US lawmakers probe Tsinghua-Berkeley research institute

Top House Republicans warn that joint venture appears to be giving military advantages to rival nation

July 18, 2023
Berkeley Lab shuttle bus
Source: iStock

US congressional Republicans have opened an investigation into the University of California, Berkeley’s research relationship with a top Chinese university, suggesting it poses a national security threat.

The Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute gives the Chinese government “easy access to Berkeley research and expertise, which the PRC can then use to its economic, technological and military advantage”, the lawmakers said.

The probe was announced by the Republicans leading two House committees – one responsible for education and another created to investigate Chinese government activities.

It’s part of a running series of efforts by Republicans – revived in the past two years by the party regaining majority control of the House of Representatives – to cast broad doubt on the wisdom of US research ties with China.

A similar campaign during the Trump administration was widely condemned across US higher education and beyond as creating political and legal uncertainties that harmed US interests overall by scaring away beneficial ties to China and its scientific community.

In the case of the Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute, Berkeley, a top-ranked US public institution, and Tsinghua University, a top Chinese campus, have been working together since 2014 to push forward research involving information technology and data science.

Berkeley said it took national security concerns seriously, but suggested that Republican fears were misplaced in the case of the Shenzhen Institute – or TBSI – since its partnerships were limited to unclassified work.

“UC-Berkeley conducts fundamental research,” said a university spokesman. “Fundamental research is defined as basic and applied research in science and engineering where the resulting information is shared openly and broadly among the worldwide scientific community. As a public university, we make information on all discoveries and advances publicly available.”

The congressional Republicans offered no evidence of specific damage attributable to the Shenzhen Institute, but cited some institute projects that appeared to have military value, and argued that the institute’s research agenda appeared to match the Chinese government’s military-related research priorities.

“While TBSI is billed as a joint technology venture among educational institutions, in practice it appears to be a programme through which the PRC pays for access to research and expertise from Berkeley experts, researchers and students,” the lawmakers said.

The congressional Republicans also repeated the party’s suggestions in previous cases that such global activities could violate a long-standing requirement in federal law for US universities to fully disclose their financial ties to foreign partners.

The committee leaders gave University of California a list of some two dozen questions to be answered within two weeks, including an extensive demand for any internal records regarding the Shenzhen Institute. Berkeley planned to respond, the university spokesman said.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles