First They Came For The…… Chinese-American Scientists in the US..
[Thursday, September 19, 2019]
For the last two years, American scientists of Chinese descent have been the target of intense Federal investigations of their research and information sharing activities, with little tangible protest from the scientific community at large. The nationwide investigations have been done in the name of national security which implies defense related research but has expanded to all areas of business including medical research and information technology. Although the investigations did not explicitly name China, almost all the affected scientists have so far been of Chinese ethnicity. Government agencies such as NIH, National Science Foundation, and Department of Energy has made new policies prohibiting their employee and grant recipients to interact with China-based organizations, and even entertain job offers from China. The restriction of grant recipients practically prohibits all scientists at the US academic centers from working with their Chinese counterparts. The US embassy in China has been increasingly denying visitor visas to Chinese nationals even to attend conferences in the US. The federal investigations have led to several scientists of Chinese origin losing jobs, being harassed and denied opportunities. Many of these scientists are US citizens. It is true that China has maintained a very aggressive pursuit of scientists trained in the Western countries to enrich its research, and that China has frequently exploited loopholes in the US laws to openly court scientists with specific knowhow and committing unethical activities bordering illegal, but the targeting of all US scientists of Chinese ethnicity by the US government is an overkill. More importantly, these activities do nothing to punish China for its unethical activities but punishes individuals for their ethnic origins. Not focusing on the few illegal actors but casting a wide net, creates fear in the community, and the feeling of isolation and disrespect. And for the rest of the scientific community to offer only a lip service of sympathy and fairness creates a generation of mistrust. For decades in the past, brain-drain from Asia to the US plagued Asian countries such as China and India losing their best trained talent to US companies, and that paid extensive dividends to the US science. It is mostly seen hypocritic of the US government in China and India when the US implements protectionist policies to buck the reverse brain-drain back to these countries. It is important that the rest of the scientific community express to their peers of Chinese descent that they are equal part of the US research community and that the seemingly racist and draconian restrictions by the current US administration do not represent interests or the values of the US scientific community. Today, it is China, next could be India, South America and so on. Let’s not wait till “they” come for us. In the times of a closely connected World, there is need for not only fair and balanced approaches to enforcement but also perceptions of the same as perceptions linger for much longer than reality.