I interpreted the question to be 'Is it true that this book is an evidence of premeditation, thus adding legitimacy to the theory that China made COVID-19 as a bio weapon based on SARS CoV?'
My conclusion is this book is not an evidence of premeditation because..
- The content of the book and the intention of the author is different from what was claimed by the news article.
- This book received little academic attention and mixed domestic review, thus making it unlikely to be an evidence of premeditation for a large scale biowarfare operation that would involve the entire nation.
- The organization whose executive made the claim of premeditation is known to be politically biased.
Point 1: The content of the book and the intention of the author is different from what was claimed by the news article.
The original claim seems to suggest that this is a research paper about how China can utilize the potential of CoV to engineer bio weapons.
Quote the claim:
“I think this is significant because it clearly shows that Chinese
scientists were thinking about military application for different
strains of the coronavirus and thinking about how it could be
deployed,” said Jennings.
I don't think it is the case. After researching into this book, I personally think it is written to support the author's view that CoV is the result of the military application of bio-warfare by foreign force, not exploring its implementation by domestic government. Multiple other domestic reviewers also share the same opinion after reading the book. (More details in section two)
No need to find a cyber security expert to verify its existence, you just need a helpful Chinese friend :)
The book in full is available here:
The author's name is 徐德忠, and the book's name is 非典非自然起源和人制人新种病毒基因武器.
According to Baidu Baike (basically Baidu's wikipedia), this is the summary of the book:
Translation from me, a layman:
At first, this book explained the phases in the spread of an infectious disease and why disease result from genetic weapon could appear. Then it goes through the definition of biological weapon, molecular evolution and phylogenetics; of modern genetic weapon (artificial pathogen and pathological gene) and their implementation. Elaborate why SARS is no longer present in the nature and the general population. The author then presented the evidence supporting theory of unnatural origin of SARS including spreading characteristics and clinical characteristics . It further explored the CoV's reverse evolution and its unnatural origin.
At last, through various references, the author not only outlined the international attitude and opinion on the theory of SARS being artificial, but also rebutted the incorrect academic opinion of a certain international journal on how the Chinese rufous horseshoe bat is the natural host of SARS-CoV. This book also includes the reprint of 'the abnormal spread of H7N9 and its possible artificial origin'. The reprint systematically explained the limited evidence on the abnormal epidemiology of H7N9 and the virology of its pathogen molecule.
Instance evidence or deduction presented in the chapters may be reused at times for different purpose, illustrating different academic standard. While emphasizing the importance (of evidence and deduction) and create a vivid impression on the reader, they also serve to highlight the central topic to make it easier for the reader to understand.
In the aftermath of SARS, there were speculations within China about how the SARS was a genetic weapon made by the US specifically targeting the Asian genetic features. The supporter of this theory (often layman themselves) often cited the statistics of CoV infection rate in Eastern Asian vs Caucasians.
Wikipedia on this...
This book was mentioned in the above Wikipedia page in Chinese:
In 2015, the famous military medical researcher Xu Dezhong and Li Feng published '非典非自然起源和人制人新种病毒基因武器', further iterated the idea of SARS being artificial and how certain characteristic gene cannot be natural in origin.
Point 2: This book received little academic attention and mixed domestic review, thus making it unlikely to be an evidence of premeditation for a large scale biowarfare operation that would involve the entire nation.
The original claim seems to suggest this book is some high profile study that is secretive and important, made by top scientists.
Quote from the claim
A'leaked' document allegedly written by Chinese scientists and health
officials in 2015 discussed the weaponization of SARS coronavirus...
"It emerged in the last few years ... they (China) will almost
certainly try to remove it now it's been covered."
I argue that it was neither 'leaked' nor secretive, one google search can find the entire copy of the book in PDF. One Baidu search (within China's firewall) can also get you links to Baidu cloud drive containing the whole book. The book is written by a epidemiologist professor who is at the end of his career due to old age against both domestic and international academic consensus with very opinionated views. The book only involves 16 people in total, everyone's name, title and background are clearly listed on page 4 with no effort made to hide anything. Some of which are university lecturer and professor.
Here are two reviews of the book: (in Chinese)
https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/347890903 (written on 2021-01-29)
https://user.guancha.cn/main/content?id=233285 (written on 2020-01-29)
Both reviews pointed out to the 'certain foreign country' in suspect being the US.
The second review contains the following:
...The author wanted to convey to the reader that the world is not as peaceful as we may like to think. Certain nations with malicious intention could breach the medical ethic principle and produce weapons that we cannot defend against.
But Professor Xu is an epidemiologist and not an virologist after all. This book only voiced points of suspicion and not technical facts that are enough to definitively prove those suspicions. It is like an open ended movie for the readers to interpret.
This book was written 10 years after SARS has ceased. The academic society has since reached a consensus on the origin of SARS. Professor Xu is already 70, he is at the end of his career. His militant ideas are unlikely to be accepted by the domestic and international academic society. This book was pretty much written and published by Professor Xu alone. As it deviates a lot from the common consensus, it saw little impact.
The above review is fairly gentle on its criticism. However, it is not the case here:
https://book.douban.com/subject/31716230/comments/ (Douban is a Chinese review site for books, tv series, movies etc...)
This book was rated 6.8/10 over 37 ratings.
Some readers voiced disapproval over how the author seemed to be quite opinionated and mixed his personal sentiment with facts to suggest that a certain country is behind it all. (帝国主义亡我心不死, the imperialist (basically the US) always wants to eradicate us), some criticized the handling and presentation of data and logic. But there are also some think the author may be correct.
The review with the highest thumb up thinks the professor's suspicion is reasonable. (TOO LONG TO TRANSLATE :( )
The review with the second highest thumb up:
As a military doctor, it's reasonable for the author to be on alert over potential threat. It is perfectly understandable to hold reasonable skepticism. However, could the author be more objective? If there isn't enough evidence to support one's theory, one should take extra steps to avoid using one's career experience and personal sentiment to blur the picture. Shi Zhenli's team from the Wuhan Virology Research Center already traced the origin of CoV to the bats from the caves of Yunnan in 2017, after this book was published.
Point 3: The organization whose executive made the claim of premeditation is known to be politically biased.
The article OP linked heavily quoted the executive of ASPI, Peter Jennings. After making a little research into ASPI, it seems ASPI hold a very anti-China stance and receive partial fund from foreign government.
https://www.aspi.org.au/about-aspi/funding (contains 17% undisclosed overseas government agency funding)
(Here it is alleged that ASPI receives $450,000 from the US State Department, although ASPI dispute that it only receives half as much from the US government. AFR is apparently slightly right biased according to media bias check)
In the same report, it is written that:
But ASPI, which is funded by the Department of Defence, foreign
governments and military contractors, has also been accused of
fomenting anti-China hysteria, to the alleged benefit of its
Former NSW premier Bob Carr has accused it of pumping out a
“one-sided, pro-American view of the world”. Veteran foreign editor
Tony Walker has slammed its "dystopian worldview" which "leaves little
room for viewing China as a potential partner". "It lacks integrity
and brings shame to Australia," says retired former DFAT chief and
ex-Qantas CEO John Menadue. “I see it as very much the architect of
the China threat theory in Australia”, adds ex-ambassador to China
turned Beijing-based business consultant Geoff Raby.
By the above points, I believe the original claim doesn't stand because it is based on shaky evidence and biased opinion.