Beijing, Moscow Urge UN Make 'Mobile Biomedical Teams', Probe US Biolabs for BWC Treaty Compliance
01:05 GMT 09.10.2021 (Updated: 13:25 GMT 06.08.2022)
Amid continued US accusations that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, escaped from a Chinese biolab in Wuhan, the Chinese and Russian governments have called on the United Nations to ensure the US is following international conventions on bioweapons.
During a Thursday meeting of an arms control committee discussion of the United Nations’ Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BWC), the foreign ministers of Russia and China called attention to the US’ absence from the BWC Treaty’s verification protocols regime.
Geng Shuang, China’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, proposed a legally binding protocol be added to the BWC, and that under the aegis of a monitoring mechanism, “mobile biomedical teams” should be deployed to investigate the use of biological agents and to “help combat epidemics of various origins.”
While recent events surrounding the search for the origins of COVID-19 have given the proposal additional relevance, it is by no means the first time it’s been pitched. Russia made the same suggestions in 2018, a year before the pandemic began.
The treaty currently has no verification protocols and is little more than a gentlemen’s agreement not to build or test bioweapons. This is unlike other treaties, such as the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, under which the US has destroyed much of its stockpiles of mustard gas, VX, and sarin projectiles - albeit years later than they agreed to. However, the US did destroy its existing bioweapons stock between 1971 and 1972, under orders from then-US President Richard Nixon - notably before the BWC came into existence in 1975.
“The Russian Federation and China note with concern that over the past two decades the BWC States Parties, despite the wishes of the overwhelming majority, have failed to reach an agreement on resuming the multilateral negotiations on the Protocol to the Convention, suspended in 2001 when the United States unilaterally withdrew from this process despite the fact that the consensus was almost reached,” the China-Russia joint statement reads.
“Consequently, and also in the light of rapid advances in the field of science and technology with dual-use capabilities, the risk of biological agents being used as weapons has increased.”
The statement notes that the US operates more than 200 biological laboratories located in other countries, noting they “function in opaque and non-transparent manner” and raise “serious concerns and questions among the international community over its compliance with the BWC.”
“The two sides share the view that such activities pose serious risks for the national security of the Russian Federation and China, and are detrimental to the security of relevant regions,” they said.
“Given the fact that the United States and its allies do not provide any meaningful information on those military biological activities that could allay concerns of the international community, the Russian Federation and China urge the United States and its allies to act in an open, transparent and responsible manner, by informing properly on its military biological activities carried out overseas and on their national territory, and supporting the resumption of negotiations on a legally binding protocol to the BWC with effective verification mechanism, so as to ensure their compliance with the BWC.”
US Biolabs Once Drove Weapons Program
Like many nations, the US vigorously pursued biological and chemical weapons programs during and after the First World War. By the time President Nixon ordered their destruction, the US had developed stockpiles of six biological weapons, including anthrax, botulism, tularemia, brucellosis, Q-fever, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, as well as staphylococcal enterotoxin B, a toxin produced by staphylococcus aureus bacteria, as an incapacitating agent. However, it also had research programs into more than 20 other potential weapons, including smallpox, rinderpest, typhus, dengue fever, yellow fever, bird flu, and plague.
Early in 2020, a conspiracy theory arose in the United States that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, had been a test subject leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China, calls for the World Health Organization to probe the Wuhan lab began, as well. The Biden administration also launched its own probe, which found in late August that the virus was most likely natural and entered the human population via natural means, not a bioweapon or escaped lab test subject.
However, the conspiracy theory has persisted, helping to fuel anti-China attitudes in the United States by suggesting some kind of coverup. In response, Beijing began calling for the US’ many biolabs, which are located both in the US and scattered around the globe, to be probed as potential sources of the outbreak, as well. In particular, Fort Detrick, once the center of the Pentagon’s bioweapons program and today houses several agencies focused on biodefense and research into some of the world’s deadliest diseases, has had several problems with leaks, including the anthrax used in a series of mail attacks in late 2001.