The company has recently come under fire following a 60 Minutes exposé on the company’s use of COVID-19 tests to “collect, store and exploit biometric information” on American citizens, according to former U.S. intelligence officials. What’s more, a recent Reuters article linked the firm to the Chinese Communist Party’s military.
In September of 2012, the Microsoft founder’s foundation signed a “Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to form a collaboration on global health and agricultural development with the goal of achieving common objectives in health and agricultural development.”
The co-founder of BGI praised the agreement, celebrating the forthcoming “scientific breakthroughs in the areas of human, plant and animal genomics.” He also revealed that the collaborative efforts focused on sequencing genomes—the precise activity flagged for national security threats in the 60 Minutes segment:
“Having contributed to the Human Genome Project as well as sequencing the genomes of many critical plant and animal species and human diseases, including the initial sequencing of the rice genome as well as our involvement in the Rice 10,000 Genome Project, the 1,000 Plants and Animals Genome Project, the International 1,000 genomes project, the 1,000 Rare Diseases Project, the International Cancer Genome Project, Autism Genome 10K, among others, BGI looks forward to partnering with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in this significant collaboration to apply genomics research to benefit global human health.”
The memorandum predates Gates’s 2010 visit to BGI’s China-based headquarters, where he witnessed the company’s genetic sequencing operation as described by the Financial Times:
In 2010, Bill Gates visited an unremarkable building in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Shenzhen, China. With row after row of high-tech machinery humming inside, the place could easily be mistaken for an anonymous data warehouse. But Mr Gates and Ray Yip, head of the Gates Foundation’s China operation, saw something else that day. As they toured the BGI headquarters, the two men were stunned by the ambition of the scientists working at the biotech company. Inside, more than 150 state of the art genetic sequencing machines were analysing the equivalent of thousands of human genomes a day. The company is working towards a goal of building a huge library based on the DNA of many millions of people. BGI executives see this not as the end-game, but as the springboard for new drug discoveries, advanced genetic research and a transformation of public health policy.
Yip praised the endeavor as “out-of-the-box,” “open,” and “liberal”:
“We were taken aback. We never thought we would find such an out-of-the-box approach. They are in their own league — open and liberal. Most people only see them as a service provider for DNA analysis. It is the database they are building that will make them formidable.”
The Gates Foundation has also funded BGI projects relating to genome sequencing alongside Chinese Communist Party bodies such as the Ministry of Science and Technology and Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
Similarly, Dr. Tadataka Yamada, the former president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s global health program, serves as the Chairman of BGI’s Scientific Advisory Board.
And in 2016, BGI launched a U.S.-based office in Washington—the home state of Microsoft and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
BGI’s ties to Washington also appear to have influenced the firm’s decision to target the state with its COVID-19 test kits, part of the company’s plot to “mine” the data of Americans.
“Early last March, the state of Washington was the site of the first major coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. As COVID rates and the need for tests were spiking, BGI Group, the world’s largest biotech firm—a global giant based in China—approached the state of Washington with an enticing offer. In a strikingly personal letter to the governor, BGI proposed to build and help run state-of-the-art COVID testing labs,” 60 Minutes summarized.
But officials ultimately turned down the offer at the request of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence over BGI’s ties to the Chinese government.