In the year 2020, when most of the European countries were in lockdown due to the COVID pandemic, an aircraft containing a Chinese creation called the Fire-Eye arrived in the Serbian capital.
It was a refined portable laboratory that could detect coronavirus infections from tiny genetic elements that the deadly virus leaves behind, as per the latest report by the Washington Post.
The Serbians then soon found out that this was one of the capabilities of the Fire-Eye.
The Washington Post, citing the Chinese inventors of the portable lab, said that not only did it crack the genetic code for viruses but also for humans, with machines that can interpret genetic instructions retained within the cells of every person on this planet.
In late 2021, with the COVID pandemic still seething, Serbian officials made an announcement saying that they would work together with a Chinese firm to transform the lab into a permanent facility with strategies to gather and curate the entire genomes, or genetics blueprints, of Serbian citizens.
Serbia’s prime minister, Ana Brnabic, had appreciated China, saying that the country had given Belgrade the “most advanced institute for precision medicine and genetics in the region.”
However, China’s Fire-Eye labs is now attracting the attention of Western intelligence agencies in the midst of rising concern about China’s intentions.
As per the report, some analysts say that behind China’s act of philanthropy, was its hidden agenda to tap into new origins of highly valuable human DNA data in countries around the globe.
According to the US and Western intelligence officials, China’s collection effort, which has been underway for more than a decade now had included the acquisition of US genetics companies and also refined hacking operations.
However, the COVID pandemic gave it the required boost and created opportunities for Chinese companies and institutes to disseminate gene-sequencing machines and create partnerships for genetic research in places where Beijing formerly had very little to no access, said the officials.
Amid the COVID pandemic, Fire-Eye labs would grow rapidly, spreading to four continents and more than 20 countries, from Canada and Latvia to Saudi Arabia, and from Ethiopia and South Africa to Australia. Several, like the one in Belgrade, now function as permanent genetic testing centres.
“Covid-19,” said one senior U.S. intelligence analyst who closely tracks China’s biotechnology sector, “was the door.”
A spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington rebuffed suggestions that the Chinese companies had inappropriately gained access to genetic data.
The spokesman, Liu Pengyu, said the Fire-Eye labs helped many countries combat a hazardous pandemic and persist in playing a crucial role in screening for cancer and other diseases.