500 American Scientists Compromised by China
More than 500 federally funded scientists are being investigated over purported links to China, reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Speaking to a panel of senators, NIH officials explained how they are working to thwart China’s efforts to compromise American scientists and steal intellectual property, including research on COVID-19.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working with other federal agencies and the private sector to create a more comprehensive program to limit foreign influence and protect “science awareness and bioeconomy awareness,” explained Lisa Aguirre, acting director of the agency’s office of national security.
“The individuals violating laws and policies represent a small proportion of scientists working in and with US institutions,” added Dr. Michael S. Lauer, NIH deputy director for extramural research. “We must ensure that our responses to this issue do not create a hostile environment for colleagues who are deeply dedicated to advancing human health through scientific inquiry.”
Despite our political differences, the US and China have a close relationship when it comes to science and both nations collaborate more with each other than with any other country.
Combating foreign interference is difficult primarily because universities and research institutions face no penalty when scientists misbehave. Already, the Biden Administration has removed a Trump-era policy that would have forced universities to disclose relationships with organizations backed by the Chinese government (read more here).
Universities claim they have no obligation to monitor the activities of their scientists. Lauer disagrees, explaining that universities should be “ultimately responsible” for policing researchers because federal grants are awarded to institutions, not to individuals.
“Here’s my concern: There’s no single entity that’s in charge of identifying either falsification of the applications or violations of the rules,” argues Senator Richard Burr (R-NC). “This seems to almost be a system that’s reliant on somebody to uncover information that is either false or somebody’s actions that break the rules.”
China’s campaign to corrupt, influence, and steal from American scientists is a serious threat.
In its most recent threat assessment guide, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned:
“China will remain the top threat to US technological competitiveness as the CCP targets key technology sectors and proprietary commercial and military technology from US and allied companies and research institutions associated with defense, energy, finance, and other sectors. Beijing uses a variety of tools, from public investment to espionage and theft, to advance its technological capabilities…Beijing is focusing on technologies it sees as critical to its military and economic future, including broad enabling technologies such as biotechnology, advanced computing, and artificial intelligence, as well as niche technical needs such as secure communications.”
Of the hundreds of scientists the NIH investigated last year, more than 90% either failed to disclose funding from China or aided intellectual property theft. A majority of these scientists were Asian men in their 50’s.
Culprits include researcher Song Guo Zheng. He is facing charges after lying on NIH grants totaling more than $4 million. He used the money to enhance China’s knowledge in immunology and rheumatology. Mingqing Xiao, an Illinois math professor, is another culprit. Authorities charged him with wire fraud after they discovered he concealed funding from China while accepting funds from the National Science Foundation.
Author’s Note: This trend is more than disturbing. Considering the federal government’s ongoing failure to stop China from compromising American scientists, schools, and universities, we can assume the 500 figure is a low estimate.