August 14, 2019

Weaponizing Biotech: How China’s Military Is Preparing for a ‘New Domain of Warfare’

By Elsa B. Kania and Wilson VornDick

Under Beijing's civil-military fusion strategy, the PLA is sponsoring research on gene editing, human performance enhancement, and more.

We may be on the verge of a brave new world indeed. Today’s advances in biotechnology and genetic engineering have exciting applications in medicine — yet also alarming implications, including for military affairs. China’s national strategy of military-civil fusion (军民融合) has highlighted biology as a priority, and the People’s Liberation Army could be at the forefront of expanding and exploiting this knowledge.

The PLA’s keen interest is reflected in strategic writings and research that argue that advances in biology are contributing to changing the form or character (形态) of conflict. For example:

  • In 2010’s War for Biological Dominance (制生权战争), Guo Jiwei (郭继卫), a professor with the Third Military Medical University, emphasizes the impact of biology on future warfare.
  • In 2015, then-president of the Academy of Military Medical Sciences He Fuchu (贺福初) argued that biotechnology will become the new “strategic commanding heights” of national defense, from biomaterials to “brain control” weapons. Maj. Gen. He has since become the vice president of the Academy of Military Sciences, which leads China’s military science enterprise.
  • Biology is among seven “new domains of warfare” discussed in a 2017 book by Zhang Shibo (张仕波), a retired general and former president of the National Defense University, who concludes: “Modern biotechnology development is gradually showing strong signs characteristic of an offensive capability,” including the possibility that “specific ethnic genetic attacks” (特定种族基因攻击) could be employed.
  • The 2017 edition of Science of Military Strategy (战略学), a textbook published by the PLA’s National Defense University that is considered to be relatively authoritative, debuted a section about biology as a domain of military struggle, similarly mentioning the potential for new kinds of biological warfare to include “specific ethnic genetic attacks.”

Read the full article in Defense One.

  • Commentary
    • The Washington Post
    • July 2, 2020
    The U.S.-China confrontation is not another Cold War. It’s something new.

    With U.S.-China relations in free fall, the Trump administration’s chief arms control negotiator recently proclaimed that "we know how to win these races and we know how to sp...

    By Richard Fontaine & Ely Ratner

  • Commentary
    • War on the Rocks
    • July 1, 2020
    Thrones Wreathed in Shadow: Tacitus and the Psychology of Authoritarianism

    On May 10, 1626, Sir John Eliot — an English parliamentarian and statesman — delivered a blistering speech to the House of Commons. One of the finest orators of his day, Eliot...

    By Iskander Rehman

  • Video
    • June 24, 2020
    The Pitch: A Competition of New Ideas

    On June 17, 2020, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) hosted its premier event to elevate emerging and diverse voices in national security. Sixteen applicants made t...

    By Richard Fontaine, Michèle Flournoy, Michael J. Zak, Loren DeJonge Schulman, Shai Korman, Carrie Cordero, Kristine Lee, David Zikusoka & Cole Stevens

  • Podcast
    • June 24, 2020
    Richard Fontaine appears on Utrikespodden med Axel och Zebulon

    A bonus episode of the pod, all in English! Axel talks to Richard Fontaine, who is the CEO of Washington-based think Center for A New American Security (CNAS) and a former for...

    By Richard Fontaine

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia