China, Pakistan pressure BWC over new guidelines


October 2021
By Shannon Bugos

China and Pakistan in September encouraged more than 180 countries to adopt a set of guidelines designed to guard against the development and proliferation of biological weapons.

“Broad acceptance of responsible biological research and the development of corresponding codes of conduct will bring out the full potential and benefits of research in this field and help prevent its misuse or abuse,” said Li Song, permanent representative of China to the United Nations and to disarmament. ambassador, in a September 3 statement.

Li officially introduced the “Tianjin Biosafety Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists” at a September 2 expert meeting convened under the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). China and Pakistan aim for “all stakeholders” to endorse the guidelines at the Ninth BWC Review Conference and commit to “voluntarily incorporate[ing] elements of the guidelines in their practices, protocols and regulations. The review conference was originally scheduled to begin in November, but has been pushed back to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Chinese side submitted the guidelines to the BWC review conference for approval,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on September 6. “The conclusion of the Tianjin Guidelines demonstrates that, in the face of global problems, effective solutions can be found. As long as we uphold the spirit of inclusion, pragmatism, science and cooperation.”

Entered into force in 1975, the Biological Weapons Convention is a legally binding multilateral treaty that prohibits the development, stockpiling, acquisition, retention, production and use of biological and toxin weapons and currently has 183 States Parties.

The Tianjin guidelines emerged from a consolidated effort that included the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Tianjin University, and the InterAcademy Partnership (a network of 140 national, regional, and global science academies, including the National Academy of Sciences) with the support of the United States. Chinese State Department and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The initiative was launched in January 2021 and held several meetings in the spring. The partnership formally approved the guidelines on July 8.

“The ultimate goal is to prevent the misuse of bioscience research without hampering beneficial results, in accordance with articles and standards” of the BWC, according to the introduction to the guidelines.

The State Department said in a Sept. 17 statement to Arms control today that he saw the endorsement of the guidelines by the partnership “as an excellent first step in encouraging scientific institutions around the world to become aware of and incorporate the elements contained in the biosafety guidelines and the Biological Weapons Convention into their own codes where applicable. The department did not comment on China’s official introduction of the guidelines at the BWC meeting.

The 10 guidelines recommend that scientists consider potential biosafety issues at all stages of scientific research, strike a balance when disseminating research results between maximizing benefit and minimizing harm, and actively promote public understanding and interest in biological science and technology, including the potential benefits and risks. .

“Scientific institutions, including research, funding and regulatory bodies, need to be aware of the potential for misuse of bioscience research and ensure that expertise, equipment and facilities are not used for any illegal, harmful or malicious purpose at any stage of bioscience. work ”, indicate the guidelines. “They should establish appropriate mechanisms and processes to monitor, assess and mitigate vulnerabilities and potential risks in scientific activities and their dissemination. “

The decision by China and Pakistan to obtain formal approval of the Tianjin guidelines by BWC state parties came a week after the U.S. office of the director of national intelligence released an unclassified summary of the US intelligence community assessment of the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We believe the virus was not developed as a biological weapon,” the Aug. 27 report said. Intelligence agencies remain divided on the most likely origin of the coronavirus, whether it is natural exposure to an infected animal or a laboratory-related incident.

In April, the State Department’s annual report on arms control compliance said Beijing had “engaged in activities that raise concerns about its obligations” under the Chemical Weapons Convention. “The United States has compliance issues with regards to research and development of toxins from Chinese military medical institutions due to dual-use applications and their potential as a biological threat,” the report concludes. However, other information was kept confidential.

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