China has criticized the U.S. space agency NASA for excluding Chinese academics from a scientific conference to be held at a NASA facility in California in November.
Speaking Wednesday in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying accused NASA of engaging in "discriminatory behavior." She said China believed that academic or scientific research activities "should not be politicized."
A group of academics organizing the conference issued a statement Tuesday, saying they reluctantly denied the registrations of six Chinese nationals because of a NASA moratorium.
The organizers of the Second Kepler Science Conference said the U.S. space agency banned visits to NASA facilities by citizens of China and several other nations in March.
They said NASA imposed the ban in response to a U.S. law adopted by Congress that month and approved by U.S. President Barack Obama. The law includes restrictions on access to NASA facilities by nationals of some countries due to national security concerns.
The organizers said they only learned about the NASA ban in late September, and would have tried to move the conference away from NASA's Ames Research Center if they had known about it sooner. They denounced the legal restrictions behind the NASA move as "deplorable."
Some U.S. scientists have said they would boycott the conference to protest the exclusion of the Chinese academics. U.S. Democratic Congressman Mike Honda said he agreed that preventing people from making contributions to scientific gatherings was not a good idea.
"Whether there are persons present or not, that information will still be shared among the participants or the people who are present at the conference. So I'm not sure that national security really would be an issue. If all members of the global community are present and they are sharing information, and that sharing is public, I don't see where the security issue arises," he said.
In a report published Friday, British newspaper The Guardian
said it obtained an email sent by a NASA official saying the law "forbids" the hosting of "any citizens" of China at NASA facilities.
But, a Republican lawmaker who drafted the restrictions disputed the notion that all Chinese were banned from NASA facilities.
The office of Frank Wolf said he wrote to NASA on Tuesday, clarifying that the law "primarily restricts bilateral ... (NASA) activities with the Communist Chinese government or Chinese-owned companies."
Wolf also said the law "places no restrictions on activities involving individual Chinese nationals unless those nationals are acting as official representatives of the Chinese government."
Wolf said the email reported by The Guardian
was "inaccurate" and appealed to NASA to send new guidance to the conference organizers and the media to, as he put it, "correct this misconception."
NASA had no immediate comment on the controversy, as its media offices were closed due to the partial shutdown of the U.S. federal government.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP.