Source: China Daily Published: 2019-6-5
President Donald Trump's protectionist trade conflict with Beijing has recently spilled over into academia with the dismissal and even detention of scientists with Chinese links who have long worked and studied in the United States.
In the latest case, Indian-born Turab Lookman, a physicist who formerly worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, was indicted last month for allegedly having lied about his links to China's Thousand Talents Program.
Lookman, who was initially taken into custody, denies the charges, which the US Science magazine described as part of a crackdown on researchers who receive US government funds and allegedly fail to disclose ties to China.
Earlier in May, a husband and wife team of neuroscientists, Li Xiaojiang and Li Shihua, were dismissed from their posts at Emory University in Georgia, despite their insistence that they had disclosed their links with China.
The couple are US citizens and had worked at Emory for 23 years. Their lab, which works on Huntington disease, was also shut down and four post-doctoral students working there were ordered to return to China.
These and other related cases have caused concern, not only among Chinese academics in the US but also among the institutions that have long hosted them.
The top US journal for the sector, The Chronicle of Higher Education, has said that anxiety over a so-called "Trump effect", linked to his travel bans and anti-foreigner rhetoric, could block top students and scholars from going to the US and damage the standing of its higher education.
Academic cooperation has been one of the main benefits of 40 years of improved ties between China and the US. The late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping told former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger at a Beijing banquet in 1979: "We have nothing to fear from Western education."
In the intervening years, millions of Chinese students have attended universities in the US. One in three international students in the US is now from China.
Many have stayed on to work as scientists and researchers, although in recent years the proportion of those returning home to work in China after graduation, the so-called "sea turtles", has grown to more than 80 percent.
China's Thousand Talents Program is designed both to encourage these graduates to return home as well as to attract top foreign scientific talent to go to China.
Despite fears in the US academic community of being sucked into Trump administration's conflict with Beijing, some have been forced to bow to federal government pressure.
After the administration targeted Chinese-funded Confucious Institutes as hotbeds of Chinese espionage and propaganda, Congress banned those institutes from using US federal funds for Chinese-language training.There are around 100 Confucious Institutes on US campuses and some universities have already decided to close them, rather than lose federal funds.
US university administrators have also complained about being swamped by demands from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to provide information about NIH-funded faculty members who it believes have not disclosed links to foreign governments. According to Science magazine, the universities worry that this process could cast a chill over all types of international scientific collaboration.
In a parallel crackdown, Chinese scientists are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain long-term US travel visas to work in the US, and even short-term visas to attend conferences or visit universities with which they collaborate.
The New York Times reported in April that as many as 30 Chinese professors regarded as experts in China-US relations, had their visas to the US cancelled in the past year, or put on administrative review.
Some scholars suspect that the crackdown has less to do with allegations of industrial espionage and unfair competition, as often expressed by the Trump administration, than with a strategy of reducing US dependence on trade with China, a central feature of the president's trade war.
One scholar who had his visa cancelled, Wang Wen, executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, told China's Global Times: "It is normal for China and the US to have competition and cooperation, and everyone just plays by the rules. Now, the US is beginning to feel anxious about the influence of Chinese scholars and they have decided not to play by the rules and cancel their visas."
While no one would challenge the right of governments to show vigilance in protecting the security of their populations, the emerging US crackdown in the academic sector appears to go beyond such legitimate concerns.
Scientific advances almost always come via international cooperation – for example, scientists from 100 nations use the facilities of the European Organization for Nuclear Research,known as CERN.
At a time when the planet faces challenges that only science can confront – climate change, food security, disease control – it is surely an opportunity for more collaboration between international scholars, rather than less.
Wang Wen, executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.