China has conducted “human testing” on members of the People’s Liberation Army in hope of developing soldiers with “biologically enhanced capabilities,” the top U.S. intelligence official said [December 4].
John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, included the explosive claim in a long Wall Street Journal op-ed in which he made the case that China poses the pre-eminent national security threat to the U.S.
“There are no ethical boundaries to Beijing’s pursuit of power,” wrote Ratcliffe, a Republican former member of Congress from Texas.
Last year, two American scholars wrote a paper examining China’s ambitions to apply biotechnology to the battlefield, including what they said were signs that China was interested in using gene-editing technology to enhance human — and perhaps soldier — performance.
Specifically, the scholars explored Chinese research using the gene-editing tool CRISPR, short for “clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” CRISPR has been used to treat genetic diseases and modify plants, but Western scientists consider it unethical to seek to manipulate genes to boost the performance of healthy people.
“While the potential leveraging of CRISPR to increase human capabilities on the future battlefield remains only a hypothetical possibility at the present, there are indications that Chinese military researchers are starting to explore its potential,” wrote the scholars.