China calls Nasa conference ban 'discriminatory'

Artists impression:  a planet discovered by the Kepler space telescope that sits in the habitable zone of a Sun-like star The conference on Nasa's Kepler space telescope programme is an important academic event for scientists who work in the field

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China has criticised the US space agency Nasa over its decision to bar Chinese scientists from attending a conference in the United States.

The meeting is a key event for scientists searching for planets beyond the solar system.

Nasa has rejected applications from Chinese nationals, citing a new security law.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called the move "discriminatory".

The conference is for US and international teams who work on Nasa's Kepler space telescope programme.

It will be held at Nasa's Ames research centre in California next month.

Boycott

Nasa has based its ban on a new law which prohibits anyone from China setting foot in any of its buildings.

The law, passed in March, is part of a broad and aggressive move initiated by congressman Frank Wolf, chair of the House appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over Nasa.

The counter-espionage legislation aims to restrict foreign nationals' access to Nasa facilities.

Nasa's decision has angered many US scientists who say Chinese students and researchers in their labs are being discriminated against.

A growing number of US scientists have decided to boycott the meeting in protest, with senior academics withdrawing individually, or pulling out their entire research groups.

Rep Wolf himself called Nasa's decision "inaccurate".

He said the purpose of the law was to prevent Nasa from co-operating with the Chinese government and Chinese-owned companies, not individuals.

At a regular news briefing in Beijing, Chinese spokeswoman Ms Hua said she was aware of reports on Nasa's decision.

"At the same time I have also noticed that the discriminatory action by Nasa has also met opposition" in the United States, she added.

"We think that these academic meetings should not be politicised."

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