold War experiences,” Mr. Mauroni wrote in an article titled “On Biological War,” in the current issue of the Army journal Military Review.

Mr. Mauroni said China’s investment in biotechnology, specifically synthetic biology, has created the base for producing “a range of extant and novel biological warfare agents.”

As for use in a future conflict, China’s clandestine biological weapons program could offer “a capability to perform single, small-scale chemical or biological weapons attacks on focused targets (facilities or individuals) while claiming to be compliant with the BWC.”

Mr. Mauroni said Western military forces are unable to detect biological weapons until after exposure and U.S. forces lack vaccines for a number of known biological warfare agents or engineered diseases.

The Washington Times, citing U.S. officials with access to intelligence reports, reported in May 2020 that China was working on biological weapons designed to attack specific ethnic groups.

‘Ethnic genetic attacks’

“We are looking at potential biological experiments on ethnic minorities,” one senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Times.

Information regarding Chinese ethnic bioweapons research was obtained from people with knowledge of the program. A Chinese general stated in a 2017 book that advances in biotechnology made “specific ethnic genetic attacks” more likely in conflict.

China’s National Defense University also has reported that the Chinese military is preparing for “specific ethnic genetic attacks.”

The State Department concluded last year that China has engaged in a policy of genocide against minority Uyghurs in western China.

The latest arms compliance report made no mention of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. A State Department report made public in January 2021 said the institute was engaged in secret military work.

“For many years the United States has publicly raised concerns about China’s past biological weapons work, which Beijing has neither documented nor demonstrably eliminated, despite its clear obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention,” the 2021 report on the Wuhan facility said.

Despite posing as a civilian facility, the Wuhan institute “collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military,” the report said.

“The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017,” the report said.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Liu Pengyu said China strictly fulfills its obligations under the biological weapons treaty.

China firmly defends the lawful right of developing countries to enjoy the dividend of biotechnological development,” he said, calling on the United States to provide details of what he called Washington’s own “bio-military activities.”

China’s state-owned media in recent weeks have echoed Russian accusations about a string of “covert” U.S.-funded biological research laboratories in Ukraine. U.S. and Ukrainian officials have vehemently denied suggestions that the labs were conducting biowarfare experiments or that the research was conducted in secret.

Two former State Department arms control leaders, Thomas DiNanno and Paula A. DeSutter, said in a report last year that the Biden administration was attempting to play down Chinese violations of the international agreement by omitting information about secret virus research from last year’s arms compliance report.

“This omission serves as a signal to China and other adversaries and to our allies that the United States is not concerned about the potentially dangerous dual-use research that was being conducted at the WIV and its affiliated facilities,” Mr. DiNanno and Ms. DeSutter wrote at the time. They said the State Department “must determine the extent of potential Chinese weaponization of viruses.”

Recent statements by Chinese officials have indicated that the military is interested in pursuing offensive biological arms.

“For example, in 2015, then-President of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences He Fuchu argued that biotechnology would become the new ‘strategic commanding heights’ of national defense, ranging from biomaterials to ‘brain control’ weapons,” Mr. DiNanno and Ms. DeSutter said.

John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence under President Trump, has said U.S. intelligence information indicates China “conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities.”

Current DNI Avril Haines said in recent congressional testimony that the COVID-19 pandemic and the global response to it could prompt U.S. adversaries to consider developing biological weapons.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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