The Chinese military and senior public health officials discussed "weaponising" coronavirus, claims a "leaked" document dating back to 2015, the Australian media has reported.
Details of the document, titled 'The Unnatural Origin of SARS and New Species of Man-Made Viruses as Genetic Bioweapons', was obtained by The Australian newspaper.
The document showed the purported Chinese officials discussing that bio-weapons could be produced at "0.05 per cent of the cost of traditional weapons", the daily reported.
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The paper was obtained by the US State Department during its investigation into the origins of SARS-COV-2 virus, which causes the COVID-19 infection, the reports said.
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Among the authors of the document were Lee Feng, former deputy director of China’s Bureau of Epidemic Prevention, and Xu Dezhong, the former chief of China's SARS Epidemic Analysis Expert Group, the Australian media claimed.
The document shows the Chinese officials describing SARS coronaviruses as heralding a "new era of genetic weapons” that can be “artificially manipulated into an emerging human disease virus, then weaponised and unleashed in a way never seen before”, The Australian reported.
Robert Potter, a cybersecurity specialist who analysed the document obtained by the Australian media, said it does not appear to be fake.
"We reached a high confidence conclusion that it was genuine … It’s not fake but it’s up to someone else to interpret how serious it is,” news.com.au quoted Potter as saying.
The 2015 document is featured in the upcoming book What Really Happened in Wuhan, by Australian journalist Sharri Markson.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) chief Peter Jennings said the document is significant amidst the suspicion over China's alleged role in the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The document "clearly shows that Chinese scientists were thinking about military application for different strains of the coronavirus and thinking about how it could be deployed", he told news.com.au.
Notably, Australia was among the first countries that called for an independent investigation to ascertain the reason behind the COVID-19 outbreak. The country has expressed a lack of confidence over Beijing's claim that coronavirus began spreading from a wet market in Wuhan.
The Chinese state-run Global Times, while reacting to the Australian media reports over the "leaked" 2015 document, accused them of spreading false information. They are "embarrassingly twisting" an open book as evidence against China, it said.
The book was published by Xu Dezhong in 2015 and was put on sale on Amazon, the Global Times claimed. "The book suggests that SARS epidemic during 2002 and 2004 in China originated through an unnatural way of genetic modification originating from abroad," the nationalist tabloid stated.