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China canceled 2020 US bioweapons ban meeting meant to ensure ban compliance

Medical workers at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, China. (Xiong Qi/Xinhua via AP/TNS)
April 26, 2021

The Chinese government failed to show for a 2020 virtual meeting with the U.S. regarding compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), a new report revealed.

The U.S. State Department disclosed China’s compliance problem with the BWC in a report last week. In the report, the State Department said in 2020, “The United States attempted to engage China virtually on issues related to the BWC, however, the Chinese officials ‘postponed’ the meeting, citing unspecified ‘technical reason.’” China’s failure to show for the biological weapons meeting was one of several compliance issues the U.S. listed concerning several countries’ compliance with international arms control agreements.

China’s postponement of the biological weapons virtual meeting raises concerns about its biological weapons activities. U.S. officials have already shared concerns about the COVID-19 virus originating in a Chinese virology lab.

Article I of the BWC states adherents to the agreement must never, under any circumstances, “develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain …microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes,” as well as “weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.” 

The State Department report also said China had a biological warfare program from the 1950s to at least the late 1980s and that while China has submitted to BWC Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) each year since 1989, it never disclosed that biological weapons program and questions about China’s compliance with the BWC have persisted since 1993. The report further stated China has been “engaged in activities with dual-use applications which raise concerns regarding its compliance with Article I of the BWC.”

The State Department report comes just three months after the department, under President Donald Trump’s outgoing administration, released a fact sheet noting several potential connections between activities at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in Wuhan, China and the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. The fact sheet noted the lab had conducted research on a coronavirus strain with a 96.2% similarity to the SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 strain. The fact sheet also noted the WIV had been involved in “gain-of-function” research, studying ways to improve the efficiency with which a virus can transmit.

“WIV has not been transparent or consistent about its record of studying viruses most similar to the COVID-19 virus, including ‘RaTG13,’ which it sampled from a cave in Yunnan Province in 2013 after several miners died of SARS-like illness,” the fact sheet stated.

The fact sheet further stated, “Despite the WIV presenting itself as a civilian institution, the United States has determined that the WIV has collaborated on publications and secret projects with China’s military. The WIV has engaged in classified research, including laboratory animal experiments, on behalf of the Chinese military since at least 2017.”

In January, the World Health Organization called the Wuhan lab COVID-19 outbreak theory “extremely unlikely,” but former Center for Disease Control (CDC) Director Robert Redfield has backed the lab-outbreak theory.