China’s Ploy to Establish a Global DNA Database

The first in a 3-part series on the regime's DNA collection project
February 25, 2019 Updated: March 24, 2019

Commentary

The Chinese Communist Party’s three “magic weapons,” as Chinese leader Xi Jinping reminded us in a September 2014 speech, are “the PLA [People’s Liberation Army], propaganda, and United Front tactics.”

To this, we may now have to add a fourth magic weapon: DNA.

Like the other three, this fourth magic weapon is deployed not only domestically, but internationally, as well. That is to say, China is not only collecting, analyzing, and storing the DNA of massive numbers of its own citizens; it’s collecting the DNA of many other peoples from around the world, including millions of Americans (this will be explored further in the forthcoming second part of this series).

The China program alone is breathtaking in its scope and seems designed to encompass the country’s entire population—currently some 1.4 billion people—over time. There are a number of DNA collection projects that have already been completed, while others are currently underway. For example, there is a national DNA collection project focused exclusively on men, another regional project targeted on “troublesome” minorities like the Uyghurs and Kazakhs, and still others focused on the general population.

We know a lot about the DNA project targeting men, because The Epoch Times recently obtained a copy of the Ministry of Public Security directive that established it. Issued on Nov. 7, 2017, the internal document announced the establishment of a “National Y-STR DNA Criminal Investigation and Information Database.” STR stands for “short tandem repeat,” or small units of repeated DNA sequences, on the Y-chromosome. The directive also described, in great detail, how to collect, analyze, and store Y-chromosome DNA data from millions of men.

Because the Y chromosome—found only in men—is passed down from father to son virtually unchanged, the Y chromosome in any group of closely related men is nearly identical. That’s why the first step in the DNA collection process of the program at the village and town level is the creation of a genealogy. Officials are instructed to draw up a family tree for every family in the community they survey. Once every independent male line has been identified, one or more of the men in it are required to give a blood sample for analysis.

The (evil) genius of the Y DNA database thus created is this: Any male DNA gathered in the course of an investigation can immediately be traced back to a small group of related men. At that point, it will be relatively easy for Ministry of Public Security investigators to identify the exact man that the state wants to question, arrest, imprison, or execute. Given the enormous utility of the database from the point of view of the state, it’s perhaps no surprise that it has been fast-tracked. The directive called for it to be completed and in operation by the end of 2019.

It is important to understand that the focus of China’s Y DNA program—or any one of its other DNA collection programs, for that matter—is not merely crime solving. In the United States, because the DNA database is used exclusively for fighting crime, DNA is gathered only from criminals and those suspected of a crime. Not so in China, where DNA is gathered from tens of millions of people who are innocent of any wrongdoing, and where the DNA database that is being constructed is conceived of as a tool for controlling dissent.

This is openly stated in the directive’s “guiding ideology” section; there, we learn that the Y DNA database has two purposes. It’s intended to be used not only to “fight against crime” but also to “control society.” Of course, in the view of the Party-state apparatus that currently rules China, a “crime” can be virtually anything, including questioning the current Party line, while a “criminal” can be anyone, from a human rights attorney to a religious practitioner. The so-called “five new black categories” (“xin heiwulei” in Chinese) are, in fact, defined as human rights attorneys, underground churchgoers, dissidents, leading commentators on the internet, and members of disadvantaged sectors in society. These five categories have been a particular obsession of Party leadership since 2012.

One final point about those whose Y DNA will be collected for the database. Aside from the general male population (who are euphemistically called “people who voluntarily provide DNA”), the directive also mandated that samples be collected from all those under arrest, detention, or criminal investigation. This is more or less in line with international practice. But then, the directive ordered all policemen and detectives, and all government personnel involved in health and social programs, to provide DNA samples as well. In other words, the Party is taking advantage of its nationwide Y DNA program to gather genetic material from those men who enforce its policies on the wider population.

Is that a sign that the Party and its core leadership are worried about the loyalty of those who enforce their policies on the wider population? Or is the inclusion of communist cadres at this point just a natural step in the direction of the ultimate goal of collecting everyone’s DNA? At the end of the day, as Minister of Public Security and Politburo member Zhao Kezhi said on Jan. 24, it’s all about the “prevention and control of social [upheavals].”

China’s master DNA database, which includes not just Y DNA, but male and female “autosomal” DNA as well, is also being rapidly expanded. The first Chinese province to demand DNA not just from criminals or cadres but from everyone was Xinjiang, with its large minority population of Muslim Uyghurs and Kazakhs. The program, known as “Physicals for All,” was not optional. Anyone who resisted received an unfriendly visit from the police. Once at the clinic, they were not given a “physical” at all, but something more akin to the in-processing that criminals undergo. Their blood was drawn, their fingerprints were taken, and they were given a retinal scan.

According to state-run media Xinhua, such “physicals” were given to nearly 36 million people from 2016 to 2017. Since Xinjiang has a population of only 24.5 million, I suspect this means that millions of Muslim and other minorities in neighboring provinces were also required to provide samples of their DNA, fingerprints, and retinal scans.

China’s master DNA database is being expanded among the general Han Chinese population, as well. For example, the Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 26, 2017, that hundreds of male students from kindergarten to high school in Qianwei County, Sichuan Province, were ordered to provide saliva specimens. Like blood, saliva can be used to extract DNA for analysis. There is a significant Yi minority living in the area, which may have been another reason why the region was targeted.

The Journal report revealed that the PRC police use almost every encounter with the public as an opportunity to collect DNA samples. Among those required to give a saliva or blood sample include those who have criticized the Party on Weibo, a popular social-media platform similar to Twitter, or who have forgotten to carry their identification card. Also targeted are members of groups that the police believe “endanger social stability,” such as migrant workers, coal miners, and apartment renters. Note that none of those targeted have been accused of having committed a crime, and that none of these pretexts for DNA collection would be allowed in the United States.

As China’s social credit system is implemented, I predict that the next group to be forced to turn over their DNA will be those with a low social credit score.

As a result of these ongoing DNA collection efforts, an estimated 100 million DNA samples have been collected, analyzed, and added to the government’s huge database. Millions more are being added each month. By way of comparison, the FBI currently has DNA data for 13 million convicted persons and DNA data for 3 million arrested persons.

As U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) recently warned, “the Chinese government is spending tens of billions on facial recognition software, electronic spying, and coercive DNA collection to create a database capable of tracking a person’s every move. This is the definition of a totalitarian system—one that exercises total control of your person, down to the very strands of your DNA.”

The iron curtain that is descending upon the Chinese people is chilling enough, but what should make every American sit up and take notice is that American companies have been—largely unwittingly—enabling China’s rise as a digital totalitarian state. And that China is assembling a huge DNA database for people outside of China as well, a database that includes the private DNA code of millions of Americans.

To be continued in Part Two: Does China Have Your DNA?

Steven W. Mosher is the president of the Population Research Institute and the author of “Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order.” He studied human biology at Stanford University under famed geneticist Luigi Cavalli-Sforza.

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