Three more American universities have issued statements in support of scholars and researchers of Chinese ethnicity, a group that has been increasingly targeted over suspicions of spying for Beijing. The University of Pittsburgh, California Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University recently joined 12 other leading schools – including Yale, Columbia and Stanford – to issue statements supporting Chinese-American scientists. The pledges come amid fears that the group is being unfairly singled out and is a victim of the feud between Beijing and Washington that has now extended to trade, economic issues, technology and national security. China’s rising technological ambitions have led to US concerns that Beijing is attempting to achieve its goals partly by stealing American technology. The White House has cited estimates that Chinese theft of American intellectual property costs the US economy up to US$600 billion each year. In a 600-word letter issued on Monday by the University of Pittsburgh, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said schools have been caught in the middle of the conflict because of a link between access to the latest science and technology and rising geopolitical tensions. “For the first time since the end of the cold war, university-based research and scholarship are facing calls to restrict global engagement,” Gallagher wrote. “And researchers, particularly immigrants and visitors from China, have been the target of aggressive investigations and public sanctions,” he added. This long-standing tradition of global academic engagement is increasingly under attack Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher The president of Johns Hopkins University, Ronald Daniels, wrote on July 9: “When any members of our community unfairly bear the burden of government mistrust simply by virtue of their place of birth, country of residence or ethnicity, we risk undermining the core tenets of our success as an institution and as a nation.” In recent months, several Chinese-American scientists have been dismissed from their research jobs in the US. In May, the husband-and-wife neuroscience research team of Li Xiaojiang and Li Shihua were fired by Emory University in Georgia after being accused of failing to disclose funding ties to China. US urged to save systems from ‘growing threat of Chinese cyber theft’ In April, MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston ousted three Chinese-American researchers who were allegedly conducting espionage on behalf of Beijing. After those dismissals, the non-profit advocacy group United Chinese Americans (UCA) called on other schools to join the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford, the University of Michigan and the University of California at Davis, which were among the earliest to issue support for Chinese and Chinese-American researchers. In February, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional hearing that he thought China was “exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere, but they’re taking advantage of it”. In a letter to Massachusetts Institute of Technology faculty, students and alumni last month, MIT President L. Rafael Reif accused the US government of creating “a toxic atmosphere” for academics of Chinese descent and defended the school’s policy to guard against espionage. We want more Chinese students, Trump says as fears rise in US academia But under pressure from Washington, MIT – which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and known for its cutting-edge research – was one of many American universities that severed funding ties with Chinese telecoms equipment makers Huawei Technologies and ZTE. In the University of Pittsburgh’s letter on Monday, Gallagher referred to Yuan Chang, a groundbreaking researcher, professor and chair of Pitt’s Cancer Virology department, as an example of how scientists of Chinese descent helped advance the school’s history as well as medical breakthroughs. “Yet, this long-standing tradition of global academic engagement is increasingly under attack,” Gallagher wrote.