In an article published on July 23, Australia’s investigative newspaper The Klaxon said China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology has signed a covert three-year deal with Pakistan military’s Defense Science and Technology Organization (DESTO) to collaborate research in “emerging infectious diseases”.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology has drawn the international spotlight in recent months because the novel coronavirus is thought to have originated in Wuhan. There had been speculation the disease may have emerged from that laboratory, however most experts have since discounted the theory.
In a statement on Sunday, the Pakistan Foreign Office (FO) described the article as a “politically motivated and fake story” and said it was composed of “distortion of facts and fabrications that quote anonymous sources”.
“There is nothing secret about the Bio-Safety Level-3 (BSL-3) Laboratory of Pakistan referred to in the report. Pakistan has been sharing information about the facility with the States Parties to the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BTWC) in its submission of Confidence Building Measures,” the FO said.
It said the facility is meant for diagnostic and protective system improvement by Research and Development on emerging health threats, surveillance and disease outbreak investigation.
Pakistan strictly abides by its BTWC obligations and has been one of the most vocal supporters for a strong verification mechanism to ensure full compliance by the states and parties to the convention, the FO said.
The BTWC is a 1975 multilateral disarmament treaty banning the production of chemical and biological weapons.
Quoting anonymous intelligence sources, The Klaxon said the China-funded project has conducted “successful soil sampling tests” to isolate Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT), which has a “striking similarity” to Bacillus Anthracis – or anthrax, a classified bio-warfare agent.
“Considering the striking similarity between BT and Bacillus Anthracis, a classified bio-warfare agent, (Pakistan’s) improved know-how in handling the bacteria could enrich a potential offensive biological program,” one source said.
The Wuhan lab was providing “extensive training on manipulation of pathogens and bio-informatics” to Pakistani scientists “to help Pakistan develop its own virus collection database”, the report said.
“This could help Pakistan enhance its capability of genetic identification of viruses, access to dangerous microorganisms, and use of genomic tools for research and infectious diseases,” an intelligence source said.
The article quoted an anonymous defence source as saying that China wants Pakistan to engage India and it wants to conduct potentially dangerous experiments on foreign soil, without subjecting its own people to risk.