Under the spotlight after Coronavirus savaged the globe, China’s Wuhan lab has now set up operations in Pakistan as part of a broader offensive against India and Western rivals, according to intelligence experts. The secret facility is allegedly handling anthrax-like pathogens which could assist in biological warfare. Anthony Klan reports.
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Pakistan and China have entered a secret three-year deal to expand potential bio-warfare capabilities, including running several research projects related to the deadly agent anthrax, according to multiple intelligence sources.
In the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak on Chinese soil, China’s now infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology has signed the covert deal with Pakistan military’s Defense Science and Technology Organization (DESTO), to collaborate research in “emerging infectious diseases” and advance studies on the biological control of transmitted diseases.
According to highly credible intelligence sources, the program is being entirely funded by China and is formally titled the “Collaboration for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Studies on Biological Control of Vector Transmitting Diseases”.
Intelligence sources, including from the Indian subcontinent, have told The Klaxon they have serious concerns about the secret project, which involves China testing biological agents outside its borders in an apparent bid to minimize the “risk of drawing condemnation from the international community”.
“DESTO has been engaged in various dual-use research projects related to anthrax under a covert biological weapons program,” one senior intelligence source said.
The source said China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology had “lent all financial, material and scientific support for the project”.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has drawn the international spotlight in recent months because the Coronavirus is thought to have originated in Wuhan.
There had been speculation the disease may have emerged from that laboratory, however most experts have since discounted the theory.
The covert China-Pakistan project has conducted “successful soil sampling tests” to isolate Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), which has a “striking similarity” to Bacillus Anthracis – or anthrax – The Klaxon is told.
“Considering the striking similarity between BT and Bacillus Anthracis, a classified bio-warfare agent, (Pakistan’s) improved know-how in handling the bacteria could enrich a potential offensive biological program,” one source said.
Pakistan had been provided with the reagents for Bacillus Thuringiensis by the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The Wuhan lab was providing “extensive training on manipulation of pathogens and bio-informatics” to Pakistani scientists “to help Pakistan develop its own virus collection database”.
“This could help Pakistan enhance its capability of genetic identification of viruses, access to dangerous microorganisms, and use of genomic tools for research and infectious diseases,” an intelligence source told The Klaxon.
The secret project was “detached from supervision of civilian universities or government health departments in Pakistan” and was structured so as to allow “unspecified” future operations.
The agreement “clearly outlines that the cooperation is not necessarily limited to stated objectives” and “new thematic research to monitor potential new diseases can be added by either party”, a source said.
“DESTO has been engaged in various dual-use research projects related to anthrax under a covert biological weapons program” — Intelligence sources
One security expert, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Klaxon that India and key western intelligence agencies viewed China’s involvement in the project as being “driven chiefly by its agenda to engage Pakistan against India”.
“China’s keen interest in the project is driven chiefly by its agenda to engage Pakistan against India and to conduct potentially dangerous experiments on foreign soil, without subjecting its own land and people to risk,” the expert said.
The plan was part of a move by Beijing to “designate Pakistan a destination for hazardous bio chemical research” while “evading use of its own territory for such activities”, which “stand the risk of drawing criticism and condemnation from the international community”.
One example was a proposal to test a Coronavirus vaccine, made by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, on Pakistani citizens.
The China-Pakistan biological project had already undertaken experiments on the Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever Virus (CCHFV), sources said.
CCHFV is a rapid-onset fever virus that causes death in about 25% of cases and is similar to the Ebola virus.
CCHFV is categorised as a “class-4” microorganism – the highest possible risk category.
Class-4 microorganisms, which also include the Ebola, Marburg and Lassa viruses, are those which can kill humans, can easily travel from one person to another and for which there are no known treatments or vaccines.
Pakistan is allegedly carrying out tests on CCHFV in laboratories which are not equipped to handle Bio-Safety Level-4 diseases.
“Under these circumstances, concerns over manipulation of class 4 pathogens (and the associated) bio-safety issues cannot be overlooked,” an intelligence expert told The Klaxon.
Biological weapons have traditionally been unwieldy as they spread easily and are difficult to target at specific populations.
However the threat of biological warfare has grown considerably in recent years, and experts have warned China is heavily involved in DNA research that could potentially enable a biological weapon to specifically target – or conversely to be ineffective against – people of specific races.
While theories of Coronavirus emerging from the Wuhan Institute of Virology have been largely dismissed by experts, serious concerns have been raised about the safety standards at the Wuhan lab more generally.
In particular, there are concerns the lab is not equipped to handle class-4 diseases, despite claiming to be class-4 compliant.
Intelligence sources told The Klaxon there were concerns the Wuhan Institute of Virology had also established the Institute of Medical Biology in Kunming, in China’s southern Yunnan province.
There were concerns the Kunming facility, which is controlled by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, was also handling class-4 diseases without proper protections, sources said.