The Corner

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Bioethics in China


Here’s a thought that emerges from my reading of the latest issue of The New Atlantis. Oddly, after reading about bioethics, I’m struck by the rise of China and the potential threat that it poses to the rest of the world. Eric Cohen’s overview of our bioethics debates features a discussion of biotechnology in China. It seems that China is a center of the most troubling sort of biological experimentation. The Chinese have already attempted to produce a child with three genetic parents, “ending in the gruesome death of multiple fetuses.” And other Chinese experiments, drawing on basic science perfected in the West, have included efforts to implant a female uterus in the abdomen of a man, and to produce “chimeric” man-animal embryos. Combine this with Steven Menashi’s striking account of Chinese malfeasance in his New Atlantis piece, “The Politics of the WHO” China, it seems, had a major role in obstructing international attempts to bring last year’s SARS outbreak under control. It seems that the Chinese were afraid that acknowledging the outbreak would be bad for business, so they resorted to denial and censorship in their own media, and kept international experts at bay when early intervention might have helped staunch the spread of the disease. Add to this the front page story in Sunday’s New York Times on China’s attempt to disguise its troubling labor practices. Then recall that China has just entered what used to be called the “space race,” and has announced plans for missions to the moon. The potential military implications of that may have at least something to do with reports that the administration is considering a major new space initiative. Put all these developments together and a clear picture emerges. As China modernizes, the combination of her technological prowess with illiberalism poses real dangers to the world. Maybe all the changes set of by modernization and globalization will eventually transform China’s regime. But how much mischief will be done in the meantime? We’ve got our hands full with the problems of terrorism, the Middle East, and Korea. But clearly, China is a major danger looming on the horizon.