American professors are pushing for greater collaboration with Chinese Communist Party scientists even as experts explore the possibility that the deadly coronavirus pandemic originated in a Wuhan virology lab.
Twenty-one American and 19 Chinese professors signed on to an article for the Environmental Science and Technology journal advocating for increased collaboration between American and Chinese scientists. The journal is a publication of the American Chemical Society, one of the largest scientific societies in the world. Primarily authored by Glen Daigger of the University of Michigan and Jiuhui Qu of Tsinghua University in Beijing, the article downplays concerns about cooperation between the United States and China while pushing for tighter scientific research sharing and development. Nine of the American co-writers were educated at Chinese universities, and 18 of the journal's editors work for Beijing-backed institutions.
"Increasing geopolitical competition has generated greater mistrust between the U.S. and China, but a great deal of this mistrust results from misunderstanding," the authors wrote. "Funding agencies should also seek opportunities to fund joint global research projects in SDG [sustainable development goals] areas for the common good."
The coalition argued that a stronger partnership would benefit the whole world. "A sustainable future will simply not be possible without the engagement and leadership of the U.S. and China. Proactive efforts are urgently needed to seize this opportunity," the authors wrote.
This push for collaboration comes as the Wuhan lab, which has received funds from American taxpayers, comes under scrutiny for its connections to the coronavirus. Magnus Fiskesjö, a Cornell University professor of anthropology, called the article a tool of Chinese political propaganda, saying it serves to paper over the Chinese regime's role in hindering the international response to the coronavirus.
"This is clearly a political intervention and we have to suspect that this is a Chinese Communist Party United Front operation, where outsiders are enticed and cajoled into furthering the Chinese Communist Party's aims," Fiskesjö told the Washington Free Beacon.
Fiskesjö has voiced his concerns about the undue influence of the Chinese Communist Party on American institutions in the past and spoke out against his school's partnership with Peking University last month. He said that these types of projects are political.
"This particular initiative seems to serve the objective of trying to deflect or blunt the rising suspicions about the direct political use of science by the Chinese regime, and the increasing awareness abroad that PRC scientists simply are not independent to speak their own mind, but can only speak as representatives of the CCP regime, on pain of damaging their careers, or worse," Fiskesjö said.
Daigger, one of the lead writers of the article, is an engineering professor at Michigan. When asked about problems posed by joint ventures with China, he criticized America's "racism" and "climate change denial." He argued that international collaboration helps the United States.
"Of course I am concerned about these issues. Just as I am concerned about systematic racism, climate change denial (or at least failure to address climate change), our failure to address our infrastructure needs, and the challenges we have to our democracy," Daigger told the Free Beacon. "None of these factors mean that good-hearted people should not work collaboratively to help create a better world. … We, of course, focus on collaboration on progress to achieve the sustainable development goals, which represent global agreement on directions that will enhance human and environmental well-being."
Some academics express concerns about the trustworthiness of China's government. Chance Layton, a spokesman for the National Association of Scholars, said that international collaboration is especially questionable with China. He noted that funding for joint collaboration projects is often undisclosed.
"Unfortunately, cooperation with China has had its drawbacks. Research and technology theft is a major issue. Additionally, these working arrangements must be above board," Layton told the Free Beacon. "These arrangements have become increasingly tedious because of bad faith actors who fail to disclose their ties to militaries, intelligence agencies, and other sources of funding."
In the past, partnership has not necessarily led to transparency. U.S. lawmakers and watchdog groups are still seeking information on the Wuhan Insitute of Virology, which was given at least $600,000 from the National Institutes of Health. Though the lab was the beneficiary of U.S. tax dollars, it has been evasive about its ties to the coronavirus outbreak.