China was a victim of large-scale biological warfare during World War II. During the Japanese occupation of China, Japanese forces, led by Unit 731, killed an estimated 250,000 Chinese citizens using a number of biological agents. China is a party to most of the major international agreements regulating biological weapons, including the Geneva Protocol and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC or BTWC). China also supported the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1540 in 2004, which compels states to prevent non-state actors from acquiring biological weapons or other weapons of mass destruction (WMD). China is not, however, a member of the Australia Group (AG), a voluntary supply-side export control regime focused on chemical and biological weapons, though the issuance of new export control regulations in 2002 has put Beijing's export control policy fully in line with that of the AG. China continues to engage in negotiations with the AG, possibly laying the groundwork for eventual Chinese membership.
While China has publicly declared to be consistently in compliance with the BTWC, past U.S. government reports issued by the Department of State have alleged that China not only has a small-scale offensive biological weapons program, but has also transferred controlled biological weapons-related items to nations of proliferation concern such as Iran. Such transfers have resulted in numerous U.S. nonproliferation sanctions being imposed on Chinese entities, despite vigorous protests by the Chinese government.
China's Official Position on Biological Weapons
Chinese officials have repeatedly stated in formal documents and official speeches that China has never developed biological weapons and does not currently engage in biological activities with offensive military applications. At the 1991 BTWC Preparatory Conference, the Chinese delegation stated:
"Having been caused great harm by biological weapons, China has all along stood for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of biological weapons, and has never developed, produced, stockpiled or otherwise acquired or retained biological agents, toxins, or weapons equipment or means of delivery for them."
A November 1995 white paper on Arms Control and Disarmament issued by the State Council states that "China officially opposes the production of biological weapons by any country and their proliferation in any form by any country." In 1998, China further clarified its positions and reiterated its previous positions concerning biological weapons in its white paper entitled China's National Defense. This document states:
"In November 1984 China acceded to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction (BWC). As a state party to the BWC, China has, year after year, reported to the United Nations on convention related information and data concerning confidence building measures, in accordance with the decisions of the Review Conferences of the BWC."
China and the BTWC
Initially, China did not participate in the negotiations on the BTWC. At the 1972 meeting of the UN General Assembly, China's representative attacked the convention as a "fraud of sham disarmament" concocted by the two superpowers, and criticized it for not prohibiting the use of biological weapons and for not prohibiting chemical weapons.
China did accede to the BTWC in 1984, but with the stipulation that it was binding only in regards to relations with other parties, and will cease to be binding in regard to any enemy states whose armed forces or allies do not observe the convention's provisions. China supports efforts to "establish a fair, reasonable, appropriate and feasible verification mechanism," but believes that these efforts should be tempered to prevent the abuse of the verification mechanism and to protect the business interests of the state parties. At that time, China expressed concern that certain countries could repeatedly request on-site verifications of particular countries. China was also concerned that on-site inspections could be used for industrial espionage to transfer proprietary information to competitors.
China has become increasingly involved with international nonproliferation regimes, which has resulted in a more positive attitude toward multilateral treaties, such as the BTWC. In its 1995 white paper on Arms Control and Disarmament, China stated:
"China has consistently advocated a complete prohibition and thorough destruction of biological weapons. It opposes the production of biological weapons by any country and their proliferation in any form by any country. In 1984 China acceded to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction, and since that date it has fully and conscientiously fulfilled its obligations under the convention. Since 1987 China has year after year reported to the United Nations on convention-related information and data in accordance with the decisions of the Review Conferences of the convention. China supports measures that help strengthen the effectiveness of the convention. It will actively join in discussions of the Ad Hoc Group on promoting international cooperation, enhancing trust, strengthening verification, and other issues."
China provided further details on its position on biological weapons in its July 1998 national defense white paper, stating:
"Having suffered grievously from biological weapons attacks in the past, China supports work that helps comprehensively to strengthen the effectiveness of the convention. It has actively participated in the work of drawing up a Protocol of the Ad Hoc Group of States Parties to the BWC established in 1994, and has made contributions to the progress of the negotiations on the Protocol. China holds, in view of the complexity of the problems relating to the verification mechanism, that every country should, in a down-to-earth way, seek effective and feasible verification measures, and formulate concrete steps to prevent abuse of verification, and to protect the rightful commercial and security secrets of states parties. China considers that, while improving the convention's verification mechanism, international cooperation and exchanges among states parties in the sphere of bio-technology for peaceful purposes should also be strengthened."
During U.S. President Bill Clinton's trip to China in June 1998, the United States and China underscored their existing commitment to the BTWC by issuing a joint statement that called for more negotiations on a protocol to improve the BTWC's verification provisions.
China's National Defense 2000 white paper further emphasized the need for a verification regime:
"As a State Party to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), China has fully and conscientiously fulfilled its obligations under the Convention and has, on an annual basis, provided the United Nations with information on confidence building measures in this regard.
"China supports the enhancement of the effectiveness of the BWC in a comprehensive manner. Upon its accession to the BWC, China pointed out the absence of concrete and effective measures for verification. China holds that, in order to strengthen the effectiveness of the BWC, a necessary verification mechanism should be established...At the same time, there should be concrete measures to promote international cooperation and exchanges among State Parties in the field of bio-technology for purposes not prohibited by the Convention. These measures will be conducive to enhancing the universality of the Convention and the future Protocol."
From November 19 through December 7, 2001, the Fifth Review Conference of the BTWC was held in Geneva, Switzerland. During these proceedings, Sha Zukang, head of the Chinese delegation, made statements on November 19 praising the overall progress of the BTWC. Those statements of praise were quickly followed by ex-pressions of dissatisfaction and concern regarding the progress of efforts to strengthen the BTWC. In particular, Sha stated that "double or multiple" standards of implementation; the explicit separation of international cooperation and the prevention of proliferation by some countries; and the unilateralist approach by certain countries all were "not conducive to the realization of the purposes and objectives of the Convention and...must be rectified."
A 2002 white paper, entitled "China's National Defense 2002," restated China's overall stance on the BTWC, while expressing disappointment that a protocol had not yet been reached:
"China supports the enhancement of the effectiveness of the BWC in a comprehensive manner, and has actively participated in the work of the ad hoc group of the states parties to the Convention set up for the negotiation of a BWC protocol. China regrets that the protocol has not been reached as scheduled and that the Fifth Review Conference of the Convention has had to adjourn. China holds that the conclusion of a protocol with balanced contents and effective measures through multilateral negotiations remains the best way to enhance the effectiveness of the BWC. China is willing, together with all other parties concerned, to continue to explore measures along this line on the basis of the universal participation of all countries and within a multilateral framework."
Since 2003, China has issued two white papers dealing specifically with Chinese nonproliferation policy. The most recent of these, entitled "China's Endeavors for Arms Control, Disarmament and Nonproliferation," was released in September 2005. With respect to biological weapons, the white paper states:
"China stands for the complete prohibition and thorough destruction of biological and chemical weapons and firmly opposes proliferation of such weapons. Against the backdrop of [the] increased threat of bio-terrorism and prominence of [the] biosecurity issue, it is of great realistic significance to continue to explore and formulate measures to strengthen the effectiveness of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)..."
China further reiterated its support for strengthening of the BWC by encouraging nations to accede to and comply with the BWC and submit declarations as part of the BWC confidence-building measures. Notably, the white paper does not discuss a BWC verification protocol, but rather refers to non-specific strengthening "measures" or "efforts." For example, the white paper states:
"...it is of great significance to continue to explore and formulate measures to strengthen the effectiveness of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) under the framework of this convention."
Likewise, the 2006 national defense white paper states:
"China supports multilateral efforts aimed at enhancing the effectiveness of the Biological Weapons Convention."
Neither document mentions a BWC verification protocol. The shift in policy may be a consequence of the collapse of the BWC verification protocol negotiations at the 5th Review Conference in 2001 and the increasing importance of China's biotechnology sector, which may resist intrusive verification regimes on the grounds that it is necessary to protect its commercial secrets. The protection of potentially lucrative commercial biotechnology interests in the United States is commonly cited as a central reason for U.S. resistance to a BWC verification protocol.
The Sixth Review Conference of the BWC was held from November 20 to December 8, 2006. This review conference produced consensus amongst the States Parties on a number of issues, including the establishment of an Implementation Assistance Unit at the UN and the renewal of annual meetings of States Parties to discuss the future of the BWC. According to Jonathan Tucker, an arms control expert and observer, China and the U.S. differed on aspects of a comprehensive action plan related to Article X of the BWC. Under Article X, States Parties "undertake to facilitate, and have the right to participate in, the fullest possible exchange" of biological agents, equipment, and related technology for peaceful purposes. Developing countries, including China, India, and Iran, that seek to develop their fledgling biotechnology industries cite Article X in supporting their right to engage in trade of these potentially dual-use items. On the other hand, the U.S. and other developed nations fear the transfer of sensitive technology to potential proliferant nations, especially Iran, could facilitate a secret biological weapons program. Article III of the BWC expressly forbids the transfer of technology for the purpose of assisting a foreign biological weapons program. Wary of this friction inherent to the dual-use nature of biotechnology, Ambassador Cheng Jingye, the head of the Chinese delegation at the Sixth Review Conference, included in his statement:
"Promotion of international exchanges and cooperation in the peaceful uses of biotechnology remains one of the objectives of the Convention. It should go in parallel with bio-arms control and non-proliferation and prevention of bio-terrorism. China calls upon all parties concerned to attach greater importance to it, explore and adopt [a] practical plan, intensify input and enable States Parties, especially developing countries, to truly get benefit from related international cooperation and materialize their legitimate rights enshrined by the Convention..."
China and Other Nonproliferation Agreements
In its public statements, China has consistently expressed support for the principles of nonproliferation of biological weapons and other WMD. However, China has not embraced every proposal aimed at countering WMD proliferation. For example, China has declined participation in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a voluntary system of counterproliferation partnerships between states designed to disrupt all modes of WMD trafficking, which was made public in May 2003. The PSI facilitates the interdiction of suspected WMD shipments by enhancing law enforcement cooperation and intelligence sharing between states, and provides the basis for allowing the interception and search of suspect maritime vessels flying PSI member flags in international waters. While voicing support for the goals of the PSI, China has also expressed fears that it is discriminatory and potentially illegal. In late 2003, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman stated:
"China understands the concerns of the member nations of the PSI over the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction...But internationally, the legality of some of the PSI measures have some negative aspects that could result in bad consequences..."
In April 2004, the UN Security Council (UNSC), of which China is a permanent member, unanimously adopted UNSC Resolution 1540, which seeks to prevent non-state actors from acquiring biological weapons and other CBRN weapons. UNSC 1540 requires all UN member states to not assist, and adopt domestic laws designed to prevent, non-state actors from developing, acquiring, producing, transporting, or using WMD and their means of delivery. The resolution also calls for states to develop effective accounting measures to quantify and track sensitive materials, maintain adequate physical protection and border security, and establish export controls governing the export and trans-shipment of sensitive items. While China voted in favor of the resolution, according to a 2005 article appearing in the journal "Disarmament Diplomacy" it was the last of the permanent UNSC members to agree to the draft resolution language, after specific reference to interdiction was removed.
The U.S. Response
U.S. government reports, however, suggest that China's claims regarding its biological weapons program, or lack thereof, may not be entirely accurate. China may have operated an offensive biological weapons program in the 1980s and various reports have indicated that some of these efforts may be ongoing. In its 1998 annual report on arms control compliance, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) stated:
"The United States believes that China had an offensive BW program prior to 1984 when it became a Party to the BWC, and maintained an offensive BW program throughout most of the 1980s. The offensive BW program included the development, production, stockpiling or other acquisition or maintenance of BW agents. China's CBM-mandated declarations have not resolved U.S. concerns about this program, and there are strong indications that China probably maintains its offensive program. The United States, therefore, believes that in the years after its accession to the BWC, China was not in compliance with its BWC obligations and that it is highly probable that it remains noncompliant with these obligations."
In a January 2001 report entitled "Proliferation: Threat and Response," the U.S. Department of Defense agreed with ACDA's earlier statement:
"China continues to maintain some elements of an offensive biological warfare program it is believed to have started in the 1950s. China possesses a sufficiently advanced biotechnology infrastructure to allow it to develop and produce biological agents ... China is believed to possess an offensive biological warfare capability based on technology developed prior to its accession to the BWC in 1984.
"Since 1984, China consistently has claimed that it never researched, produced, or possessed any biological weapons and never would do so. Nevertheless, China's declarations under the voluntary BWC declarations for confidence building purposes are believed to be inaccurate and incomplete, and there are some reports that China may retain elements of its biological warfare program."
In July 2003, Assistant Secretary of State for Verification and Compliance Paula DeSutter stated in testimony before the U.S.-China Commission:
"the U.S. believes that despite being a member of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), China maintains a BW program in violation of its BWC obligations. The United States believes that China's consistent claims that it has never researched, produced or possessed BW are simply not true-and that China still retains its BW program...Given the failure to enforce its stated nonproliferation goals with regard to missile technology, nuclear related items and its chemical weapons program, we must be concerned about the possibility of undetected proliferation of its dual-use items or actual elements of a BW program."
More recently, the U.S. has continued to allege that China maintains an offensive BW capability in violation of the BWC, although whether or not a BW program is currently active is less certain. For example, in an August 2005 report issued by the U.S. Department of State entitled "Adherence To and Compliance With Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments," the U.S. found with respect to China's BW program:
"The United States reaffirms its judgment that China maintains some elements of an offensive BW capability in violation of its BWC obligations. Despite China's BWC CBM declarations to the contrary, indications suggest that China maintained an offensive BW program prior to acceding to the Convention in 1984."
Assistant Secretary of State Paula DeSutter returned in September 2006 to once again testify before the U.S.-China Commission regarding China's proliferation activities. Although retaining a skeptical outlook, in comparison to her July 2003 testimony DeSutter's specific language belied U.S. uncertainty with respect to China's current BW program:
"We maintain reservations about China's current research activities and dual-use capabilities, which raise the possibility that sophisticated BW and CW work could be underway. For example, because of the possible offensive capabilities of aerosolization techniques, the United States' concerns are underscored by publications indicating military involvement in such research. We also continue to believe that China maintains some elements of an offensive BW capability in violation of its BWC obligations...China has adopted export controls mirroring the Australia Group (AG) control list...Nonetheless, we continue to have concerns that Chinese entities are transferring AG-controlled items and technology to countries of concern."
In recent years, China has vigorously protested both U.S. assertions that it engages in or fails to stop WMD proliferation, as well as the recent sanctions imposed by the U.S. on its companies. The Chinese response to DeSutter's 2006 testimony was particularly strong, characterizing her comments as "completely without basis and are irresponsible." The U.S. has not produced public evidence of Chinese BWC violations.
China's Biological Export Controls
In a positive move, China released on 14 October 2002 its Regulations of the People's Republic of China on Export Control of Dual-Use Biological Agents and Related Equipment and Technologies and Dual-Use Biological Agents and Related Equipment and Technologies Export Control List. The regulations, which went into effect on 1 December 2002, contain measures to strengthen export controls to prevent diversion of dual-use biological agents, related equipment, and technologies toward production of biological weapons. Domestic measures include an export licensing system, application process, and criminal prosecution for violations. The regulations also cover the receiving party and require guarantees that biological materials will not be diverted toward weapon production and unapproved third parties. The export control list provides an extensive and well-defined list of pathogens and toxins covered by the new set of export control regulations, and puts China fully in-line with AG control lists. Negotiations between China and the AG are ongoing, with a round of meetings between an AG delegation and representatives of several Chinese government ministries held in June 2006. In July 2006, China updated its list of dual-use biological materials (List of Export Control of Dual-use Biological Products and Affiliated Equipment and Technologies). Thirteen items were added to the list, while other pathogens were re-categorized for stricter export control.
The 2005 white paper on nonproliferation provides an overview of other recent efforts on the part of the Chinese government to further strengthen its export control system and harmonize it with international standards. With respect to the export of dual-use biological agents and technologies, exports are regulated by the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), in coordination with other agencies depending on the specific nature of the biological export. MOFCOM coordinates with the Ministry of Agriculture to control exports of technologies related to animals and plants, while MOFCOM controls the export of technologies and agents related to humans with assistance by the Ministry of Health. The white paper also highlights specific measures undertaken since 2002 to strengthen the implementation of the export control system, including: the formulation of measures for export license administration in 2003, a computerized interagency control system, and an interagency contingency mechanism for emergency cases. China also noted several outreach efforts designed to educate law enforcement officials and relevant private enterprises regarding the strengthened export control regime. In describing the enforcement of export control laws, China claims to have "dealt with scores of cases...concerning illegal export of sensitive items and technologies" since 2002. Notably, China also appeared to acknowledge that its export control system remains a work in progress, despite the gains claimed in the white paper:
"The nonproliferation export control [sic] is a long-term task. The Chinese government will keep on improving its legislation in this regard, enhancing the capacity-building of law enforcement, setting up and optimizing internal mechanisms, and reinforcing publicity of legislation as well as education and training for enterprises, in a bid to make due contributions to the international nonproliferation endeavor."
China's Possible Biological Weapons-Related Exports
There have been concerns over possible Chinese biological weapons-related transfers to countries such as Iran. The first such statement was made by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in her 8 January 1997 written answers to questions by Senator Robert E. Bennett (R-Utah). According to the Washington Times, Albright's response stated: "We have received reporting regarding transfers of dual-use items from Chinese entities to Iranian government entities which raise concern," and that the United States has "encouraged China to adopt comprehensive and rigorous export controls" to prevent assistance to Iran's biological weapons program. According to a U.S. intelligence official, China sold Iran dual-use equipment and vaccines with both civilian medical applications and biological weapons applications.
On 16 January 2002, the United States imposed sanctions on three Chinese companies under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000. According to U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, restrictions were placed on Liyang Chemical Equipment company, the China Machinery and Electric Equipment Import and Export Company, and an individual broker and agent named as Q.C. Chen "for the transfer to Iran of equipment and technology that's used for the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons; equipment that's controlled under what's called the Australia Group.",
In response to these and other sanctions introduced in July 2002, China reiterated its opposition to biochemical weapon development and stated that "the US decision to impose sanctions on Chinese companies using so-called domestic laws and country-specific policy is unreasonable and should be cancelled."