Uighurs And Genetic Monitoring In China
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
DNA was used data to track and identify suspected criminals for decades, but what happens when China starts to identify the technology, and to arrest people because of their ethnicity, primarily ethnic minorities such as the Uighur Muslims in the name of national security?
Yves Moreau is an engineer and professor at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium. He studied human genetics and ethics are involved. Mr Moreau, thank you that you are with us.
YVES MOREAU: Thank you very much for the invitation.
SIMON: How exactly is China to collect DNA and then use this information to identify people?
MOREAU: So, in total, in the whole of China, the technique used, was rolled out in fact, investigate criminals and crime scenes, on a very large scale. And what we have seen is that this technology is rolled out, particularly in the West of China. And in 2016, 2017, and blood samples of essentially the entire population, young people from 12 to 65 in Xinjiang, was collected and may be put in this database. And it is part of a broader system, as we call it, total surveillance.
SIMON: So, this technique can be used, for example, to monitor a crowd of people and you are looking Uighurs or, let’s say, the Tibetans, the Miao people, Yao people, other minorities, or their relatives?
MOREAU: So, the Definition of ethnicity is very, very messy. So actually, ethnicity is first of all a social and cultural concept. And now all of a sudden we are talking about genes. However, it is possible to decide tomorrow that belongs to someone or belongs to a given population.
I am extremely concerned about this because in the story, in fact, if you view it went back in the first half of the 20th century, the German and then Belgian colonists in Rwanda and Burundi, and they were pseudo-scientific ideas about race and assigned to persons of a certain ethnic origin. This was actually an important factor in cases of genocide. And the danger is that this will in the medium term, actually, really worried.
SIMON: Are American companies, European companies contribute?
MOREAU: So the technology that is needed, this DNA requires investigation, on the one hand, a device, a DNA sequencer. And it requires very special chemical reagents. And there are very important the participation of the European and American companies in this market.
SIMON: have You also called on scientific journals and publications, to be careful about what you publish.
MOREAU: Yes, exactly. There is a huge level of activity – I mean, up to a kind of obsession – I mean, it’s not very surprising – the study of the genetics of the different groups of the population in the whole of China. Tibetans studied, 40 times greater than that of the Hans and the Uighurs are examined to be 30 times more intense than the Hans.
In the last eight years, from about 500 inhabitants, did this genetic characterization of the ethnic population in China, half of the publications had a co-author from the Chinese police, the military, the judiciary, or a state institution. And I think, that does not mean that this type of research is acceptable, and that the publishers – mostly Western – publishers – have not published, should, all, of the literature.
SIMON: This is a losing battle, Professor Moreau? I mean, DNA databases grow each week.
MOREAU: If you look, for example, in Europe and the United States, there was already strong fights, which were held in fact, on this technology. And the are not perfect, but they have a big difference. I think that it is close to midnight. It was two minutes before midnight, but I’m not desperate. And I think that it really is possible to do still something. But the fight will be very exhausting.
SIMON: Yves Moreau is an engineer and professor at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium. He spoke with us via Skype. Thank you that you are with us.
MOREAU: Thank you very much for your time.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE ALBUM LEAF’s “FALSE DAWN”)
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Released on Sat, 07 Dec 2019 13:03:00 +0000