More Than A Dozen Researchers And Professors At US Universities Have Been Arrested For Ties To The Chinese Government

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
Font Size:

More than a dozen students, researchers, and professors at American universities have been arrested in the last year on charges related to lying about their ties with the Chinese government, often while accepting US-taxpayer-funded grants.

The Justice Department has focused much effort on investigating individuals with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) who use their positions on American campuses to benefit Beijing, often by recruiting talent or stealing intellectual property. Between 2019 and 2020, at least 14 people were arrested on related charges.

While some suspects were investigated and charged in 2019, escalating tensions with China in 2020 appeared to ramp up efforts to hold these individuals accountable.

In August, a Chinese official accused the U.S. of monitoring and harassing Chinese students and researchers at American campuses. Sanctions placed on Chinese entities —such as the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a paramilitary group which operates much of the economy in Xinjiang and allegedly orchestrated the persecution of minorities — also inflamed tension. 

“For some time, the U.S., with ideological prejudice, keeps monitoring, harassing and willfully detaining Chinese students and researchers, and making presumptions of guilt against Chinese researchers,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in early August. 

These are the individuals who work or study at colleges across the U.S. who’ve had ties to the Chinese government and have been charged with crimes related to their concealed affiliation.

Haizhou Hu: A researcher at the University of Virginia who was arrested while trying to board a plane to China with allegedly stolen research was charged with federal crimes, including theft of trade secrets, in late August 2020. Hu, a Chinese national, roused the suspicions of authorities after a routine screening at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport Aug. 25 as he was trying to board a flight to China.

Guan Lei: A Chinese national who was a researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles was charged with destroying evidence to obstruct an FBI investigation. Lei was in the U.S. on a J-1 non-immigrant visa. Lei allegedly threw a hard drive into a dumpster near his resident on July 25. The FBI recovered the hard drive after Leiwas not allowed to board a flight to China and didn’t allow the FBI to examine his computer.

Song Guo Zheng: A professor and researcher with ties to multiple American universities was arrested for hiding ties with the Chinese government and using federal funding to carry out research and recruit talent for China. Zheng was arrested in Anchorage May 22 while trying to board a flight to China. Zheng allegedly lied about his ties with China to his employers at the National Institutes of Health, and accepted taxpayer-funded grants, according to the statement. Zheng is listed as a former professor or researcher in the medical schools of multiple universities, including Penn State University and the Ohio State University. The Ohio State University confirmed to the Daily Caller that Zheng was an employee of the university at the time of his arrest and was put on unpaid leave as the university proceeds toward termination.

Dr. Xiao-Jiang Li: A former Emory University professor who pleaded guilty in May to charges of filing false tax returns after accepting at least $500,000 in Chinese government funding that he never reported on federal income tax returns. From 2012 to 2018, Li did not report at least $500,000 in foreign income while he worked at the Chinese university. Li participated in the Thousand Talents Program, a Chinese-government talent recruitment program that in some cases has resulted in violations of U.S law, including espionage, theft of trade secrets and grant fraud.

Charles Lieber: The chair of Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology was charged with aiding the Chinese government and hiding his ties while accepting millions in funding in Jan. 2020. He was indicted  in June on charges of of making false statements to federal authorities regarding his participation in China’s Thousand Talents Program. Lieber became a “Strategic Scientist” at Wuhan University of Technology (WUT) in China, which Harvard did not know about. He later became a contractual participant in China’s Thousand Talents Plan from at least 2012 through 2015, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Feng “Franklin” Tao: Tao had a contract to work full-time with a Chinese university while also conducting federally-funded research at University of Kansas, which led to an indictment in June charging Tao with seven counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements. Tao was allegedly also involved in the Thousand Talents Plan. 

Zaozong Zheng:  A Chinese national who was indicted on charges of stealing biological research and attempting to smuggle it to China, Zheng admitted he would use the stolen materials to conduct research and publish the results under his own name. This activity was all while being sponsored by Harvard and working at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Dr. Qing Wang: Wang was arrested and charged in May with false claims and wire fraud after knowingly omitting affiliations with a Chinese university and accepting $3 million in research funding from China while also accepting $3.6 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health. Wang is a former employee of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, a nonprofit academic medical center, and held the position of the Dean of the College of Life Sciences and Technology at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China. 

.⁦@DOJPH⁩ announced that Chinese Ohio professor Qing Wang arrested as part of a joint operation conducted by the FBI and the Dep. of Health and Human Service for wire fraud related to more than $3.6 million in grant funding from the Cleveland Medical

— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) May 20, 2020

James Patrick Lewis: A former West Virginia University professor who admitted to convincing the university to grant him paid leave so he could travel to China and work for a competing institution, the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Lewis received lavish benefits including a research subsidy of $573,000 (4 million Yuan), living subsidy of approximately $143,000 (1 million Yuan) and a salary of $86,000 (600,000 Yuan), according to the Justice Department in March.

Simon Saw-Teong Ang: A professor who was arrested in May and then indicted in July after failing to disclose his ties to Chinese universities and companies while accepting NASA research funding. Ang was an electrician engineering professor and researcher at the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville since 1988, according to the Justice Department.

Juan Tang: Tang was arrested in San Francisco and charged with visa fraud on June 26 before reportedly going into hiding at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco. According to court documents, Tang had lied on her non-immigrant visa application dated Oct. 28, 2019, where she claimed to be a researcher at University of California Davis (UC Davis) and reported having no ties to the military or Chinese Communist Party. FBI internet searches found photos of her in military uniform and evidence she worked for the Air Force Military Medical University, as well as an affidavit, saying she is “considered an active military personnel.”

Judge Grants Bail For Former UC Davis Researcher And Chinese Scientist Juan Tang

— CBS Sacramento CBS13 (@CBSSacramento) August 29, 2020

Anming Hu: An associate professor in the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering  at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who was charged with wire fraud and lying about his relationship with a Chinese university while accepting funding from NASA. Hu faced a federal indictment and was charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements. (RELATED: Confucius Institutes Have Been Rapidly Dissolving — Here Are The Dozens Still Left On American Campuses)

Yanqing Ye: A student at Boston University who was indicted on charges of visa fraud, making false statements, acting as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy in January. Ye is allegedly a Lieutenant of the People’s Liberation Army, China’s armed forces, and a member of the CCP. Ye hid her involvement with the PLA and CCP while at Boston University, accessing U.S. military websites and sending U.S. documents and information to China.