Source: CGTN Published: 2019-4-3
Amid growing suspicion in the United States of Chinese scientists and students, a community of Chinese-American scientists is pushing back.
Three prominent scientific organizations recently published a letter in the March 22 issue of Science, one of the world's top academic journals.
What's the letter about?
The Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America, the Chinese American Hematologist and Oncologist Network, and the Chinese Biological Investigators Society expressed concern that American rhetoric and policies may lead to the racial profiling of Chinese academics.
They say it has spawned fear and frustration, which may undermine their research and harm science.
The scientists were referring to FBI director Christopher Wray's February 12 comment that Chinese students and scholars pose counterintelligence risk to U.S. national security in "almost every field office that the FBI has around the country” and “across basically every discipline."
Professor Ian Reifowitz from SUNY Empire State College commented that the U.S. authorities should be calling attention to something without creating a climate of fear and racial profiling.
He thinks the scientists are right to be concerned about because it can go so far as students being treated unfairly.
Han Hua, a fellow at Chongyang Institute under Renmin University of China, argues that U.S. authorities need to find the real evidence supporting FBI's accusations.
"In the past, there were some accusations against the Chinese-American scientists, but all the cases were either dropped or resolved with devastating (effects on the) careers of those Chinese American scientists. I don't want this to be happening again."
Particularly in biomedical research, an area in which Chinese-American scientists work, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest biomedical research agency in the world, published a report in December 2018 on foreign influences on research integrity.
The report highlights China's Thousand Talents Plan – a state-sponsored program for recruiting and sponsoring skilled scientists.
In response to the letter also published in Science, the NIH acknowledged instances of prejudicial actions. But it also reiterated its warning last year that some foreign governments are trying to influence scientific research in the U.S. and several researchers have failed to disclose receiving financial support from foreign entities.
The NIS director says the concerns apply to all foreign scientists, not just those of Chinese descent.
Will U.S. rhetoric and policies 'harm science'?
There are more students from China studying in the U.S. than there are from any other country. A recent article in the American magazine Foreign Policy argues that by slamming the door on Chinese students, the U.S. could be throwing away a massive pool of talent –and not for the first time.
The piece says, "Hsue-Shen Tsien was driven out of the United States by political paranoia. Will the same happen to a new generation of Chinese talent?"
But could U.S. rhetoric and policies harm science, as the scientists have suggested?
Han Hua believes yes. As the NIH response suggested, "One critical success factor for the collaboration between the U.S. and other countries, including China, is the collaborations between the scientists. (This is) not only between the U.S. and China, but from all over the world."
She predicts that such U.S. actions would pose a long-term threat to the pure scientific research environment.
Is there a solution?
What can we do with the tension? Reifowitz argued that China and the U.S. should try to reduce tensions as the goal of achieving scientific breakthroughs is of paramount importance.
"If you could get to a place of greater transparency where you know the two sides can talk about the Thousand Talents Plan and can come to some agreement about what is permitted and what is not permitted, I think that really might help. The U.S. on its part can also be more transparent about the way it examines or investigates Chinese-American students."
Han Hua added that both sides need to ease the tensions and concerns raised by technical problems like visa extensions, creating a more agreeable environment for scientists to work together.
She concluded that the Chinese should communicate more with the U.S. counterparts in similar open letters. China can also open more communication channels to ensure fair, transparent collaboration as scientific research is critical to both countries.
Han Hua is a research fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.