Research by RTL Nieuws together with Follow the Money showed that there is a web of connections between Dutch DNA scientists and Chinese researchers who again have contacts with the police in that country. The Chinese police are known to violate human rights.
Investigators paid by the Chinese police
RTL Nieuws and Follow the Money looked at twenty scientific publications about predicting body characteristics based on a DNA profile and facial recognition techniques. Some studies deal with mapping family ties.
The technique in question is used in the Netherlands to find suspects of murder and rape using a DNA trace. But in China that technique has also been used against innocent people.
This concerns investigations in which Erasmus MC, Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) and the Netherlands Forensic Institute, on the one hand, are involved in the origin of those designs. And on the other hand, Chinese researchers who have indirect and even direct links with the police in their country. In a number of cases, the researchers are simply employed by the Chinese police or are paid by them.
That collaboration is therefore ‘fundamentally wrong’, says professor Yves Moreau of the University of Leuven. Because that acquired knowledge comes into the hands of the Chinese police and those techniques are used to oppress and persecute minorities such as Uyghurs and Tibetans in China. Moreau is investigating cooperation with the Chinese police.
Moreau is not alone in being so critical. Together with the European Professional Association of Geneticists (ESGH) he draws attention to the danger of abuse of power using new DNA techniques.
DNA from Uyghurs was used in seven studies, and in three cases the blood was collected by a forensic institute of the Ministry of Public Security, or the Chinese police. Recently, two of those scientific studies were rejected on ‘ethical grounds’ because it was uncertain whether the blood had been released by the Uyghurs.
In other cases, the Erasmus MC relates to documents that have documents that the Uyghurs have officially donated DNA. But those kinds of approval statements are little in practice, according to Yves. Ethics committees China that have to oversee here in very different rules than we are used to here in the west.
Uyghurs are a Muslim minority living in the Xinjiang region, in the interior of China. They are targeted and discriminated against by the Chinese government. According to Amnesty International, China has imprisoned more than one million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities such as Kazakhs in re-education camps in Xinjiang.
Uyghurs have been imprisoned, declare that women are sterilized and forced labor in the cotton industry should be improved. For this reason, the House of Representatives accuses China of the crime of genocide against the Uyghurs. Europe imposed human rights violations on minorities such as the Uyghurs early this year on China.
China: Big Brother on a large scale
The Chinese government has been working on systems to monitor the population for more than a decade. Tens of millions of cameras across the country, even down to lecture halls. In addition, the Chinese government is building the largest DNA database in the world managed by the police. With that information, entire family connections can be mapped.
For example, since 2013, the Chinese forms have been collecting blood droplets from minorities such as Tibettan and Uyghurs in the Xinjiang. And since 2016, men in China have also been required to donate DNA. contains the tens of millions of DNA profiles.
“What we see there in China is Big Brother. An Orwellian society with constant surveillance and control of the population,” says Yves Moreau. “Because in addition to the DNA databases, there are cameras everywhere, your phone is installed and there are QR codes on the doors of houses so that the police immediately know who lives there and what they are doing. That is a level of surveillance that we cannot do.” and the DNA is part of that.”
“It gives the government a magical power. That really scares people and that’s an important element to control people and that’s very effective psychologically.”
Erasmus MC plays a major role
In the twenty studies mainly researchers who are affiliated with the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. The Genetic Identification Department is highly regarded in the world as a top laboratory in the field of DNA research. Professor Manfred Kayser heads the department.
The Chinese scientist Li Jin has also contributed to several of his studies. Until at least 2016, Li Jin still worked for the Ministry of Public Security, police. Now he is attached to a forensic institute in Shanghai that works for the prosecution. In five cases, the investigation was partly carried out by the Chinese government.
Also striking are the studies of the Chinese-Dutch scientist Liu Fan. He has a part-time appointment at Erasmus MC and has an important role in sixteen of the twenty investigations. In four as subject, he is required to be affiliated with Erasmus MC. In all four studies, the investigation was conducted by or Liu Fan himself received money from the Chinese police.
Don’t stop research
Erasmus MC says in a response that they see no problem in collaborating with the Chinese, because the knowledge resulting from the studies cannot be used for facial recognition and the effect of Uyghurs. According to Erasmus MC, this only concerns cooperation associated with the Chinese police.
“But all major universities are under the direct control of the Chinese state and the Communist Party,” RTL Nieuws’s China correspondent Roland Smid said. “The main goal for universities is to contribute to help the country achieve that goal, so I think it’s likely that scientific information can be important for politics to achieve that goal, that they can about it. “
However, as a precaution, Erasmus MC had already stopped using Uyghur DNA, even though, according to them, it has not been confirmed that there is anything wrong with it. Erasmus MC is still considering whether Liu Fan can stay on as associate professor at Rotterdam University.
Even more DNA labs involved
In some DNA studies we also come across the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) and the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC).
In a study from 2018, the NFI cooperated on DNA of Dutch people with DNA of Uyghurs. NFI says they were not aware that DNA from Uyghurs is used in that study. It denies that it was designed with the Chinese researchers. A contribution has only been made at the request of Erasmus MC.
Scientists from the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) have contributed to four studies, two of which the Chinese researchers worked for the Chinese police. Another study is DNA from Uyghurs with DNA from Dutch people. The LUMC says that there has been no close collaboration with the Chinese researchers.
This story is a collaboration between Follow the Money and RTL Nieuws and is the prelude to a larger international investigation. In this project, the arrows are aimed at the power and influence of China.