During the years 1931-1945, Japan pursued a Biological Weapons(BW) program and conducted Biological Weapons(BW) field tests against Chinese military and civilian targets. According to some Japanese estimates, including from former members of the Japanese Imperial Army, the total number of Chinese killed by military use of Biological Weapons(BW)  was about 21,000 people, most of these from cholera.(This figure does not include the more than 3,000 Chinese, Korean, and other prisoners of war who died in Japanese Biological Weapons(BW)  experiments.) Chinese estimates are much greater. During Japan’s invasion of China, Biological Weapons(BW)  was carried out among twenty or more provinces and cities in China, killing more than 2,00,000 Chinese people. Other Chinese scholars have concluded that at least 2,70,000 Chinese soldiers and civilians were killed as a result of Japanese germ warfare between 1933 and 1945. But no hard evidence supports such a high figure, nor is it likely that Japanese Biological Weapons(BW) activities were responsible for every occurrence of plague or other infectious disease during that period. Plague has been endemic to China since 1894, and during wartime outbreaks of infectious diseases are common.

The earliest systematic efforts at Biological Weapons(BW) defense by the People Liberation Army(PLA) were the sanitation/anti-plague units formed in 1952 during the involvement of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army in Korea.[People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the unified military organization of all land, sea, strategic missile and air forces of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Communist Party of China (CPC)]. At the same time, educational campaigns to rid disease-carrying pests were conducted. Combined with experience of the supposed BW casualties treated during the Korean War, a great victory was achieved in antibacterial warfare. 

While building a formal curriculum in biological defense, the People Liberation Army(PLA) continued work in anti-plague research. In 1954, delegations and students visited the Soviet Union for training in microbiology and infectious disease. (China declared that its BW defense program was initiated officially in 1958) Perhaps in tandem with the fervent anti pest campaigns carried out during the Great Leap Forward. A national epidemiological research project took place in 1958-1961 led by the Military Medical Science University of China and sanitation units from every military region down to individual cadres of China. By 1984, the Military Medical Science University of China was awarding Master of Science degrees in the field of BW defense. Some specialized equipment has also been fielded to counter the BW threat to PLA troops, including aerosol samplers and BW agent sampling kits in unspecified numbers.

Even today, China’s BW defense emphasizes ridding an affected area of infected insects and vermin, on the assumption that modern armies would employ these crude methods of delivery. Although the use of insects as BW agent vectors is theoretically possible. It is not practical by any modern standard and can be seen as a throw back to the Japanese biological warfare during World War II as well as the Korean War allegations. For example, to foil enemy attacks with disease-infected insects or rats, a PLA handbook on BW suggests using simple brooms and nets and burying contaminated debris. Another military publication emphasizes the importance of “insect intelligence,” where unusual concentrations of flies, fleas, etc., can point to evidence of biological warfare. BW agent aerosols can be effective over very large areas, while scattered insect vectors can achieve effects over smaller regions. Therefore, aerosolized BW agents are primarily used.

China has consistently claimed that it has never researched, produced, or possessed biological weapons and would never do so. Beijing says China has researched only defensive biological technology necessary for China’s defense. China acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in 1984. It declared the Academy of Military Science’s Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology in Beijing as a biodefense research facility. China regularly and voluntarily submits  confidence-building measures under the BWC. Although China is not a member of the Australia Group, China’s export control regulations have been in line with Australia Group guidelines and control lists since 2002. China’s biotechnology infrastructure is sufficient to produce some biological agents or toxins on a large scale. China probably has the technical expertise to weaponize chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents, and China’s robust armaments industry and numerous conventional weapon systems, including missiles, rockets, and artillery, probably could be adapted to deliver Chemical and Biological weapons (CBW) agents. China has the technical expertise, military units, and equipment necessary to detect CBW agents and to defend against a CBW attack. Entities and individuals in China continue to supply countries of concern with technologies, components, and raw materials applicable to weapons of mass destruction and missile programs. Such material and technology transfers could assist countries in developing their own production capabilities.

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