China’s actions ‘not in accord with US values of science ethics’, report says

Keegan Elmer

Research organisations in the United States should work more closely with the intelligence community to protect against unwelcome foreign intrusions, a science advisory group has recommended amid a flurry of investigations into Chinese researchers working in the country.

The report – by the Jason group, which operates under the research firm Mitre Corporation – said that the threat of foreign influences on US research enterprises was real and that foreigners who violated the rules on disclosing their links to foreign agencies should be investigated.

However, it said it was not necessary for the government to impose any new restrictions on basic research in the name of protecting national security.

Foreign influences pose a real threat to US research enterprises, a report says. Photo: AP

The report, commissioned by the National Science Foundation (NSF), also looked at the research conditions at major organisations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and government organs like the Department of Energy.

It said the NSF should engage with US intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and encouraged it to investigate and adjudicate on cases in which researchers failed to disclose information about possible conflicts of interest.

“The actions of the Chinese government and its institutions that are not in accord with US values of science ethics have raised concerns about foreign influence in the US academic sector,” it said.

The report said that some Chinese students and scientists working in the United States might consider it acceptable to share confidential research information with their government.

In compiling the study, the researchers were given access to both classified and unclassified material from law enforcement agencies and the intelligence services.

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On the actions of the Chinese government, the report said there were “problems with respect to research transparency, lack of reciprocity in collaborations and consortiums, and reporting of commitments and potential conflicts of interest”.

Despite those concerns, the report urged the authorities to remain open to foreigners, including the Chinese, as they accounted for a significant proportion of the country’s top level science and technology students and researchers.

In 2017, more than a quarter of the 800,000 foreign students pursuing an advanced degree or postdoctoral training in the US were from China, it said.

Last month a US Senate panel issued a 100-page report on the threat of China’s recruitment programmes like the “Thousand Talents Plan”, which seeks to attract scientists with overseas training to return home, and raised concerns about researchers who failed to disclose they had taken funding from Beijing while applying for US grants.

In May, two Chinese researchers working on an NIH grant were fired by Emory University in Georgia for failing to disclose their foreign funding and ties to the Chinese government.

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