“China Made Me Do It”

Marina Ziemnick

CounterCurrent: Week of 8/21

If you click on the homepage of the Galveston National Laboratory—a research center housed at the University of Texas Medical Branch and sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases—you’ll be greeted by a charming welcome message: “The Galveston National Laboratory (GNL) is a sophisticated high containment research facility that serves as a critically important resource in the global fight against infectious diseases.” Read a bit further and you’ll see that GNL is “internationally known” for its work on “emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19.”

What you won’t see on the website, however, is any mention of GNL’s most prominent international partner: China. In 2017, GNL signed formal agreements with three Chinese labs with the express goals of “promot[ing] the research cooperation between China and the United States for controlling infectious diseases, protecting laboratory safety and global health security,” and “strengthen[ing] the academic and talent exchanges between the parties.”

Now, if you’ve paid any attention to the debate over the past couple of years about the origins of COVID, you probably have some idea where this is going. If not, perhaps hearing the name of one of the three Chinese labs GNL partnered with will help jog your memory: the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Yes, it’s that lab—the very same one that many experts suspect may have been the original source of the COVID pandemic. As the Epoch Times reported, “The lab has denied the assertions, but Beijing has blocked international investigators’ access to data and records from the facility, thus preventing any meaningful review of the theory.”

But wait, there’s more. GNL not only agreed to partner with what would become the most infamous scientific institute of the decade—it signed a five-year agreement stating that all “documents, data, details and materials” resulting from the cooperation would be treated as confidential and that its Chinese partner was “entitled to ask the other to destroy and/or return the secret files, materials and equipments without any backups.” To top it all off, the confidentiality agreement included a clause stating that the provisions would apply even after the agreement had been terminated. In other words, GNL—an American research center funded by American taxpayers—agreed to be permanently on call to delete any files that the Chinese government decides it wants to keep to itself and away from the eyes of its American “partners.”

If you’re wondering how such a provision could possibly be legal, the answer is it’s not. Because GNL is part of the Texas university system and receives both state and federal funding, the lab is required to abide by state and federal laws that govern the preservation of internal records and outline the narrow instances in which public records can be destroyed. Believe it or not, “the Chinese government made me do it” is not a legal justification for the destruction of public records.

In a statement to the Epoch Times earlier this month, GNL claimed that the inclusion of the memory hole provision was simply due to an “oversight”: “The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) takes responsibility for the oversight in allowing memorandums of understanding (MOUs) to include a poorly drafted confidentiality provision in potential conflict with applicable state laws.” GNL further stated that it had “immediately terminated” the agreement, alongside any others that contained the provision. Of course, that doesn’t actually solve the problem, since the provision applies even after the end of the agreement. Your move, America.

The memory hole provision makes China’s infiltration of GNL especially alarming, but the problem raised by the “partnership” is nothing new. For years, China has sought to gain access to and control over American research facilities by all means available. This latest episode aligns perfectly with China’s overall strategy, and it only further drives home the importance of enforcing the laws designed to combat this espionage.

The takeaway from the GNL affair is simple: whenever an American university considers a partnership with a foreign institution, our nation’s laws and interests must take precedence over foreign demands—especially when that “partner” operates more as an opponent than an ally. If that precludes any form of partnership with particular foreign nations, then so be it. The true effects of GNL’s “oversight” may have been lost to the memory hole, but that lesson must never be forgotten.

Until next week.

P. S. The Wisconsin Association of Scholars invites anyone with an interest in higher education to attend a symposium on “Higher Education, Intolerance, and the Future of Academic Integrity,” which will take place at the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center of Concordia University on Friday, September 30. The symposium will feature Ryan Owens, Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Affiliate Faculty in the UW-Madison Law School, and Daniel Kelly, former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice. Tickets are free, so reserve your spot today!

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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