Amid worsening ties between US and China, the University of Texas, whose work has contributed to some promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates has been contacted by FBI over allegations that Chinese consulate in Houston had sought to obtain such research, reported South China Morning Post.
The US recently ordered China to close its Consulate General in Houston over allegations of espionage. China retaliated by ordering the US to close its Consulate General in Chengdu.
The University of Texas, as per the report, told faculty and research staff in an email on Monday that it was notified of the investigation by the FBI last week.
FBI agents would contact university researchers about the alleged role of the consulate and "efforts by the Chinese government to illegally procure research from American universities, including coronavirus vaccine research", according to the email, cited by South China Morning Post.
"We want to make you aware of an ongoing and evolving national situation that may affect some members of our research community," read the email.
The US State Department had ordered China last week to close its consulate in Houston, Texas, over accusations that it engaged for years in massive illegal spying and influence operations in the US.
The two countries have sparred over a range of issues in recent times -- China's move to impose national security law in Hong Kong, its human rights violation in Xinjiang and territorial aggression in the South China Sea -- have all drawn fierce criticism from Washington.
Recently, Texas Congressman Michael McCaul has alleged that China's Consulate General, which the US has ordered to close, is the epicentre of Beijing's espionage in terms of stealing the bio-medical research.
"I can tell you its really the epicentre of China's espionage in terms of stealing our bio-medical research. We had three scientists at M.D Anderson that were fired due to allegations of espionage," McCaul had told Fox News.
The Congressman said the Chinese are actively trying to steal the vaccine for COVID-19.
"We also have vaccine research going on at the Texas Medical Centre. We know that they are actively trying to steal that vaccine so that they can claim to the world they have saved them from the very virus they are responsible for," said McCaul.
( With inputs from ANI )