Tennessee Professor Charged with Hiding China Relationship From U.S. Government

A University of Tennessee at Knoxville professor was charged with hiding his financial relationship with China as he obtained funding NASA.

Anming Hu has been on the faculty of UT Knoxville’s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering since 2013. But, prosecutors said in an indictment unsealed today, he was also a faculty member at the Beijing University of Technology’s (BJUT) Institute of Laser Engineering, pursuing research sponsored by the Chinese government, and actively hid the affiliation from UT officials.

NASA is prohibited from any activity that includes collaborating with the Chinese government, universities or corporations. Court documents say that the space agency would not have given Hu research money had it known of his relationship with communist China.

Prosecutors noted that BJUT’s public-facing website “identified Hu as a professor at BJUT and Hu’s biography portion of the website stated that Hu was hired by BJUT in September 2013 as a Distinguished Professor.” Other public evidence includes Hu’s BJUT e-mail address, and six published papers that identify him as an affiliate of the university. His name was also on 12 Chinese patent applications applied for by BJUT.

But Hu is also accused of actively deceived his American university by informing them “that he was not an employee of any organization” and concealing his affiliation with the Beijing university when he applied for tenure.

The government has not charged Hu with espionage but his area of research specialization would be of interest to China. “This technology has very specific applications in etching semiconductors that are critical to the Chinese government,” former US intelligence officer Nicholas Eftimiades, an expert on Chinese espionage operations, told Quartz. “It is an area in which they lag behind us and have been trying to become self-reliant. Well, self-reliant in production, not in developing the technology themselves. That, they steal.”

Hu is currently detained while he awaits a court appearance. A UT Knoxville spokesperson has said that Hu is currently suspended from the university.

“The United States Attorney’s Office takes seriously fraudulent conduct that is devised to undermine federally-mandated funding restrictions related to China and Chinese universities,” US Attorney J. Douglas Overbey said in a statement.

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