The arrest and criminal charges of MIT professor Chen Gang last Thursday (14) after he concealed the fact that he was working for China while working on nanotechnology funded by the U.S. Department of Energy has sent shockwaves through the Chinese community.
What do you think of Chen Gang’s arrest in Boston? This question has 355 responses on the Zhihu discussion board, with some responses receiving thousands of likes.
People said on the discussion board that MIT Professor Chen Gang, who is “academically comparable to Qian Xuesen”, “should be the ultimate scholar who came to the U.S. in the 1960s”, a titan in the thermal physics industry, “an absolute benchmark figure He was a leading figure in the thermal physics industry, “an absolute benchmark figure”, and “did often go to China to participate in some academic exchange activities”. “It is very likely that it is also because of Chen Gang that the Chinese are well developed in the field of heat transfer, one of the few fields where they have a voice.”
Summarizing the various discussions, represented by biologist Rao Yi’s “Letter to MIT President and Vice Chancellor,” he raises several challenges: (1) Chen Gang’s contract with Shenzhen‘s Southern University of Science and Technology was signed on behalf of MIT, not on his own behalf. (2) Chen’s five relationships with China: advisor to SUSTech; reviewer for China’s National Natural Science Foundation; strategic scientist for Zhongguancun Development Group; advisor to the China International Students Foundation; and advisor to China’s fourth overseas expert, “are not related to Dr. Chen’s research funding” and therefore do not need to be disclosed to the institution that awarded the research funding. (3) Four of these relationships “may at best add up to only half a day a year of his Time, and the institutions with which he has those relationships are merely using his name so that they can report to their superiors that they ‘consulted’ the international consultant.”
In a nutshell, Rao Yi’s view was that “Chen Gang’s relationship with China is a very normal relationship in academia,” and therefore accused the FBI of “racist behavior” in arresting Chen Gang. Most people also expressed disbelief at the arrest, saying that the “research funding from the U.S. Department of Energy was not given to Chen Gang personally, so there was no personal pocket.”
Individuals disagreed with Rao Yi, arguing that the core of the accusation, that Chen Gang was applying for DOE project funding, was not mentioned in various reports that he was also applying for funding for other Chinese projects, and claimed that there were no foreign collaborators and that all activities were conducted in the United States. However, when the results were finally published, the acknowledgements in his articles with several Chinese researchers from “Huazhong University of Science and Technology” thanked both the U.S. Department of Energy and the Chinese funders. The prosecution argues that if Chen had disclosed this information in the first place, the DOE’s approval of the grant could have been changed.
“Isn’t this just a ‘thinly veiled’ case related to a grant application? ⋯⋯…This kind of inadvertent mistake is rare in the industry.” The unnamed anonymous user of the discussion forum said he felt “a little bit of that” from Professor Rao Yi’s letter.
In a further spark of discussion, the federal prosecutor’s statement mentioned that Chen Gang had sent an email from his MIT email account in February 2016, making a number of suggestions about China’s science and technology development, such as, “The 18th National Congress put science and technology innovation at the center. We achieve not only independent innovation, but also planning and promotion through internationalization.”
Some people were very puzzled by the U.S. prosecution, saying, “To offer some guidance and be persecuted for that?” But others said, “Notice his wording, it’s always we, we, obviously an American (naturalized American), would he identify himself as a Chinese? In short, it’s not good for the academic community.” Another person said, “From the emails, it seems that Professor Chen is sincere about his country. Here our refers to China. This is, of course, the U.S. version of ‘cracking down on two-faced people’, from top to bottom, from left to right, to peel the onion layer by layer to cut you comprehensively.”
China and the U.S. have different standards on academic freedom
According to World Journal, a joint letter requesting the House Civil Rights Committee to hold hearings on the Department of Justice and other agencies that have launched investigations and misleading allegations against Asian and Chinese scientists has been circulated in the social media in the evening of the 18th. In addition, national and local associations, and academics who are concerned about the Chen Gang case are already circulating in tandem.
In fact, in recent years, the U.S. government has been investigating whether the CCP’s “Thousand Talents Program” to recruit high-level overseas talents involves illegal technology transfer and poses a threat to U.S. national interests. The journal Science revealed last June that at least 54 scientists who received funding from the National Institutes of health (NIH) had resigned or been fired for failing to disclose their ties to foreign governments, particularly the Chinese government.
Following Chen’s arrest, FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph R. Bonavolonta noted at a press conference that the Chinese Communist government has completely different standards of academic integrity and freedom than the United States.
Bonavolonta said Chen has been “generous at the expense of the United States” in promoting Chinese science and technology since 2012, using the U.S. system to enhance Chinese research in nanotechnology and working with the Communist government in various capacities in exchange for financial compensation. He said it is believed through an extensive document review that Chen Gang received at least $335,000 (from the Chinese Communist government) for his services and expertise, but never disclosed the money to MIT or the federal government, nor did he report to the IRS that he had a balance of at least $25,000 in a bank account in China.
Chen Gang even advised some students to participate in various Chinese talent programs, Bonavolonta said. While serving as an advisor to the China Scholarship Committee, he recommended several students for the Chinese Government’s Foreign Student Excellence Award.
“The FBI is doing everything it can to protect America’s important and innovative technologies,” Bonavolonta said, adding that in order to confront the threat of illegal activities from the Chinese Communist Party, the FBI is now at the point of opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours. China-related. “What needs to be made clear is that the Chinese Communist government is not following the same rules of academic integrity and freedom that we follow.”
MIT issued a statement the day after Chen Gang’s arrest, saying, “MIT believes that the integrity of academic research is a matter of basic ethics, and we are deeply concerned about the undue influence on research in the United States. Professor Chen Gang is a highly respected and senior member of the academic community. mIT is deeply saddened by his arrest.”