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NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said yesterday the situation was “unfortunate” and pledged to take a fresh look at the applications once the US government reopens.
“It is unfortunate that potential Chinese participants were refused attendance at the upcoming Kepler Conference at the Ames Research Park,” Bolden wrote in an email to Congressman Frank Wolf.
China’s Foreign Ministry had criticised the decision earlier saying the move to ban Chinese nationals from participating was “discriminatory”.
“NASA’s discriminatory practice has led to many US and European scientists boycotting the conference. The conference itself should not be politicised,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Wednesday.
Bolden was responding to a letter from Frank Wolf, Chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds NASA, who crafted a law in 2011 that prohibits government funds from being used to host Chinese nationals at NASA facilities.
In the letter, Wolf claimed that the law “primarily restricts bilateral, not multilateral, meetings and activities” with the Chinese government or Chinese-owned companies.
He also said it ” places no restrictions on activities involving individual Chinese nationals unless those nationals are acting as official representatives of the Chinese government.”
“Upon learning of this exclusion, I directed that we review the requests for attendance from scientists of Chinese origin and determine if we can recontact them immediately upon the reopening of the government to allow them to reapply,” said Bolden.
Bolden said any scientists who meet “the clearance requirements in place for foreign citizens will be accepted for participation.”
The conference is to be held on November 4-8 at a NASA facility in northern California.
The applications of six Chinese scientists were denied due to what organisers said was a March 2013 order for a moratorium to visits to NASA facilities by citizens of several nations including China.
Some leading US astronomers have vowed to boycott the conference next month on the basis of the denied applications.
Debra Fischer of Yale University said that one of her post-doctoral students was among those whose application was denied and that she will not attend the conference.
Beijing’s Foreign Ministry described the application denials as discriminatory and said academic meetings should remain free of politics.