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Congress Restricts Funding of Chinese, Russian Labs, but Loopholes Remain


By: Susan Crabtree

More than three years after the U.S. stopped sending taxpayer dollars to fund coronavirus experiments on bats in China, 27 Chinese laboratories – including some run by the Chinese Communist Party – are still eligible for U.S. government funding for research on animals, according to a new review of Congressional Research Service data provided to Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst.

The ongoing debate over COVID’s origins, including U.S. intelligence agencies’ belief that the virus likely or could have leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, has spurred far more Washington scrutiny of U.S. funding of various research programs in China and Russia. Over the last year, Congress has broadened the effort, working to limit or altogether end U.S. financial support for research projects in all countries regarded as foreign adversaries.

In late May, an analysis by Ernst and the watchdog group Open the Books found that the American research institutes had sent Chinese and Russian entities at least $1.3 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars over five years for various programs, including several at the Wuhan lab, as well as experiments forcing cats to run on treadmills in Russia and a gender-equality New Yorker cartoon exhibition in Beijing.

The CRS data showed that $490 million in U.S. grants and contracts were paid to Chinese entities, while another $780 million went to Russian entities. Before Ernst’s efforts, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the U.S. sent just $48 million to Chinese entities over the five-year period examined, from 2017 to 2021.

Another outside group, the White Coat Waste Project, which seeks to end government-funded animal experiments and first exposed the U.S. financing of the coronavirus research in Wuhan, has since reviewed all the U.S.-funded research programs over that five-year period.

A White Coat Waste review of the CRS data, released to RealClearPolitics this week, found that the University of Illinois spent $123,552 of a $1.6 million NIH grant on a Kremlin-linked project at a Russian fur farm that killed foxes, and that the University of Southern California channeled $576,453 of a $1.9 million NIH grant to China’s Peking University for deadly experiments on mice.

It also showed that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Seattle-based Allen Institute sent $993,000 of a $64.7 million NIH grant to Wuhan’s Huazhong University of Science and Technology for a deadly experiment on baby mice. In addition, Emory University shipped $515,418 of a $38.6 million Health and Human Services contract to the CCP-linked Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, which houses one of China’s dangerous high-containment bio-agent labs.

The experiments at Harbin involved dangerous avian flu viruses collected from China’s wet markets being forced into mice and guinea pigs and efforts to supercharge viruses to make them more transmissible.

Ernst believes the $1.3 billion she uncovered is likely the floor, not the ceiling, for what she describes as “pointless projects” in China and Russia because federal agencies do not follow the trail of tax dollars overseas. To ensure Congress knows where all its funding ends up, Ernst has introduced a bill requiring all U.S. funding for organizations in China and Russia to be tracked to its final destination and disclosed. Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who chairs the China Select Committee, has authored a House version of the measure.

“Among many other troubling taxpayer-funded programs, I’ve got receipts showing how Americans unwittingly funded experiments on foxes at a Russian government fur farm, the Kremlin’s cat-on-a-treadmill experiments, the Wuhan lab that likely sparked the pandemic, and another CCP-run bioagent lab that collected dangerous bird flu viruses from filthy wet markets and engineered them to be more contagious,” Ernst told RCP in a statement. “Our taxpayer dollars should not be funding foreign adversaries, and I’m working to cut this wasteful and reckless spending overseas.”

Last month, the Biden administration’s National Institute of Health also disqualified the Wuhan Institute of Virology – the Chinese state-controlled lab some have blamed for leaking coronavirus and sparking the pandemic – from receiving more U.S. government funds.

President Trump’s NIH, back in April 2020, took the first step and cut off funding for coronavirus experiments on bats at the Wuhan lab. The NIH announced the decision just days after the White Coat Waste exposed the U.S. financial support for the research. Congress followed up by cutting State Department and Defense Department funds to the lab and worked to dramatically restrict U.S. spending for animal experiments in China and Russia, as well as in other foreign adversaries.

The final version of legislation that Biden signed into law narrowed the language from a prohibition on nearly all animal experiments in China, Russia, and other adversarial nations to barring dangerous pathogen experiments in these countries, allowing other U.S.-financed experiments to continue. But a new effort in the House would prevent the U.S. taxpayer dollars from flowing to any research lab in China, Russia, and other foreign adversaries.

“I’m proud to have led successful efforts in recent years to completely cut taxpayer funding for the Wuhan lab that likely caused COVID and all Russian labs that torture cats and other animals,” said Rep. Lisa McClain, a Michigan Republican who has authored a bill that would impose a full ban. “Tax dollars should never be sent to dangerous and unaccountable labs in adversarial nations like Russia and China that threaten our national security.”

On Thursday, the House Defense Appropriations panel passed a bill including language that would cut funding for all animal experiments or other virus-related projects in China, including those involving the Wuhan lab funder EcoHealth Alliance. Republican lawmakers and others have accused EcoHealth of conducting risky gain-of-function research with NIH funding, including at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The NIH, which denies that the funds went to gain-of-function research, and the U.S. Agency for International Development have doled out tens of millions to EcoHealth in recent years.

Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican who worked to advance the language in the House defense spending bill, said it’s past time to defund these projects because U.S. foreign adversaries, particularly China, have proven they cannot be trusted with U.S. taxpayer dollars to conduct laboratory research and experiments.

“Cutting American funding to research labs in adversarial nations that pose a threat to our national security should never be a partisan issue,” he told RCP. “I’d like to thank my colleagues who have recognized the importance of this effort.”

After Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine last year, support for defunding Russia-based research programs gained strong bipartisan backing in Washington. Barring U.S.-funded research in China also has garnered far more converts as tensions have continued to flare between Washington and Beijing over China’s lack of transparency about COVID’s origin, new fears over Chinese spying, aggression against Taiwan, and its genocide against the Uyghurs and many other egregious human rights violations.

“Defunding these labs is a no-brainer,” Rep. Don Davis, a North Carolina Democrat helping to lead the House effort, told RCP, stressing the need to protect national security and the animals.

Despite the strong sentiments from Republicans and Democrats, 27 Chinese labs are still listed as eligible for funding in an online NIH database. Several of these labs have strong links to the CCP, including the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, which are run by the CCP’s State Council of China. Others with strong CCP ties include Fudan University, Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine, Southern Medical University, and Zhenjiang University.

The language providing a full ban on sending U.S. dollars to foreign adversary entities must still pass the full House and Senate, where it was narrowed last year.

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