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Transparency will convince the world China is a friend

Workers sewing at factory making hazardous material suits to be used in the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak
Workers sewing at factory making hazardous material suits to be used in the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

At the height of the Cold War the Soviet Union employed thousands of military scientists working in dozens of clandestine military sites across Russia to develop, manufacture and stockpile biological weapons.

The Sverdlovsk facility was tasked to develop anthrax warheads for inter-continental ballistic missiles. On March 30th, 1979 something went wrong. Anthrax was released from the covert establishment resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands falling ill – mostly innocent workers from a neighbouring ceramic plant.

Party officials, including a young Boris Yeltsin were quick to implement emergency protocols controlling the news and producing a plausible explanation - the deaths were blamed on a batch of contaminated meat from the local butchers. Two decades later with the Cold War over - Russia finally admitted the truth. A terrible accident caused by poorly replaced filters allowing the pathogen to escape into the air.

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分Today of course it is illegal to procure biological or toxin weapons thanks to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. Two hundred countries have signed the treaty including Russia, China and Iran, but there is no authority to conduct inspections and no official verification process.

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分Today the world is threatened by another pathogen: Covic 19. It would be irresponsible to suggest the source of this outbreak was an error in a Chinese military biological weapons programme. But as Chair of the Defence Select Committee it is my job to understand the threats (current and emerging) facing the UK and scrutinise the Government’s responding defence posture.

I would like to know more about the Chinese Army’s Wuhan Institute for Biological Products, coincidently located a stone’s throw from where this latest outbreak began. Successive US Administrations have long believed a number of countries, including China, maintain active biological programmes. But without greater Chinese transparency we cannot entirely completely sure.

C2020欧洲杯足球即时比分hina’s immediate response to the outbreak in Wuhan City was to squash the story. The Chinese doctor who first raised the alarm was obliged to publicly retract his comments and charged with ‘rumour mongering’. The Party machine attempted to cover up the original seven cases. Local, regional and national authorities, fully aware of the growing dangers of contagion, issued orders to suppress the news.  Consequently 5 million people were free to depart the city before a quarantine was finally imposed three weeks later. China has form. In 2002 the Communist Party sat on the SARS outbreak for 88 days, allowing the virus to spread to 36 countries, before informing the World Health Organisation.

It’s a stark reminder that, behind the dazzle of China’s meteoritic modernisation, fuelled by its incredible economic growth, is a communist party machine demanding complete obedience from every corner of Chinese society – including scientists who simply seek the truth.

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分China’s reaction to this unfolding tragedy, coupled with the security debate over Huawei’s participation in our 5G telecoms rollout, has helped shine light on a country that we so want to welcome on the global stage, hoping it will gradually embrace Western values - but instead is yielding its accumulating power to pursue a very different world vision. Over the next decade it will challenge the US’s dominance militarily, technologically and economically. Already yielding its autocratic dominance well beyond China’s shores.

Over here the UK Government embarks on the most significant review of Britain’s place in the world for a generation. A timely opportunity to assess the threats we face, the aspirational role we seek to play on the global stage and the subsequent defence posture we must adapt. The review must include a sober assessment of rising China. Its growing global dominance now so significant it is mentioned in the third paragraph of page one in the US’ recent Defence Review.

This is because President Xi, now arguably more powerful than Chairman Mao, is on a mission. 20 years ago, China’s defence budget matched the UK’s. Today it is five times larger and outstrips Russia. Its navy grows the size of ours every year. Its army, the largest in the world, yet untested in battle, is modernising with a steady procurement of state-of-the-art equipment. Space is now seen as fighting domain. China has developed a rival GPS system and launching armed satellites capable of orbiting other satellites.

Technologically, state funded pump priming a select group of tech giants is securing China’s global dominance in A.I., digital technology and telecoms. The offer to share this technology combined with its enormous infra-structure loan programmes has helped lure a growing number of countries into accepting China’s influence and control.

China’s military is now too large to confront directly but President Xi is not looking for a conventional fight. He knows his Sun Tzu; to subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. So, he invests in the grey one of conflict cyber, information and yes genetics and biotechnology.

2020欧洲杯足球即时比分Left unchecked Chinese geo-political influence will extend far beyond the norms of currently recognised international standards - plausibly splitting the world into two spheres of influence.

China’s growth is not unconditional but reliant on continual global trade. Greater Western resolve is required stand our ground, defend our values to prevent a dangerous bi-polar world. The UK has a leading role to play. Beginning by seeking greater transparency over the origins of the coronavirus.

 

Tobias Ellwood MP is Chair of the Defence Select Committee