Chinese scholar urges MIT to ‘show spine’ in front of FBI
Published: Jan 15, 2021 02:24 PM

Photo: Screen shot from MIT website

"The arrest of Dr. Gang Chen on January 13, 2021, by the Boston FBI is nothing but thinly veiled racism," Rao Yi, a Chinese neurobiologist, said in opposition to the arrest of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor Chen Gang, who was charged with "hiding" work he did "for the Chinese government" while he was also receiving money from the US government for nanotechnology. 

If MIT does not support Dr. Gang Chen, "MIT will be implicated in one of the worst cases of academic racism in the 21st century," Rao wrote in an open letter to the President of MIT and Vice President of Research at MIT.

Chen, 56, was born in China but is a naturalized US citizen. He was charged with wire fraud, failing to file a foreign bank account report and making a false statement on his tax returns. The top prosecutor in Boston said Dr. Chen appeared to have acted out of loyalty to China, US media reported. 

The incident sparked heated discussions among Chinese and American scholars. Rao, the incumbent president of Capital Medical University who renounced his US citizenship in 2009 after returning to China from the US, released his open letter on Friday.

"Some US departments should show professionalism when dealing with cases; stop political manipulation and defaming China's talents plans," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in response to Chen's arrest.

Rao wrote in his letter that Chen is a highly respected scientist at MIT and his associations with China are "very normal in academia."

Rao wrote that Chen's associations with the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) were known to the MIT President and Vice President. Officials of Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, where SUSTech is located, visited MIT and met with MIT leaders, and Chen signed an agreement with the Chinese university on behalf of MIT. Chen did not represent himself and there are no secrets on this issue. 

The FBI's charges include Chen failing to disclose to the Department of Energy his connections with China, including his identity as an advisor to SUSTech, review expert for the National Natural Science Foundation of China, expert for the Zhongguanchun Development Group, advisor to the China Scholar Councilor and a "4th Overseas Expert Consultant" to the Chinese government.

"This is a ridiculous charge…. if Dr. Chen had a project funded by both a US agency and another US or Chinese agency, he should have disclosed it. But none of the five associations are related to Dr. Chen's research funds, so of course he should not list them on his grant proposals," Rao wrote. 

Reviewing grants from other countries is a regular activity. If failure to report the reviewing for the Chinese association is a crime, then almost all MIT professors could be charged with reviewing for funding agencies of Israeli, Italian, or British governments. Singling out a science foundation of China as a government agency is simply racism as all major governments have science foundations, Rao wrote. 

"The root of the problem is, of course, known to all of us: Trumpism has fundamentally eroded morality in the US. Much has to be done for the US to recover from Trumpism. The entire world has witnessed how few US politicians have spines, in front of Trump and his lies," the scientist wrote. 

"We certainly hope that MIT, a beacon of academic excellence and freedom, will hold its head high and show its spine in front of a racist Boston FBI and its agents in defending Dr. Chen. This is for Dr. Chen, but it is also, if not more, for MIT." 

MIT confirmed Chen's arrest on Thursday and said, "for all of us who know Gang, this news is surprising, deeply distressing and hard to understand." 

Global Times