BEIJING ( Associated Press) – China on Wednesday defended its international scientific exchange programs in the wake of a Harvard University professor’s conviction for concealing his ties to a Chinese-run recruitment program.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China manages such exchanges like the US and other countries.
US agencies and officials should not “stigmatize” such programs and “do something conducive to Sino-US scientific and people-to-people exchanges and cooperation,” Zhao said.
Charles Lieber, 62, former chairman of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, pleaded not guilty to filing false tax returns, making false statements and failing to file a report for a foreign bank account in China .
Lieber’s defense attorney, Mark Mukassi, argued that prosecutors lacked evidence for the allegations, maintaining that investigators had kept no record of Lieber’s interviews prior to his arrest.
Prosecutors argued that Lieber, who was arrested in January, deliberately concealed his involvement in China’s Thousand Talent scheme to protect his career and reputation. The Chinese program is designed to recruit people with knowledge of foreign technology and intellectual property who can reveal secrets to China.
Prosecutors said Lieber denied his involvement during questioning by US officials, including the National Institutes of Health, which provided him with millions of dollars in research funding.
According to prosecutors, Lieber also hid his income from the Chinese program, which included $50,000 a month from Wuhan University of Technology, up to $158,000 in living expenses, and more than $1.5 million in grants.
In return, he said, Lieber agreed to publish the article, hold international conferences, and apply for patents on behalf of the Chinese university.
The case is one of the highest profile to come from the US Justice Department’s “China Initiative”.
An effort launched in 2018 to curb economic espionage from China has faced criticism that it harms academic research and equates to racial profiling of Chinese researchers.
Hundreds of faculty members from Stanford, Yale, Berkeley, Princeton, Temple and other major colleges have signed letters to US Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for the initiative to end.
Academics say the effort compromises the country’s competitiveness in research and technology and has had a great impact on the recruitment of foreign scholars. The letters also complain that the investigation has disproportionately targeted researchers of Chinese descent.
Lieber has been on paid administrative leave from Harvard since his arrest in January 2020.