Bill Gates Unveils $50 Million Partnership With Chinese University That Conducts Military Research

Funding comes despite the federal government's concern about China's scientific research integrity

Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and then-Chinese premier Li Keqiang in 2017 (Thomas Peter/AFP via Getty Images)
June 16, 2023

Liberal billionaire Bill Gates on Thursday announced a $50 million collaboration with a notorious Chinese Communist Party-controlled university that conducts research for the nation's military.

Gates unveiled the partnership during a speech in Beijing, which the government-run propaganda outlet Global Times quickly covered thanks to a transcript Gates shared with the rag. The $50 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will fund a research partnership with Tsinghua University, which holds "secret-level security credentials" for classified military research, trains students for China's nuclear weapons program, and has allegedly carried out cyberattacks for the Chinese government, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The university, from which Chinese president Xi Jinping graduated in 2002 with a degree in Marxist theory, is also funded by China's Ministry of Education and maintains a "CCP Committee" that keeps the school "in accordance with President Xi's hopes."

Gates's partnership with Tsinghua is aimed at carrying out drug discovery research, which involves studying potent viruses. The billionaire's willingness to work with a Chinese government-led entity to conduct such research, however, comes as scientific research integrity in the communist nation emerges as a point of concern for the U.S. government. The U.S. National Institutes of Health in 2019 launched a $300,000 grant to "strengthen research integrity" at China's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and two major Chinese research institutions, citing troubling instances of "research misconduct," "inadequate ethical review," and "publication fraud." Those problems, the agency said, "have had a negative impact on Chinese scientists and their U.S. collaborators" and "highlighted China's underdeveloped research ethics capacity and infrastructure."

Congress has since moved to halt public funding to labs in China through its 2024 defense funding bill, which the House Appropriations Committee passed Thursday. As a nonprofit entity, Gates's foundation would not be subject to the policy.

The Gates Foundation will disburse its $50 million contribution over five years. The Beijing municipal government will also match the donation "in order to bolster the institute's drug discovery capacity," a Gates Foundation press release said Thursday. Tsinghua University, the release continued, will support the endeavor by "building and sharing research platforms, translating research discovery, and developing talent."

Beyond the university's military ties, the school is under the supervision of China's State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense, a Chinese Communist Party entity that works to connect the nation's academics with its defense sector.

This is far from the first time that Gates, who during his trip to China this week called Chinese scientists "invaluable" to public health innovation, has funneled money to Chinese government agencies and military-tied universities. The billionaire's foundation in 2021 sent nearly $30 million to Chinese organizations, including millions to the nation's National Health Commission, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, and Tsinghua.

Gates while in China visited with Xi, marking the first meeting the Chinese president has held with a foreign private entrepreneur in recent years, according to Reuters. Around the time of the meeting, investigative journalists Michael Shellenberger, Matt Taibbi, and Alex Gutentag reported that the first people infected by the COVID-19 virus, known as "patients zero," were researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Multiple government agencies believe that the virus came from that lab, despite Dr. Anthony Fauci's efforts to dismiss the theory.

The Gates Foundation did not return a request for comment.