The US Government is currently investigating Chinese American researchers in a variety of fields who get funding from Chinese institutions. This Washington Post article, “Scrutiny of Chinese American scientists raises fears of ethnic profiling”, raises the perspective of some Chinese American scholars, who feel afraid of government pressure.
The truth is complicated. The Chinese Government has systematically engaged in massive intellectual property theft from US academic and business sources for decades. No one who has seriously looked at this issue disputes this fact. At the same time, the Chinese Government has also hacked their way into many US Government data sources, including the well-publicized hack of sensitive personnel records. In recent years, China has acted more aggressively to claim territory in the South China Sea and militarized that ocean area. US and Chinese forces now play cat and mouse in the way that the US has with the Russians for decades. Recently, trade tensions have taken center stage as the source of tension between the two nations.
The Chinese are offering many Chinese born US scholars the opportunity for massive funding in exchange for spending time in China and share their research findings in China. The US Government is taking a close look at those scholars who do so. Why?
The current US research university system is massively subsidized by the Federal Government, especially the National Institutes of Health, the Departments of Energy and Defense and the National Science Foundation. These agencies provide well over a hundred billion dollars to US researchers and universities. Congress and taxpayers tolerate this level of taxpayer support because of a few reasons. One of the principal reasons is that it keeps the US as the leader in many scientific areas.
Funding of research at a massive level began during World War II and continued through the Cold War. After the war was over, many citizens understood that radar and the atom bomb helped win the Second World War, and Congress believed that continued investment would yield more advances, not just in weapons but in a variety of areas. American funding meant that, when necessary, we could limit the dissemination of research with military application.
There is a tension between the culture of science, largely one of international collaboration and open publishing of results with the safeguarding of national interests, but it has been one that American researchers have mostly been comfortable with.
There is a serious concern that Chinese efforts to fund some US researchers are part of a Chinese effort to reap the benefits of US investment and as part of a broader effort to obtain sensitive information.
Researchers must be careful in responding accurately and carefully to the government or university investigators. These investigations are handled quite seriously and researchers face potential criminal sanctions, not merely career sanctions, for failing to be sufficiently careful. Lawyers who work for the university do not represent particular professors. They protect the university. NachtLaw has experience in advising academic researchers how to cooperate with investigations. David Nacht has prior experience as a Senate staff aide who worked on investigations. He has great familiarity with federal criminal investigations as well as an extensive background in advising professors on a variety of legal issues relating to their research and careers.
This is not an area in which researchers should try to figure it out on their own. The stakes for a researcher are high, and we believe these investigations will continue as tensions increase between the two countries.
Read in The Washington Post article here: