China Defense & Security Diplomacy & International Relations military Security Technology

Is China Using Biological Engineering to Physically Alter Their Soldiers?

A relatively recent concern that is starting to gain more prominence is China’s efforts to modernize its armed forces through the use of bioengineering.

While most headlines pertaining to China currently focus on the Covid-19 pandemic in regards to China being the first epicenter and how they combatted the virus, it seems that coverage of China’s military advancements along with tensions between the United States and China has gone overlooked. Some notable issues in China consist of the trade war with the United States, the persecution of China’s Muslim population in Xinjiang, and pro-democracy protests in China.

A relatively recent concern that is starting to gain more prominence is China’s efforts to modernize its armed forces through the use of bioengineering.

China’s military advancements are still relevant to the United States along with the global community and should be addressed, but the issue now looms in the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now is a crucial time to address this topic as concerns of bioengineering being utilized in militaries has gained prominence, specifically in regards to the Chinese military.

In order to have a better understanding of bioengineering for military purposes, it is useful to look at some of the history of bioengineering within the military. Nazi Germany is a notable example of human experimentation at the hands of the military. From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany had various medical personnel conduct experiments on humans (often prisoners or people from concentration camps) in order to enhance Nazi ideologies by developing “racial health policies.” These experiments took place in Nuremberg and concentration camps across Germany. This event makes it clear that bioengineering for military purposes could have horrific consequences.

On the other hand, when examining present times, bioengineering in the military has had some positive impacts when used properly. A prime example of this the U.S. Air Force using biological tests in determining diagnosis and treatments for diseases. When seeing the positive and negative impacts of bioengineering, the question arises of whether or not bioengineering is okay for military use, and if China’s use of bioengineering in their military is concerning or not.

In December 2020, John Ratcliffe, Director of National Intelligence, expressed various warnings about China that addressed his concern over the country’s use of biological engineering. Ratcliffe claimed that China “poses the greatest threat to America today.” He then went on to say, “The intelligence is clear: Beijing intends to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily, and technologically. Many of China’s major public initiatives and prominent companies offer only a layer of camouflage to the activities of the Chinese Communist Party.” However, the most alarming and stand-out claim Ratcliffe made was when he stated: “U.S. intelligence shows that China has even conducted human testing on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with biologically enhanced capabilities…There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power.”

To many, a claim of this nature would seem faulty and likely unbelievable, as it seems like something out of a Marvel movie. However, because of Ratcliffe’s position, many took this claim seriously and began analyzing the implications of using biological engineering on soldiers. 

Further research into Ratcliffe’s claim will show that theories regarding China’s use of biological engineering on humans (specifically soldiers) have been discussed since 2019. These theories began gaining prominence after Chinese researcher, He Jiankui, used the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing to alter the DNA of embryos for seven couples in 2018. It appears that this technology was used in human tests on soldiers to enhance their physical capabilities in China primarily, but France as well. It is more alarming to question why China is using such technology, and why they would require stronger soldiers.

It has become apparent in recent years that China is growing in terms of global economic control. However, it is also worth noting that as China is growing as a global power, their military strength is increasing as well. China has advanced in armaments and their military is growing, and this has given the nation’s military the ability to become a top-tier force within the next thirty years

Considering the fact that China’s military is already becoming stronger, it is intriguing to see how genetically altered soldiers will add to this level of power and strength. Given that China is one of the most powerful economic leaders in the world, one must wonder what the global impacts will be if they become the most powerful military leader in the world. This seems to be a point that Ratcliffe tries to address in his warnings about China. It seems that the reasonable thing for all nations to do is to avoid bioengineering for the purpose of military advancement because it is quite possible that they could cause more harm to their own soldiers than good.

Biological engineering is not a new technology, and it especially is not unique to China. The CRISPR-Cas9 gene has been used in tests since 2018, and now it is being used on soldiers. Knowing the amount of time and effort that has been put into this venture makes it all the more concerning. China has a strong amount of leverage in world affairs based on their economic control alone. They also have a good relationship with both Russia and Iran. Over the last couple of months, the three nations’ naval forces are cooperating together in the Indian Ocean. Considering Russia and Iran’s military power, an alliance or strong relationship between the three nations could give them dominant control in world affairs. These relationships along with China’s modernization of their military and soldiers will be useful contributions to China’s growing military power. The combination of these factors should be monitored, as China’s military potential is continuing to develop. 

Personally, I believe that there are positive and negative aspects of the use of bioengineering by the military. There are instances where bioengineering can be used by the military to help save lives (which is especially useful now to combat COVID-19), but there are other instances where bioengineering can endanger the lives of people. Bioengineering can become quite dangerous when it is being used to alter the genetic makeup of a human in an attempt to make them a stronger soldier, which is supposedly what is occurring in China’s military.

Regulations should be established in order to avoid improper or risky experimental uses of bioengineering that could pose a threat to a person’s health. After the Nazi medical personnel were put on trial for their horrific human experimentation, the Nuremberg Code was created to help regulate medical research and prevent improper practices that could have negative consequences. This is relatable to the situation China currently finds itself in, as using bioengineering to alter somebody’s genetic makeup to physically enhance them for military purposes could have disastrous consequences for those involved. 

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By Omid Rahimdel

Omid is a current freshman at UCLA, majoring in Iranian Studies. He enjoys learning and reporting about different topics. He tries to contribute to the community whenever possible.

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