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China's biological warfare ploy using marine toxins makes US see red

Despite China's ratification of the BWC in 1984, ongoing activities indicate secretive development of toxins for military use, including sea-based neurotoxins. Suspicions are heightened by China's past biological weapons programs and its lack of transparency regarding current activities.

China biological warfare ploy using marine toxins makes US see red
First Published Apr 25, 2024, 12:11 PM IST

The US State Department's latest arms control compliance report has sounded alarms regarding China's military activities, particularly concerning its research on marine toxins. This development has raised suspicions of potential violations of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), a treaty aimed at eliminating biological weapons.

Despite China ratifying the BWC in 1984, ongoing research activities suggest a clandestine effort towards developing toxins for military purposes. The State Department report explicitly mentions China's involvement in 'biological activities with potential biological weapons applications', highlighting the development of toxins, particularly sea-based neurotoxins known for their lethal properties targeting the central nervous system.

According to a report by the Washington Times, this concern is heightened by China's history of biological weapons programs, which have included agents like ricin and anthrax. The recent focus on marine toxins represents a new strategic direction in Beijing's weapons research.

US intelligence suspects that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) might be repurposing civilian research, ostensibly aimed at preventing marine toxin poisoning from seafood, for military weapons development. The report cites a 2014 Chinese government-sponsored research discussing the potential use of anatoxins, saxitoxins, and tetrodotoxin as biological weapons.

Despite these disclosures, China has allegedly not provided comprehensive details about its past or present biological weapons programs to other BWC signatories, violating the convention's requirements.

Former arms control official Thomas DiNanno criticized the current US administration for its perceived reluctance to address what he considers a significant escalation in bioweapons development by China. Meanwhile, Ryan Clarke from the National University of Singapore views this revelation as indicative of the Chinese Communist Party's efforts to integrate bioweapons into its standard military capabilities.

The issue is expected to be discussed at an upcoming BWC working group meeting in Geneva. In the meantime, the US continues to press China on these matters in various international forums, aiming to build diplomatic pressure for transparency and compliance.

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