The headline reads The US is purging Chinese cancer researchers from top institution. Another declares FBI and NIH demonize Chinese researchers as as Trump-inspired paranoia spreads across America.
The articles from Bloomberg Businessweek and Cleantechnica, a publication focusing on coverage of clean energy, raise some important issues about the National Institute of Health and FBI’s increase scrutiny of Chinese scientists, some of whom are American citizens, for collaborations with foreign governments.
Recently Xifeng Wu, a naturalized American citizen, stepped down as director of public health for the Center for Public Health and Translational Genomics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The resignation followed a three month investigation into her ties to China. International cooperation in research is common in science and China honored the Anderson Cancer Center in 2015 for international science cooperation.
“MD Anderson was very much an open door. The mission was ‘End cancer in Texas, America, and the world,’ ” Oliver Bogler, a former high ranking official at the Cancer Center from 2011 to 2018, said to Bloomberg Businessweek.
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That cooperation, however, caught the attention of the FBI and NIH which fears China may be stealing American know how.
” Even something that is in the fundamental research space, that’s absolutely not classified, has an intrinsic value,” says Lawrence Tabak, principal deputy director of the NIH, said to Businessweek. “This pre-patented material is the antecedent to creating intellectual property. In essence, what you’re doing is stealing other people’s ideas.”
In April, FBI director Christopher Wray put it another way.
“Put plainly, China seems determined to steal its way up the economic ladder at our expense.”
Wu currently has a complaint with the US Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission and declined an interview request from Bloomberg.
In a blog for Cleantechnica, Steve Hanley wrote:
This sort of reckless rhetoric is precisely the sort of inflammatory speech that permeated the United States during the Cold War when Russia was America’s arch enemy. It also fueled the Red Menace scare that let to the rise of Joseph McCarthy — the paranoid junior senator from Wisconsin, the Hollywood blacklist, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, and the internment of tens of thousands of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor.
Words have consequences, and Wray’s words are a direct affront to every American. He might as well emulate Tail Gunner Joe himself and strut around Washington waving pieces of paper while looking into the cameras and intoning, “I have here a list of Chinese Americans…..”
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Wu developed ties with China under the encouragement of the Cancer Center that employed her. MD Anderson president John Mendelsohn launched an initiative in the early 2000s for international cooperation. Wu has spent 27 years at MD Anderson.
From 2009 and 2015, 52% of defendants indicted under the U.S. Economic Espionage Act have been Chinese. One in five indicted between 1997 and 2015 were never found guilty-that’s almost twice the rate of non-Chinese defendants.
“Because so many have been questioned by the FBI, I’m very concerned about whether this ultimately leads to an erosion of Chinese Americans’ civil rights,” said Rep Judy Chu, (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
“In the same way racial profiling of African Americans as criminals may create the crime of ‘driving while black,’ profiling of Asian Americans as spies … may be creating a new crime: ‘researching while Asian,” wrote Andrew Kim of South Texas College of Law at Houston.
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