A Chinese public university professor has been convicted of fraud for concealing ties to China’s government thanks to a Trump initiative—recently nixed by the Biden administration—designed to crack down on the Communist nation’s pervasive theft of American-funded research. A federal jury found the University of Kansas (KU) chemistry professor, Feng Tao, guilty of three counts of wire fraud and one count of false statements for deliberately concealing that he was also employed by a government-affiliated university in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) while working on research funded by the U.S. government. The disgraced academic faces up to three decades in jail and fines of up to half a million dollars, according to a statement issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Like many of his U.S.-employed comrades, Tao lied about his ties to China’s government while he conducted research for, not just a taxpayer-funded college, but also federal agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). As a full-time professor at KU Tao also held a full-time position with Fuzhou University in China that designated him as a Changjiang Scholar Distinguished Professor. The feds say he repeatedly lied in annual reports required by the Kansas Board of Regents to disclose any outside employment that could impact duties or conflict of interest. “Tao didn’t seek permission from KU before entering the agreement with Fuzhou University, didn’t notify KU about the employment, and lied to conceal the employment,” the DOJ writes, adding that “in December 2018, the defendant moved to China to work full-time at Fuzhou University, while falsely telling KU administrators that he was in Europe.” He repeatedly certified in electronic documents indicating he read and understood the federal government and KU’s polices and that he had made all necessary disclosures, federal prosecutors say.
Tao was the first professor charged and convicted under a Trump administration program, known as the China Initiative, implemented by the DOJ in 2018 to crack down on Chinese trade theft. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the initiative would identify priority Chinese trade theft cases and bring them to an appropriate conclusion quickly and effectively. “Today, we see Chinese espionage not just taking place against traditional targets like our defense and intelligence agencies, but against targets like research labs and universities, and we see Chinese propaganda disseminated on our campuses,” Sessions said in a DOJ press release announcing the China Initiative. Earlier this year the Biden DOJ announced it was getting rid of the China Initiative, though Tao had already been charged and his case was making its way through the federal court system. Concerns from the civil rights community that the China Initiative “fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias,” led the Biden administration to revoke it, according to Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olson. “To many, that narrative suggests that the Justice Department treats people from China or of Chinese descent differently,” Olsen said in the February announcement confirming the initiative would be eliminated.
The reality is that Communist China has long benefitted from American-funded research stolen by Chinese academics who infiltrate colleges throughout the United States. Many participate in the Thousand Talents Program (TTP) operated by the Chinese government to transfer original ideas, technology and intellectual property from foreign institutions, especially American colleges. TTP rewards Chinese scientists for stealing propriety information, usually funded by Uncle Sam. Billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded research has been stolen by China through academics who work at public universities throughout the country or at government agencies such as the NSF, DOE, and National Institutes of Health (NIH). For decades many of the institutions have been deeply impacted by Chinese infiltrators stealing highly valuable intellectual property. A U.S. Senate investigation determined that, not only has American-funded research long been stolen by China, the work is helping the Communist nation meet its goal of becoming a world leader in science and technology.
Besides launching the China Initiative, the Trump administration addressed the problem by having the NIH fire dozens of scientists over their secret financial ties to Communist China. It is not clear how long they went undetected or how much taxpayer-funded research they stole, but some 54 scientists got booted for failing to disclose a troubling financial arrangement with a foreign government. In the overwhelming majority of cases—93%—the cash came from China, according to an NIH investigation that spanned several years.