China Makes 20MW Steam Turbogenerator Set for Electromagnetic Catapult


China’s homegrown 20MW ship torbogenerator for aircraft carrier with electromagnetic catapults.

Mil.huanqiu.com says in its report “Advance in Developing 20MW grade homegrown ship steam turbogenerator set with entire Chinese intellectual properties” that on January 17, China’s first homegrown steam turbogenerator set with the largest capacity of 20MW successfully passed initial test in operating at 110% capacity. It marks China’s major breakthrough in its research and development of large-capacity medium-pressure turbogenerator for warships

The capacity of turbogenerator set is several times of the largest ship turbogenerator currently in use on Chinese warships and similar to the most advanced ones in Europe and the US, but it size is small for installation on a ship and its noise level is low.

Obviously such a turbogenerator set is developed for full electric propulsion of very large warships such as aircraft carriers especially those with electromagnetic catapults.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on mil.huanqiu.com’s report, full text of which in Chinese can be viewed at http://mil.huanqiu.com/world/2018-01/11557009.html


The Conundrum of China’s Collective Leadership


China’s Core System (1)

Collective Leadership to Avoid Reemergence of Mao-style Autocracy
Deng Xiaoping had to find a way to avoid the reemergence of Mao-style autocracy that is equivalent to tyranny. He invented a system of collective leadership, in which a leader had limited tenure and could not be reelected when he had reached a certain age. In this system, there will not be much succession problem. However, this system does not work in China. A newly elected collective leadership had no real power while the retired elders remained powerful. As a result Chinese politics were dominated by retired elders behind the scene.

No Collective Leadership in Chinese History
Judging by China’s thousands-year long history, collective leadership is something unprecedented as there had never been collective leadership in China. CCP has given China a formal name the People’s Republic of China (中華人民共和國 in Chinese), in which the term “republic” has come from abroad as there has never been a republic in China, not even in a separate state when China was split. The term republic in Chinese is “共和国 (gonghe guo)”in which “國 (guo)” means country. The term “共和 (gonghe)” that describes “guo” the country is taken from a 14-year period called “Gonghe Administration” in Zhou Dynasty beginning from (841 or 842 BC) when King Li of Zhou, a tyrant, was driven away so that the Kingdom of Zhou was jointly run by Duke Ding of Zhou and Duke Mu of Zhao for 14 years until King Li’s son had grown up to succeed to King Li.

Strictly speaking a group of two people cannot be regarded as a collective leadership. At best the kingdom was run by an oligarchy instead of a collective leadership at that time.

However, that was only the opinion of one major group of Chinese historians. There was another major group of Chinese historians who disagree with the first group and hold that in the 14 years China was run by Duke Wu of Wei called “共伯和 (Gongbohe)” shortened as “共和 (Gonghe)”. That was why the 14 years when Duke Wu of Wei was in charge of the kingdom on behalf of King Li’s successor was called “Gonghe Administration”. If that group’s view is correct, there was no oligarchy at that time let alone collective leadership.

In the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (770 BC to 221 BC), the kings of the Zhou Dynasty was weak, China was split into lots of states, each of which was run by a sovereign, i.e. was an autocracy. There was no collective leadership in any of the states.

China’s Centralism since Qin Dynasty (221BC to 207 BC)
When Emperor Shihuang of Qin had conquered all other states and unified China, he established his centralized rule to avoid China being split into various states again. Since his reign, there was always centralized autocracy in China. Even in the few periods when China was again split into a few states, there was no collective leadership but centralized autocracy in each state without exception.

That was the situation in empires and kingdoms before the establishment of a republic called the People’s Republic of China, a republic in name but an autocracy or several autocracies governed by warlords. After the establishment of PRC, there was at first the people’s democratic dictatorship but later changed into proletarian dictatorship without even the term “democratic”. Certainly, there was no democracy, but was there collective leadership?

No Collective Leadership in Mao Era
According to Deng’s description, in Mao era, there was collective leadership with Mao as the core that has the final say.

Mao made the decision of sending troops to Korea in spite of the opposition of all other members of the collective leadership. At that time, Mao indeed had the final say but was there collective leadership when the opinions of all other members of the collective leadership were disregarded?

Mao’s victory in the Korean War greatly enhanced his prestige and enabled him to severely denounce the members of the collective leadership under him who advocated not too fast but sure economic growth. His fierce attack of them silenced all oppositions so that he was able to madly pursue unrealistically high economic growth in his Great Leap Forward Campaign that resulted in his great famine that caused the death of starvation of millions of people. By that time there was no collective leadership at all.

Mao then retired to the second line and let Liu Shaoqi be the head of the group of collective leadership with Mao giving instructions to them behind the scene. When he found that the collective leadership disobeyed him, he launched the Cultural Revolution to seize power back from the collective leadership and persecuted almost all the members of the collective leadership. In the last decade of Mao’s rule, Mao carried out the Cultural Revolution as a tyrant with absolute power instead of the core of collective leadership.

To sum up, in Mao era, there was no collective leadership but the absolute monarchy of Mao, though Mao was regarded by Deng as the core of a collective leadership,

What about CCP’s second collective leadership with Deng as its core?

We will discuss in my post tomorrow.

Article by Chan Kai Yee


China Gathers Talents for Development of Cutting-edge Weapons


China launched the world’s first quantum communication satellite in August 2016. Photo: Xinhua

SCMP says in its report “China enlists top scientists in mission to become military tech superpower” that according to the PLA Daily, Chinese military has selected 120 researchers from its institutes to join the Chinese Academy of Military Science to develop military applications for artificial intelligence, quantum technology, etc.

According to SCMP more than 95% of the 120 new recruits hold PhD degrees and they are all highly specialized in certain fields.

SCMP says, “Analysts said the recruitment was part of China’s efforts to become a military technological superpower and to catch up with the technical superiority of US armed forces.”

China is the first to launch a quantum satellite for development of quantum communication from the space. It is also developing a new type of satellite that can track from currently invisible targets such as stealth bombers taking off at night. In addition, quantum technology and computers have great military potential in the future, for example, China will be able to crack adversaries’ encrypted codes using them.

China has the advantages of concentrating resources including talents for military research and researchers’ patriotic dedication and enthusiasm in doing their jobs. Therefore, China will certainly be able to surpass the US in military technologies.

Comment by Chan Kai Yee on SCMP’s report, full text of which can be viewed at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2130777/china-enlists-top-scientists-mission-become-military.


The Conundrum of Xi Jinping’s Power


Some China watcher believes that Chinese President Xi Jinping is nearly as powerful as Mao. In fact, they do not know how powerful Xi is compared with Mao.

How Mao Gradually Lost Most of His Power
Mao has absolute power before he made the mistake of the Great Leap Forward. In fact, if he was not so powerful, he simply could not launch the stupid campaign for unrealistic fast economic growth as most of the officials in charge of economic development in China advocated a moderate balanced economic growth. Before Mao’s Great Leap Forward, they achieved a growth rate of more than 10% p.a., quite fast in the world.

As those officials were led by powerful veterans Zhou Enlai and Chen Yun, Mao denounced Zhou severely as a conservative and scared Chen Yun. He had thus finally obtained consensus in CCP for his Great Leap Forward. Unfortunately, Mao’s Great Leap Forward was a disastrous blunder.

Due to the blunder, he gradually lost power to his chosen successor Liu Shaoqi and had to start the Cultural Revolution to grab power back from Liu. As most communist veterans supported Liu, Mao used first Red Guards and then Rebels to deprive veterans of their power.

To ensure success in his power struggle against Liu and Liu’s supporters, Mao needed the support of the troops so that he replaced Liu with the then Defense Minister Marshal Lin Biao as his successor and gave Lin the control of Chinese troops. When he found that Lin had grown as powerful as him, he brought down Lin. Then he had doubt about the loyalty of his powerbase Chinese troops in the face of Soviet attack.

Mao was wise to ally with the US to counter the Soviet Union. However, in fighting CCP civilian and military officials, he had used up his political capital and became unable to control the rebels. As a result, he was no able to put an end to the chaos caused by his Cultural Revolution.

Mao said that Cultural Revolution had to be carried out about every 8 years. He started his Cultural revolution in 1966 but by 1976 when he died, he was still unable to finish his Cultural Revolution. Disruption of production continued in most areas of China. As a result, there were nothing to shop except aluminum pots and enamel ware even in Hangzhou, a prosperous city before the Cultural Revolution well-known in the saying “There is paradise above in heaven while there are Suzhou and Hangzhou below”.

By that time, Mao’s power was quite limited. Xi would have been unable to achieve anything if he had had as limited power as Mao. As powerful as Mao? Nonsense.

Deng Xiaoping was powerful to order conservatives to obey him, but he did not have conservatives’ support for his reform and opening-up.

Jiang Zemin had established very strong powerbase to be the core of CCP’s third generation of leadership, but like Deng he could only silence conservatives’ opposition to his reform but had not won over their support.

In his reign for a decade, Hu Jintao had promoted lots of the members of his CYL (Communist Youth League, Hu’s powerbase) to high official posts, but he was challenged by Bo Xilai, head of the powerful conservative faction. Hu lacked the power to punish Bo when Bo’s crime of serious corruption was discovered. It was Jiang Zemin, the core of the third generation of CCP leadership, who was able to make the decision to punish Bo severely.

In spite of the decade of his rule, Hu had not become the core of CCP leadership, but Xi obtained the position as the core of CCP leadership in five years.

How has Xi succeeded in obtaining the power?

First, as soon as Xi took over the reign, he had gained the support of both reformists and conservatives by his China dream.

A couple of weeks after he took office as CCP General Secretary, Xi gained popularity by his surprise closure of all the black jails local officials set up in Beijing to imprison petitioners.. By so doing he dealt a heavy blow on powerful local officials.

He then announced that he would scrap the unpopular reeducation through labor system. Though the system was officially abolished about one and half years later, it had ceased operation soon after his announcement on abolishing it. Due to the system, police had the excessive power to imprison people in reeducation labor camp for as long as four years without any legal procedures. Before Xi’s surprise attacks at local officials and removal of the excessive power of the police, the police used the excessive power to protect corrupt officials and persecute those who dare to expose officials’ crimes of corruption. By abolishing the system and removal of police’s excessive power, Xi had dealt a heavy blow on Chinese police and laid foundation for his fight against corruption.

You may ask why Xi was able to deal heavy blows on the powerful vested interests of local officials and the police when he had just taken over the reign and had not yet set up his powerbase.

In September 2012 before Xi succeeded Hu Jintao, Xi disappeared mysteriously for two weeks. In that period, he visited all the powerful elders to gain their support for his fight against corruption and tightening of party discipline. In spite of their differences, all the elders supported Xi as they had the consensus that the rampant corruption would cause CCP to collapse. They had the experience that in spite of its larger military and US support the KMT lost the civil war to CCP due to its serious corruption.

Due to powerful elders’ support, Xi had real power as soon as he took over to enable him to deal heavy blows on local officials and the police. However, his sound powerbase was built in the five years since he took office through his successful fight against corruption, enforcement of party discipline and reorganization of Chinese military.

As a result, Xi has now become the most powerful leader in CCP history, much more powerful than Mao when Mao launched the Cultural Revolution but perhaps as powerful as the Mao before Mao made the mistake of the Great Leap Forward.

The most important battle Xi has won in obtaining absolute power is his fight against rampant corruption. As corruption has been an evil in China for centuries, it is too long a topic to discuss here.

You may wonder what about China’s collective leadership. It will be discussed in my next post “The Conundrum of China’s Collective Leadership”.

Article by Chan Kai Yee


China’s Type 99 Tank: Could It Beat an M1 Abrams or Russia’s T-90?


China’s Type-90 tanks. National Interest’s photo

Sebastien Roblin

January 23, 2018

The Type 99 is by far the most nimble of the bunch, able to sprint up to 50 miles per hour on roads. The M1 Abrams and the T-90MS used by India follow behind at 42 and 45 miles per hour respectively, while the T-90A trails at 35. However, the gas-guzzling turbine-powered M1A2 can only travel 240 miles before requiring refueling, while both the Type 99 and T-90 have ranges over 300 miles. Furthermore, the M1’s greater weight makes it the hardest to transport and deploy.

China has a lot of tanks. Like, eight to nine thousand of them.

Who else would bother to maintain such a ridiculous number?

The United States. And Russia. (Note that such counts include vehicles in storage and reserve. The numbers for tanks in operational units are lower in every case).

However, the majority of Beijing’s tanks are old designs, particularly Type 59 and 69 tanks more or less directly copied from the 50s-era Soviet T-54 tank. Such is their profligacy that I once had the pleasure of bumping into one in a children’s playground in Tianjin serving the needs of the (young) people.

However, China’s top of the line tank, the Type 99, has commanded healthy respect from international observers, even though it has never been exported, nor used in combat. The reason is simple: the reported performance parameters are equal to many top Western designs, and the Type 99 also packs a few unique tricks of its own.

Today we’ll look at how the Type 99 stacks up to two important contemporaries, the American M1A2 Abrams and the Russian T-90A tank.

Before we get our hands greasy with the technical details, we should consider: does China even need tanks?

It’s a reasonable question to ask. China’s major military efforts have been directed towards the Pacific.

Some might ask, how likely are the U.S. Army’s M1 Abrams tanks ever to clash with the Type 99?

To which one should consider: can either vehicle swim across the Pacific Ocean and exchange shots over Scarborough Shoal?

Kidding aside, it seems a pretty unlikely except in amphibious invasions scenarios fit for Operation Flashpoint computer games. On the other hand, Taiwan has expressed interest in purchasing Abrams tanks, and Australia operates 60 as well, so never say never.

However, the question is more relevant when we consider the Russian T-90. Moscow currently maintains good relations with Beijing, with which it shares a border, but the two powers are not close allies, having nearly come to war during the late 1960s.

Most importantly, Russia is selling its weapons to India and Vietnam—including systems which are quite clearly earmarked to oppose the Chinese military, such as the Brahmos cruise missile, and, well…over 1,000 T-90 tanks, many of which are deployed along its Himalayan border.

China fought a war with India in 1962 over that border, and another with Vietnam in 1979 to punish the nation for opposing the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. (Vietnam would like to order T-90s as well.)

Today, the Chinese military persists in seeing India—a potential future superpower—as a threat, and has extensively militarized their shared border and built roads allowing heavy military vehicles to pass through the steep mountains. China is also allied with Pakistan, which has repeatedly warred with India, and occasionally transfers military technology to it.

Lastly, one should consider the scenario of a potential civil war or government collapse in North Korea. What Beijing’s policy would actually be in such an event is the trillion dollar question, but one scenario would involve Chinese ground forces intervening to restore order in North Korea—leading to potential clashes with Korean troops.

So, even though an actual armed conflict would be unnecessary and vastly counterproductive for everyone involved—like most wars!—there are some contexts in which tank combat could occur on China’s borders, particularly verses Russian-made tanks.

Enough politics, onto the lumbering death machines!

First, to introduce the contenders…

The Abrams, of course, is the classic American design which devastated Soviet-made Iraqi armor in the 1991 Gulf War without losing a single tank to enemy fire. The Abrams isn’t exactly new, but the Army has continuously tweaked the ammunition, armor package, and sensors to keep it up to date.

The T-90 is Russia’s first post-Cold War tank. Though not quite a peer of the Abrams, it still boasts significant improvements in accuracy and protection, particularly in models equipped with later-generation explosive reactive armor. While Russia is introducing its revolutionary new T-14 tank, for now its 550 T-90As remain its frontline armored vehicle.

Moscow has developed the more advanced T-90AM but did not place it into full production. However, 354 of the similar T-90MS export variant have been sold to India for deployment on its border with China. In total, India has over 1200 T-90s, while Algeria eventually intends to operate over 800.

China’s Type-99 combines a hull that closely resembles an elongated T-72 with a Western-style turret inspired in part by the German Leopard 2. First appearing as the Type 98 prototype tank in a National Day parade in a 1999, the vehicle was re-designated the Type 99 and entered service in 2001. At 57 tons, it comes in between the 70-ton Abrams and the 48-ton T-90 in terms of weight. Several upgrades, including the new Type 99A2 variant, boast advanced new technologies. Beijing fields nearly 500 Type 99s in sixteen armored battalions, and has produced 124 of the newer 99As so far. The type is not offered for export, though some of its technology is used in China’s VT4 export tank.

Firepower:

The Type 99 and the T-90 rely on a 125 millimeter cannons using carousel autoloaders descended from Soviet-era designs. This weapon proved underpowered verses Abrams and Challenger tanks in the Gulf War, but new improved tungsten ammunition leaves it capable of piercing the frontal armor of an Abrams at shorter combat ranges.

The new Type 99A2 comes with a longer barrel main gun, which in theory should impart higher muzzle velocity to sabot shells and improve their armor penetration and accuracy. It also boasts fancy new stabilizer technology.

Reportedly, China intends to eventually install a larger 140 millimeter gun on the Type 99, but early tests have cracked up the weapon. This, incidentally, mirrors Russia’s plans to up-gun its new T-14 Armata tank to a similar caliber weapon.

The Abram’s Rheinmetal 120 millimeter gun, equipped with politically-controversial M829 depleted-uranium rounds, can penetrate around 15-25% more armor. The U.S. now produces new generations of M829 rounds capable of piercing the advanced Kontakt and Relikt reactive armor systems developed by Russia (more on those below).

China has developed its own depleted uranium ammunition for its 125 millimeter gun, which it claims can penetrate the M1 up to ranges of 1.4 kilometers.

The Abrams uses a fourth crewmember to load the gun, which American tankers argue is more reliable, offers a higher rate of fire, and gives the tank a spare hand if one of the other crew members is incapacitated. However, the space needed to accommodate a fourth crew member makes the M1 larger and heavier.

The Type 99 and T-90 both can fire anti-tank missiles from the gun tube, while the Abrams cannot. (The Type 99 uses AT-11 Refleks missiles licensed from Russia). This could theoretically be useful for combat at very long ranges, or against low-flying helicopters. However, tank-launched missiles have existed for fifty years without seeing much use.

Effective sensors for spotting and aiming are arguably as decisive in tank engagements as firepower. Russia has made some strides in tank sights and thermal imagers in recent years, though the general sentiment is that Western sights and sensors remain superior. The T-90A does not carry Russia’s best hardware (some have been upgraded with French Catherine thermal sights), while the T-90MS has an improved Kalina targeting system.

China is known for its excellent electronics, and the Type 99A2 supposedly carries a new infrared tracking system that enables it hunt enemy tanks efficiently and is believed to be superior to the systems on the T-90A.

Protection:

The Type 99 benefits both from composite armor, and Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA), bricks of explosives onto the tank that prematurely detonate incoming shells. The new Type 99A2 variant uses a multi-layered system thought to be similar to the Relikt ERA developed by Russia, which uses a radar to detonate the ERA before hostile shells impact. It is intended to defeat tandem-charge missiles capable of overcoming older-generation ERA.

The T-90A uses the older Kontakt-5 ERA, while the new T-90MS tanks serving in India sport the Relikt system. Though most effective against anti-tank missiles, both systems also diminish the penetrating power of tank shells.

The Type 99 also comes with a Laser Warning Receiver which warns the tank commander if his vehicle is being painted with hostile targeting lasers, affording the driver a chance to back away out of danger. Given all the videos from Syria and Yemen of tanks sitting obliviously as anti-tank missiles meander towards them (often taking 20 seconds or more to impact), this could significantly improve survivability.

The Type 99 also is believed to come with its own unique high-powered ‘dazzler’ laser designed to jam laser- and infrared-guided missiles, damage enemy sights, and blind the eyes of hostile gunners, possibly with a permanent effect. Fortunately, high-power tank-mounted dazzlers have never been used in combat before, so we have no idea how well they would work.

The new A2 is also thought to have a laser-based communication system which can be used to identify friendly vehicles and transmit encrypted data.

The T-90 tank, on the other hand, relies on the Shtora “soft kill” Active Protection System, which not only jams lasers with its own emitters, but also deploys aerosol grenades to create a laser-obscuring cloud around the vehicle.

The M1 Abrams lacks its own Laser Warning Receiver, Active Protection Systems or Explosive Reactive Armor, though it is conceivable future upgrades will incorporate some of these features.

For now, the M1A2 relies on its excellent Chobham composite armor, which has been tweaked over the years and believed to be equivalent to 800 millimeters or more of rolled hardened armor (RHA) verses tank sabot shells, or 1300 millimeters versus the shaped charges used in rockets and missiles. For comparison, the T-90 is believed to have a maximum armor of around 650 RHA. The Abrams also benefit from having separately stowed ammunition, making its less likely to catastrophically detonate when hit by enemy fire.

The Type 99’s combination of composite and modular space armor is believed to offer armor protection close or equivalent to the Abrams. One sources claims it offers protection equivalent to around 1100 RHA, though the actual effectiveness is classified.

Mobility:

The Type 99 is by far the most nimble of the bunch, able to sprint up to 50 miles per hour on roads. The M1 Abrams and the T-90MS used by India follow behind at 42 and 45 miles per hour respectively, while the T-90A trails at 35. However, the gas-guzzling turbine-powered M1A2 can only travel 240 miles before requiring refueling, while both the Type 99 and T-90 have ranges over 300 miles. Furthermore, the M1’s greater weight makes it the hardest to transport and deploy.

A last note is the Type 99 features new digital maintenance systems similar to those entering into use in the latest upgrade of the M1 Abrams.

So all in all, while the Abrams arguably retains the best firepower of the three, the Type 99 seems likely to be better protected thanks to its multi-layered defensive systems. And it’s faster and has longer range.

The T-90A is generally outclassed by the other two, but the T-90MS, with its Relikt armor, improved sights and more powerful engines, can hold its own.

However, one should keep in mind the actual performance of the Type 99’s armor, gun and electronic systems is not certain, particularly as the vehicle has not been exported, whereas both the M1 and T-90 have been used in action by multiple operators. Beijing likes to keep the details of its technology close, and also has an incentive to talk up the capabilities of its hardware.

Nonetheless, the majority of the evidence available suggests that, despite its hordes of Type 59s, China is capable of designing and fielding a first-class main battle tank. This fits in well with President Xi Jinping’s recent push to downsize in quantity, and improve in quality, its armed forces.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Source: National Interest “China’s Type 99 Tank: Could It Beat an M1 Abrams or Russia’s T-90?”

Note: This is National Interest’s article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.


China unveils vision for ‘Polar Silk Road’ across Arctic


Reuters Staff January 26, 2018

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Friday outlined its ambitions to extend President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming.

China, despite being a non-Arctic state, is increasingly active in the polar region and became an observer member of the Arctic Council in 2013.

Among its increasing interests in the region is its major stake in Russia’s Yamal liquefied natural gas project which is expected to supply China with four million tonnes of LNG a year, according to the state-run China Daily.

Shipping through the Northern Sea Route would shave almost 20 days off the regular time using the traditional route through the Suez Canal, the newspaper reported last month. COSCO Shipping has also previously sailed vessels through the Arctic’s northeast passage.

China’s increasing prominence in the region has prompted concerns from Arctic states over its long-term strategic objectives, including possible military deployment.

“Some people may have misgivings over our participation in the development of the Arctic, worried we may have other intentions, or that we may plunder resources or damage the environment,” Vice-Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said at a briefing.

“I believe these kinds of concerns are absolutely unnecessary.”

The white paper said China also eyes development of oil, gas, mineral resources and other non-fossil energies, fishing and tourism in the region. It said it would do so “jointly with Arctic States, while respecting traditions and cultures of the Arctic residents including the indigenous peoples and conserving natural environment”.

China’s Belt and Road initiative aims to connect China to Europe, the Middle East and beyond via massive infrastructure projects across dozens of countries, reflecting Xi’s desire for China to take on a more prominent global leadership role.

Reporting by Philip Wen; Editing by Nick Macfie

Source: Reuters “China unveils vision for ‘Polar Silk Road’ across Arctic”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.


Chinese scientists break key barrier by cloning monkeys


Ben Hirschler January 25, 2018

LONDON (Reuters) – Chinese scientists have cloned monkeys using the same technique that produced Dolly the sheep two decades ago, breaking a technical barrier that could open the door to copying humans.

Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, two identical long-tailed macaques, were born eight and six weeks ago, making them the first primates — the order of mammals that includes monkeys, apes and humans — to be cloned from a non-embryonic cell.

It was achieved through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which involves transferring the nucleus of a cell, which includes its DNA, into an egg which has had its nucleus removed.

Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai said their work should be a boon to medical research by making it possible to study diseases in populations of genetically uniform monkeys.

But it also brings the feasibility of cloning to the doorstep of our own species.

“Humans are primates. So (for) the cloning of primate species, including humans, the technical barrier is now broken,” Muming Poo, who helped supervise the program at the institute, told reporters in a conference call.

“The reason … we broke this barrier is to produce animal models that are useful for medicine, for human health. There is no intention to apply this method to humans.”

Genetically identical animals are useful in research because confounding factors caused by genetic variability in non-cloned animals can complicate experiments. They could be used to test new drugs for a range of diseases before clinical use.

The two newborns are now being bottle fed and are growing normally. The researchers said they expect more macaque clones to be born over the coming months.

Since Dolly – cloning’s poster child – was born in Scotland in 1996, scientists have successfully used SCNT to clone more than 20 other species, including cows, pigs, dogs, rabbits, rats and mice.

Similar work in primates, however, had always failed, leading some experts to wonder if primates were resistant.

The new research, published on Wednesday in the journal Cell, shows that is not the case. The Chinese team succeeded, after many attempts, by using modulators to switch on or off certain genes that were inhibiting embryo development.

Even so, their success rate was extremely low and the technique worked only when nuclei were transferred from foetal cells, rather than adult ones, as was the case with Dolly. In all, it took 127 eggs to produce two live macaque births.

“It remains a very inefficient and hazardous procedure,” said Robin Lovell-Badge, a cloning expert at the Francis Crick Institute in London, who was not involved in the Chinese work.

“The work in this paper is not a stepping-stone to establishing methods for obtaining live born human clones. This clearly remains a very foolish thing to attempt.”

The research underscores China’s increasingly important role at the cutting-edge of biosciences, where its scientists have at times pushed ethical boundaries.

Three years ago, for example, researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou caused a furor when they reported carrying out the first experiment to edit the DNA of human embryos, although similar work has now been done in the United States.

Scientists at the Shanghai institute said they followed international guidelines for animal research set by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, but called for a debate on what should or should not be acceptable practice in primate cloning.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Peter Graff

Source: Reuters “Chinese scientists break key barrier by cloning monkeys”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.