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China’s powerful State Council is calling on research institutions to expand and improve their ethics training. The directive, one of several detailed in a comprehensive ethics statement, is intended to address gaps in oversight exposed when Chinese researcher He Jiankui shocked the world by creating the first babies with edited genomes in 2018.

Researchers have mostly welcomed the statement, which was released with the central committee of the Chinese Communist Party last month. They say it sends the strongest warning yet to scientists who might consider carrying out research that violates ethical norms, such as genome editing of human embryos. But some have also questioned how effective the document will be at preventing such practices.

The document is typical of many official statements — “full of very lofty principles and phrases and statements, but often kind of vague words,” says Jing-Bao Nie, a bioethicist at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. The challenge for China has not been in coming up with new rules, but a... see more