U.S. Attorney in Boston Andrew Lelling warned Thursday that Chinese government agents in Boston pose a national security threat, especially in the academic community.
Lelling, in a live-streamed discussion at a Washington, D.C., conference about the government’s China Initiative to confront economic malfeasance, spoke about his office’s recent indictment of a Harvard professor and two Chinese nationals and researchers accused of working with the Chinese government.
“More concerning to us, and we have leads on these kinds of cases in Boston, is agents of the Chinese government … come to the United States to exercise some ideological control over Chinese nationals who may be operating completely in good faith who are here to study, to learn in our schools or work at our institutions,” Lelling said.
Charles Lieber, the chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard, was indicted last month for allegedly lying to the feds about his ties to a Chinese university and research entity. Lieber, on administrative leave from the university, is currently free on a $1 million cash bond ahead of an unscheduled arraignment.
Zaosong Zheng, a Chinese national who was sponsored by Harvard and worked at a Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center laboratory, was allegedly captured at Bosotn Logan International Airport with stolen vials of cancer research material and is currently in custody.
Yanqing Ye, an alleged lieutenant in the People’s Liberation Army, allegedly took orders from senior officials to research the U.S. military before fleeing to China, feds say. The FBI last week released a wanted poster for Ye, who was sponsored by Boston University when she was a researcher in the U.S.
Lelling also spoke of Confucius Institutes, China-sponsored centers on college campuses that have come under scrutiny in the last year. The employees of the centers are under strict controls of what they can and cannot say about the Chinese government, the U.S. Attorney said.
“Chinese students are money makers for American universities,” Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute said. “The Chinese of course will use that leverage to get universities to respect Chinese law. No academic institution has any defense if they act surprised by this. You may have to make a choice between the Chinese money and censorship.”
Universities across the country including UMass Boston have shut down their Confucius Institutes, while Tufts University renewed its agreement with its institute last October after a review.
Lelling said universities have become allies in efforts to curb Chinese espionage actions “once we’re able to convince them this is an existing threat that impacts their campus.”
A spokesman for Harvard declined to comment and representatives for other universities did not respond to inquiries.
© 2020 the Boston Herald
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