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Deepening US policy risks in the biotechnology sector have garnered some well-deserved attention from many of my colleagues lately. Given biotechnology’s potential future importance to US policymakers in the context of the ongoing US-China “great-power” competition, I’d like to share my own thoughts on what’s driving the rising geopolitical risk and national security concerns.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) takes a broad view of the national security implications of biotechnology, as does the Chinese military, which sees the sector as one of the new “strategic commanding heights” of national defense.
Beyond the obvious medical and economic benefits that biotech can provide, national security officials perceive it as an emerging front of warfare that encompasses a broad range of sciences, including (but not limited to): gene editing, human performance enhancement, and neurology. A potential intersection with artificial intelligence is also of concern, given the “big data” aspects of biotechnology.
Accordingly, US officials have observed closely in recent years as China has funded research projects in several related areas and then institutionalized much of this research, particularly the weaponized aspects of biotech.
These are the kinds of developments that tend to set off alarm bells at the Department of Defense and on Capitol Hill. Indeed, it’s often signals and the potential intent that matter most to US policymakers and military planners, making many keen to increase the strategic focus on the sector. Not surprisingly, official concern regarding biotech has been cropping up in national security strategy documents in the past several months.
The growing role of biotech in US-China relations is becoming (and will continue to be) a hot topic of conversation — both in and outside of Washington. I’ll be watching with great interest.