The Problem That Is Affecting Chinese American Researchers

In a recent article titled The U.S. Is Purging Chinese Cancer Researchers From Top Institutions published by Bloomberg, Peter Waldman writes about the seemingly direct prejudice towards Chinese American Researchers. In January, Wu, an award-winning epidemiologist and naturalized American citizen, quietly stepped down as director of the Center for Public Health and Translational Genomics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center after a three-month investigation into her professional ties in China. The FBI started its investigations of Wu and four other researchers for possible espionage, although MD Anderson states they never reported any theft of intellectual property.  

Waldman writes, “In recent decades, cancer research has become increasingly globalized, with scientists around the world pooling data and ideas to jointly study a disease that kills almost 10 million people a year. International collaborations are an intrinsic part of the U.S. National Cancer Institute’s Moonshot program, the government’s $1 billion blitz to double the pace of treatment discoveries by 2022.”

Xiaoxing Xi, a Temple University physicist, was participating in academic collaboration, which many agencies encourage. He was greeted by a knock on his door with FBI who, at gunpoint, arrested him in front of his family. This life-altering altercation has left psychological pains that Xi states still affect him today. 

Andrew Kim, a visiting scholar at South Texas College of Law, wrote about unwarranted spy crimes and the risen disparity among Chinese Americans. The rate of Asian unwarranted arrests increased from 17% in 1997 to 52% in 2015. “In the same way racial profiling of African Americans as criminals may create the crime of ‘driving while black,’ ” wrote Kim, “profiling of Asian Americans as spies … may be creating a new crime: ‘researching while Asian.’ ”

Representatives from the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office were greeted with about 150 Chinese scientists and engineers in March, who gathered in Chicago to discuss “The New Reality Facing Chinese Americans.” The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office state that prejudice is not a factor when starting their investigations. Nancy Chen closed the meeting by referring to the U.S. history of laws and executive orders aimed at the Asian population, drawing a parable to the rounding up of Japanese American citizens during WWII. 

“To friends and many colleagues, Wu’s case represents overkill. There was no evidence, and no accusation, that she’d given China any proprietary information, whatever that term might mean in cancer epidemiology. She should have been given the chance to correct her disclosures without punishment, her supporters say,” writes Waldman. 

The Baylor College of Medicine also received inquiries about four of its faculty members. It chose not to punish anyone, but to take the opportunity to further educate its faculty members about lapses in past disclosures, and rigorous security enforcement moving forward. Waldman closes by asking us this, “After attending several FBI briefings on the China threat…It can take two decades from discovery of a promising molecule to approval of a chemotherapy drug. Even then, progress in cancer treatment is measured in months of life, seldom in years. How much basic cancer research could China really steal?”

To read more about this topic, read the article here.