Wessel and Wortzel: Chinese purchase of Complete Genomics needs examination

Two members of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said on Wednesday that the potential purchase of a U.S. biotechnology firm by China requires strict scrutiny.

Michael Wessel and Larry Wortzel, two congressionally appointed members of the commission, said that how the U.S. deals with Chinese investments into military or security related companies will have major consequences.

The Shenzhen-based Beijing Genomics Institute is currently attempting to buy the Mountain View, Calif.-based Complete Genomics. The genomics and biotechnology research conducted at Complete Genomics and other facilities could yield the next generation of bioweapons, Mercury News reports.

Wessel and Wortzel said that many in the U.S. want to welcome the Chinese investment, but the two commission members pointed out the potential national security impacts of the transaction.

"Targeted genomic weapons are still somewhat hypothetical," Wessel and Wortzel said, according to Mercury News. "But advances in genome and synthetic biotechnology could allow for bioweapons to be targeted at specific populations, groups or, indeed, individuals. Syria, Iran and North Korea's military ambitions have advanced with China's help. Bioweapons and genetic warfare may be next."

Biotechnology is one of the strategic emerging industries outlined in China's recent 12th five-year plan. The Asian nation is reportedly planning to invest $1.5 trillion in the biotechnology industry. Wessel and Wortzel recommended that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. thoroughly review the proposed Complete Genomics purchase and future similar investment opportunities.

"As the wave of Chinese investment begins, we must not ignore the risks," Wessel and Wortzel said, according to Mercury News. "Scrutinizing Chinese investments - especially those involving next-generation technologies and capabilities - is just plain common sense. This sale may not be an innocuous investment in science."