15 May 2024

China, Biotechnology, and BGI

Anna Puglisi & Chryssa Rask

Executive Summary

Biology has the potential to offer solutions to the biggest challenges facing society in the 21st century, from the global climate crisis to food insecurity to new materials that will transform industries and manufacturing at scale. How nations pursue the power to engineer with living systems will reshape our ways of life, including whether our strategies reflect and reinforce—or contradict—the values of democratic societies. The United States and its allies must be positioned to harness these developments, ensure that applications reflect our values, and protect against misuse. If an authoritarian nation dominates the genomics space—and the industry that supports it—that nation will control the development of next-generation medical technologies, research standards and norms, and future genomics applications. This will have economic, ethical, and security implications for the U.S. and other liberal democratic states.

However, in the changing nature of global competition, what will be even more important than any one technology or any one field is how open market economies ensure a level playing field for their companies and researchers. Using BGI Group1 as a case study, we dive into the complex world of China’s hybrid economic system that blurs private and public, civilian and military to meet the goals of the State. This system creates market distortions and undermines the global norms of science by leveraging researchers as well as academic and commercial entities to further national priorities, rather than open, mutually beneficial collaborations or fair commercial competition that fosters innovation and is free from market-distorting subsidies and restrictions. Through its policies and programs, China uses the power of the State to not only advantage its own companies but to disadvantage others, with the goal of dominating these industries of the future.

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