Provincial and municipal authorities across China are buying large amounts of instruments, tools and medical supplies that are designed to collect DNA samples from people, RFA has learned.
Online records of government tenders and contracts awarded show that local governments in China are placing orders for DNA sampling kits, testing instruments, sequencers, and other tools, spending around 10 million yuan each.
While the majority of contracts were awarded to Chinese companies, most of the DNA instrument analyzing technology is being supplied by U.S. biotech firm Thermo Fisher.
The uses cited for the purchased equipment in the procurement databases included “setting up a DNA database” and “upgrading police DNA laboratories.”
Some local governments indicated that the authorities are focusing in particular on identifying male relatives and on building family trees within their database.
A tender notice posted by the Feidong county police in the eastern province of Anhui said that China has designated male-line DNA databases as a key project in law enforcement, following plans drawn up at national and provincial levels in 2018 and 2019.
Several tender announcements said the DNA collection program was being planned by the ruling Communist Party leadership nationwide.
An official who answered the phone at the Liuzhou police department declined to comment.
“We have already completed the tender process for this project, so why are you asking about it?” the official said.
However, mentions of the DNA collection program on the official websites of local governments varied hugely across China, with some citing the need to locate missing people, including children, and others saying the program is needed to improve police ability to investigate crimes.
A notice referring to the creation of a male DNA database in the central province of Hubei said the project was linked to population control, however, and that the project is expected to trace the male line across five generations.
Such a database would be able to identify adoptions, children born outside of officially sanctioned birth limits, and children born outside of socially sanctioned norms, the notice said.
Providing more mobility
China analyst Willy Lam said the DNA collection scheme could be linked to plans to open up the current household registration, or “hukou,” system, to make it easier for rural residents to move into some of the smaller cities.
Under the old hukou system, which dated back to the Mao era of collective farming and a planned economy, each household accessed services from its place of registration, posing huge social problems for China’s hundreds of millions of migrant workers and their families who had no access to schooling or medical care in the cities where they worked.
The hukou system was reformed in 2014 to supposedly rely on a person’s place of residence and job rather than their birthplace, and officials promised at the time that the transfer of hukou registrations to another place would become possible.
But the promises haven’t made life easier in practice for migrants, with authorities still requiring a considerable laundry list of proofs and documentation that many have found hard to obtain.
Lam said the DNA databases will likely be used in conjunction with existing artificial intelligence, facial recognition technology, and the social credit system, which imposes administrative sanctions on users whose ‘social credit’ score is low.
“If they use this DNA to build a national genealogical database, this will be very convenient for government surveillance operations,” Lam said.