Features Australia

WAs three red monkeys

Ordinary people don’t share the billionaires’ fondness for China

8 May 2020

11:00 PM

8 May 2020

11:00 PM

When a senior Victorian health bureaucrat compared Captain Cook to the coronavirus it had an ugly echo of eugenics, a theory once popular in Victoria, which often demonised ‘undesirable’ immigrants as diseased.  The horrors of the Holocaust stripped it of respectability in Australia but not in China, where the dream of biological enhancement is big business.

BGI, the Chinese company which sold coronavirus testing kits to Twiggy Forrest to on-sell to the Australian government, is the world’s largest genome research organisation and makes a fetish of genetic perfection. Its founder — billionaire Wang Jian — says it would be ‘disgraceful’ for his staff to give birth to children with ‘defects’, because it would mean they had not used prenatal tests and presumably aborted the imperfect. Wang brushes off any suggestion that Chinese scientists are ‘too aggressive’ saying such criticism stems, in large part, from ‘envy’.

BGI built China’s National Gene Bank in Shenzhen which stores more than 10 million traceable bio-samples — human, animal, plant and microbe —including a cancer database with 3,000 samples, 50,000 genome mutations and a database of birth defects. It plans to collect 300 million genetic samples and already holds those previously housed at the National Centre for Biotechnology Information in the US, the European Bioinformatics Institute in Britain and the DNA Data Bank of Japan. As a Chinese scientist told the South China Morning Post, this is in China’s interest because although scientific cooperation has been the practice, it is ‘more secure to preserve data in China, since the variations among the genomes from different races could be used in both good and evil ways’.

Could Australian genetic data collected during Covid-19 tests end up in a Chinese gene bank? Forrest made much of the fact that he’d pulled strings to secure the swabs but BGI is selling tests to 80 countries around the world as well as building labs to process the tests and analyse mutations. It might sound handy, but Israel froze a deal with BGI until it was renegotiated to ensure the tests were run by Israeli companies to protect privacy. Only 12 months ago, BGI was ‘reprimanded’ by the Shenzhen Stock Exchange for ‘violating regulations’ by publishing gene data online without the permission of Chinese citizens.

Although built and operated by BGI, the Chinese government funds the gene bank, which cooperates with respected organisations around the world, including Macquarie university in Australia. BGI also works with Huawei on cutting- edge innovation. For example, in 2018, a subsidiary stored the DNA profiles of more than 100,000 Chinese people which were made available through face recognition on WeChat. China’s Ministry of Public Security has a much bigger project. Through a program called ‘Physicals for All’ it has collected data from 36 million tests in Xinjiang to create a genetic police surveillance state where more than a million Muslims have been detained in ‘re-education centres,’ which have been condemned by the Australian government. According to a report released in March by the Australian Strategic Policy Unit, China has sent 80,000 Uighur Muslims, formerly detained in camps to work in factories across China, including for 83 well-known global brands such as Apple, Nike, BMW, Samsung, Sony, Volkswagen and Siemens. The forced labourers are constantly monitored, subjected to ongoing indoctrination and forced to live in single-sex dormitories when they are not working. When Deustche Welle asked Siemens about the practice, it said that there was no forced labour at its factories, as far as it was aware. During WW2, Siemens used forced labour from extermination camps in Germany and even operated a plant at Auschwitz. Radio Free Asia has reported that Uighurs have been sent into Covid-19 stricken factories to fill shortages with no concern for their health; treated as second-class citizens.

On 1 March the China Tribunal delivered its final judgement finding ‘forced organ harvesting has happened in multiple places in the PRC and on multiple occasions for a period of at least 20 years and continues to this day.’ On the same day, in China’s Global Times a medical team boasted that they had performed that world’s first double-lung transplant on a Covid-19 survivor who had suffered irreversible lung damage. Anywhere else in the world, patients wait months or years for a donor. In China, it takes days, presumably because, as the tribunal concludes, hospitals have access to donors whose organs can be extracted according to demand for them.

Forrest has made a big deal of his professed determination to rid the world of the scourge of forced labour and likes to wave his annual report on modern slavery around at the UN, like a big stick.  Unfortunately, like the man, it’s more of a twig. China isn’t even on the list — topped by North Korea — of the world’s worst performers, which includes Libya, Iran and Russia. When he next goes along to the UN to grandstand, he can congratulate the Chinese ambassador on its appointment to the UN Human Rights Council panel which chooses investigators of human rights abuses.

For Forrest to ambush the federal health minister at a press conference by inviting the Chinese consul to deliver Beijing’s propaganda points, suggests that flying around in a private jet while the rest of the country is in lockdown has cut him off from the anger ordinary people feel towards China. Unabashed, he told the hoi polloi to ‘take a chill pill’ and bragged about sending masks to China in January and February, leaving Australian supplies depleted and the nation forced to endure the spectacle of his ‘charitable’ service in replenishing them. In a stirring display of mateship, Kerry Stokes sprang to his defence, modestly organising for his newspaper to praise his ‘Dollars and Sense’ and reminding readers just how many billions he and Forrest make out of sales to China. The third ‘wise monkey’ of the West, Labor Premier Mark McGowan, raised the red lantern for Huawei to build a network on Perth trains only to lower it again so as not to snub the US.

From a plateau of boundless ignorance and untrammelled hubris, ‘educated’ Australians look back in anger at the Britons who settled this land. Yet, Forrest is almost a caricature of William Wilberforce, who campaigned to his dying day for the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire and who, through the inspiration he provided to people who shaped this colony, contributed to its charitable liberalism. Likewise, Dr Van Diemen is a Lilliputian beside the towering figure of James Cook, a man of science who rose from humble origins to explore and record his voyages with far more enlightenment and humanity than she has mustered.

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