US investigating University of Texas links to Chinese lab scrutinized over coronavirus

The Department of Education has launched an investigation into links between the University of Texas and a Chinese laboratory that has been scrutinized over the coronavirus pandemic.

The Education Department’s Office of General Counsel sent a letter to Chancellor James Milliken last week asking about the university’s ties to the lab and other Chinese entities such as telecom giant Huawei.

The agency requested information on any interactions between the Galveston National Laboratory, which falls under the University of Texas (UT) Medical Branch, and the maximum biocontainment lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

The Chinese laboratory has come under scrutiny by the U.S. intelligence community in recent weeks, including a probe into whether the deadly virus that causes COVID-19 originated in that lab. Intelligence officials said Wednesday that they agreed with the “widespread scientific consensus” that the virus was “not manmade or genetically modified.”

A day later, President Trump appeared to contradict that finding, saying he had seen evidence the lab was involved in the spread of the virus. Trump did not provide any details.

In its letter to UT, the Education Department also asked about the school’s connections with Huawei, the 5G equipment-maker that has been effectively blacklisted by the Department of Commerce and is classified by the Federal Communications Commission as a national security threat due to espionage concerns.

According to the Education Department, the university reported 10 contracts with Huawei and 24 contracts with Chinese state-owned universities between 2014 and 2019, totaling to almost $13 million.

Information on any gifts received from the Wuhan lab, Chinese companies or individuals such as Zoom CEO Eric Yuan was also requested.

A UT spokesperson told The Hill in a statement that the UT system would “continue to respond to any request from state and federal authorities, should they arise.”

The spokesperson added that the Galveston National Laboratory has “collaborated with more than 70 countries and with scientists from the U.S. and abroad on biosafety and biosecurity” and that the UT Medical Branch “complies with obligations to report fiduciary relationships as required by statute.”

The letter was first reported by The Wall Street Journal

A spokesperson for Zoom pushed back against both the company and Yuan’s inclusion in the letter. 

“If Zoom is on such a list, it is in error and indicates the authors did not do their homework,” the spokesperson said. “Zoom is an American company, publicly traded on the NASDAQ, with headquarters in California and a founder and CEO who is an American citizen. Zoom is no different than any other U.S. technology company with operations in China, including many of our videoconferencing peers.”

-Updated at 5:10 p.m. to include a statement from UT. 

Tags China Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Huawei Pandemic Texas University of Texas Zoom

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