FLASHBACK: Chinese Researcher Removed from Infectious Disease Lab for Alleged “Administrative Matters”
According to a story published on CBC news on July 14, 2019, a researcher connected to China was escorted out of the National Microbiology Lab (NML) in Winnipeg during an RCMP investigation into what was described as a possible “policy breach.”
Dr. Xiangguo Qiu, her husband Keding Cheng, and an undisclosed number of her students from China were removed from Canada’s only level-4 lab on July 5, according to a CBC News report.
A Level 4 virology facility is a lab with the equipment to work with the most threatening human and animal diseases. This made the Arlington Street lab one of the very few labs in North America that is able to handle pathogens demanding the highest level of containment, such as Ebola.
According to sources who worked at the lab and did not want to be identified, the couple and the Chinese students had their security access revoked
Sources claim that this came several months after NML IT specialists entered Qiu’s office after-hours and replaced her computer. Qiu’s frequent trips to China were also being denied.
During meetings on July 8, NML staff were informed that the researchers were on leave for an indefinite period of time. They were instructed not to communicate with them.
Qiu is a renowned virologist who helped out in developing ZMapp, an ebola virus treatment.
Qiu is a medical doctor hailing from Tianjin, China. She migrated Canada for graduate studies in 1996. She was still connected to the university there and has brought in many students over the years to help with her work.
She was leading the Vaccine Development and Antiviral Therapies section in the Special Pathogens Program at the lab. Qiu’s main research field is immunology and she mostly focused on vaccine development, post-exposure therapeutics, and quick diagnostics of viruses like Ebola.
On May 24, 2019, the RCMP received a referral from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
“Based on information received to date, the RCMP has assessed that there is no threat to public safety at this time,” Robert Cyrenne informed CBC News in an email.
PHAC described it as a policy breach and “administrative matter” and said the department took steps to “resolve it expeditiously,” Eric Morrissette, the health agency’s chief of media relations, said.
“We can assure Canadians that there is absolutely no risk to the Canadian public and that the work of the NML continues in support of the health and safety of all Canadians,” communications director Mathieu Filion communication in an email.
No one from the Chinese Embassy commented on the situation
Many experts speculated that this could have been a case of intellectual property theft or technology leakage to China.
“The National Microbiology Laboratory would have some pretty sensitive biological research material that … could be shared either with or without authorization with foreign countries,” claimed Gordon Houlden, director of the University of Alberta’s China Institute.
“All of this is unproven, but even microbiology, sometimes especially microbiology, can have issues that involve national security.”
No matter the country, China uses its geopolitical leverage to advance its own interests.
Not just America, but the rest of the West should reconsider how it handles diplomatic and economic relations with China.