Article: The Federalist
Author: Ben Weingarten is a Federalist senior contributor, senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and fellow at the Claremont Institute. He was selected as a 2019 Robert Novak Journalism fellow of the Fund for American Studies, under which he is currently working on a book on U.S.-China policy.
You can find his work at benweingarten.com, and follow him on Twitter @bhweingarten.
The Biden administration must take serious steps to ensure China ceases its exploitation of the COVID-19 crisis in ways that threaten our national security.
Some two decades ahead of schedule, on Jan. 12, the Trump administration declassified its Indo-Pacific Strategic Framework, a document outlining its national security strategy regarding Asia. The document is critical, and the timing of its declassification was telling.
As National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien noted in a statement announcing its release, the framework “has provided overarching strategic guidance for implementing the 2017 National Security Strategy within the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.” By making the document public just before Inauguration Day — as with its other recent actions and revelations regarding Communist China — the outgoing Trump administration delivered a message to its would-be soft-on-China successor: Do not deviate from the course we have charted in countering our most formidable adversary. A return to appeasement becomes more difficult when the extent of the Chinese Communist Party’s malignant endeavors are laid bare, and the American people can see that there has been a robust plan for confronting it.
Progress Subverted by Bureaucracy
The Trump administration has taken yeoman efforts to implement this strategy, for which America has benefited immeasurably while effectuating a sea change across the federal government in thought and action concerning China. It appears, however, that pockets of resistance remain. Indeed, even the most determined of administrations with the best of strategies can find their plans at times subverted by an obstinate permanent bureaucracy.
Disturbing new revelations unveiled about the same time as the declassification of the strategic framework show how parts of the bureaucracy ran athwart of the Indo-Pacific strategy during the Trump term, demonstrating the immense challenge we face at home in heading off this existential challenge from abroad.
As the bureaucracy remains, the challenge will only grow more difficult as the Biden administration enters the scene. The revelations raise important questions that must be asked of Biden and his appointees across a variety of areas. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
At least two federal agencies worked to distribute COVID-19 tests from a Chinese genetics company, despite warnings about security risks from U.S. intelligence and security officials… Senior officials including the head of the infectious-disease program at the Department of Health and Human Services, and another individual at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offered up such testing equipment to various states. Bafflingly, the Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization to the American subsidiary of the company in question, marking the first time the FDA had approved a device manufactured in China and aiding its efforts to exploit the coronavirus crisis for which it was most culpable.
As the Journal put it, “While U.S. intelligence officials tried to keep…[such] products out of the country, other parts of the government were doing the opposite.” Irrespective of the fact that the testing kits pawned by federal agencies reportedly could not be used for privacy-threatening and potentially nefarious means involving cataloging patients’ DNA, alarm bells should have been ringing within the government about facilitating any such business.
These actions were transpiring under an Indo-Pacific Strategic Framework that lists as one of its core assumptions that China “seeks to dominate cutting-edge technologies, including…bio-genetics, and harness them in the service of authoritarianism.” The Chinese genetics company parts of our administrative state apparently promoted was not just any company, either.
The Threat From BGI
BGI, formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute, is China’s top player in the space. According to its filings, it seeks to help the CCP “seize the commanding heights of international biotechnology competition.” The CCP has conferred on BGI a pivotal role in its bio-genetics efforts, helping it to become a world leader in gene-sequencing, with substantial testing and research capabilities. Furthermore, BGI has provided it the financing that enabled it to develop the world’s largest sequencing capacity at the time. It has permitted research collaboration between BGI’s affiliates and the People’s Liberation Army’s National University of Defense Technology, which may have applications concerning gene editing. It has put BGI’s research arm in charge of building and operating China’s state-funded National GeneBank in Shenzhen.
Some have referred to BGI as the “Huawei of genomics” — an apt parallel given the essential role both companies play in helping China dominate strategically significant sectors that threaten the national security of the United States.
Coincidentally, or not, Huawei and BGI have partnered, signing an agreement in 2015 to “jointly design and develop Big Data storage systems for application in genetic research.” A senior American official told the Wall Street Journal that some genomics data collected by BGI’s equipment has been stored on Huawei hardware.
This is the tip of the iceberg in the way of potential dangers America might face in doing business with a Chinese genomics company — that is, with an entity that operates under, and ultimately for the benefit of an adversarial, totalitarian CCP seeking to become the global hegemon. Irresponsible and Avoidable Risks Leaving aside the dangers of any foreign government getting its hands on the DNA of Americans, let alone associated biowarfare concerns, putting the health data of our people in the hands of such an entity poses unwarranted national security risks.
That the U.S. Commerce Department had blacklisted two of BGI’s subsidiaries in connection with their work on “genetic analyses used to further the repression of Muslim minority groups” in Xinjiang — that is, as part of the CCP’s genocide against the Uighur Muslims — should have told all in the federal government everything they needed to know about the nature of this company. Some recognized these concerns going back to when BGI first established a beachhead in America. Herein, there is a tie to Joe Biden. For it was with the approval of the Obama-Biden administration
that BGI acquired the U.S.-based Complete Genomics back in 2013.
Indeed, lobbyists for BGI included a bipartisan coterie of top ex-staffers on Capitol Hill. Notably, these included the former chief-of-staff of then-Senator and future Obama administration Ambassador to China Max Baucus, and an aide for a recently deregistered foreign agent for Xinjiang gulag technology provider Hikvision, Sen. Barbara Boxer. Additionally, Complete Genomics was represented by The Podesta Group.
Despite numerous economic and national security concerns, however, the transaction — the first purchase of a publicly traded American company by a Chinese buyer — passed both Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) review, as well as a Federal Trade Commission investigation.
That acquisition gave BGI both a U.S.-based subsidiary, and proprietary sequencing technology that enabled it to reduce its dependence on seller-turned-competitor U.S.-based Illumina for such products. As detailed in the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s latest annual report, BGI’s ties to America have only grown, having formed partnerships “with a number of U.S. universities, hospital systems, and other organizations to provide them with genomic sequencing services.”
Keeping China in Check
It’s only logical that defending the homeland against Communist China begins with keeping entities that threaten our national security from operating on our soil and accessing our know-how and capital. To that end, in light of the disconnect within the U.S. government concerning BGI, and related history, it is imperative that the Biden administration investigates, publicly reports upon, and takes meaningful action against those government officials responsible for promoting BGI’s efforts in the face of national security concerns.
The Biden administration must take serious steps to ensure Communist China does not further exploit the coronavirus crisis in ways that threaten our national security and must adopt an aggressive approach to CFIUS reviews of Chinese entities in strategically significant sectors. More broadly, Biden’s team must guard against attempts by Communist China to exploit commerce with the United States and use of our financial markets to aid its antagonistic efforts. Supporting legislation barring ex-officials from lobbying on behalf of China-based or Chinese Communist Party-tied businesses in strategically significant sectors would be a good first step.