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China proposes global code of conduct on biosecurity, amid coronavirus 'lab leak' row with US

Amer Asia ReportChina has introduced an initiative to prohibit the misuse of biotechnology, as the country seeks to play a bigger role in global biosecurity governance amid sustained tensions with the US on the issue – especially over the origins of Covid-19. The Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for Codes of Conduct for Scientists was introduced by a senior Chinese diplomat at a symposium under the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in Geneva last Thursday. Named after north China's Tianjin municipality, the initiative is the product of a multilateral effort led by China and Pakistan. It was finalised in July after dozens of rounds of discussions involving scientists from more than 20 countries, including those at Tianjin University, Johns Hopkins University in the US and the Secretariat of the InterAcademy Partnership. The initiative outlines a set of 10 principles and standards to guard against the misuse of biological sciences and promote the responsible development of biotechnology. It is designed to ensure all players in the biosciences sector adhere to ethical standards, abide by the laws and regulations, and improve scientific research supervision and accelerate international cooperation. Its aim is to "prevent misuse of bioscience research without hindering beneficial outcomes", in accordance with the articles and norms of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. Measures should be taken to prevent the misuse and negative impact of biological products, data, expertise, or equipment, the guidelines read. Introducing the initiative, China's ambassador for disarmament affairs, Li Song, said the rapid development of biotechnology had not only given people new technical means to understand and transform the world but it also "brings potential biosecurity risks and threats". "To realise a universal security and common development for humankind, state parties to the BWC should strengthen the review of biotechnology development within the framework of the convention and promote responsible biological research," Li said at the symposium. The InterAcademy Partnership has officially recognised the guidelines and encouraged the national academies of science in different countries to accept and promote them. China has "submitted the guidelines to the BWC Review Conference for endorsement", and encourages all stakeholders to adopt the document voluntarily, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, said on Monday. The guidelines come as China and the US continue to spar over biosecurity issues, especially related to the "lab leak theory" regarding the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The US State Department, in its 2021 report on compliance with arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament agreements released in April, questioned China's compliance with the BWC, claiming that "China had probably weaponised ricin, botulinum toxins, and the causative agents of anthrax, cholera, plague, and tularaemia". In response, foreign ministry spokesman Wang questioned US activities at its Fort Detrick military base and its bio-labs overseas. China has urged the US to adopt a transparent and responsible attitude and invite World Health Organization experts to investigate the Fort Detrick lab for coronavirus origin-tracing, as a counter move for the US hyping up the "Wuhan lab leak" theory. China has speeded up biosecurity legislation following the coronavirus outbreak, passing a new law last October aimed at preventing and managing infectious diseases.

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