Police Investigate Death Threats Sent to Quantum Scientist
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2017-10-02 10:11:48

A scientist in China has said he, his family, and his colleagues have been threatened — including death threats — by a businessman over a dispute surrounding high-tech communications.

Peng Chengzhi, a quantum communication professor at University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), in eastern China’s Anhui province, said Thursday that he had repeatedly received menacing phone calls and text messages since August.

They came from the president of Jiuzhou Quantum Technologies Co. Ltd., Zheng Shaohui, and his associates, who threatened to kill Peng’s child with a hammer and said they knew his family’s address, Peng claimed in an open letter on his Weibo microblog.

Peng said the threats are the result of USTC’s denial that it is cooperating on a project with Zheng’s company, which goes by the English name QTEC.

Police in Hefei, capital of Anhui, said Saturday that they are investigating the case, and that they will assure the scientists’ and their families’ safety.

Quantum technologies promise communication that is both faster and more secure than today’s internet. Peng is one of the scientists working on “Micius,” the world’s first quantum communications satellite that was launched in August 2016. He is also involved in another national project, a 2,000-kilometer long quantum communication line from Beijing to Shanghai, which was put into use on Friday.

Meanwhile, QTEC is also working on a quantum communication line between Shanghai and Hangzhou, capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province. According to an article QTEC published on messaging app WeChat in July, one of the relay stations on their line would be USTC’s Shanghai Institute for Advanced Studies. It also said that QTEC’s line will connect to the Beijing-Shanghai line.

However, USTC on July 18 denied their involvement in QTEC’s project, and called it “fake publicity.” According to Peng, this angered people at QTEC. “They didn’t stop their infringement, but flew into a rage out of humiliation,” he wrote in the open letter. “They pointed their finger at me and my research team.”

Peng told Sixth Tone’s sister publication The Paper on Friday that quantum communication research is important, but that its development should not rely on “speculation.” In his open letter, he advised investors to put their money in companies that possessed “core technologies,” and warned of Ponzi schemes.

Peng also said that he had received a letter from lawyers who represented QTEC executive Zang Zhenfu, who accused Peng of damaging his reputation. In that letter, Zang accused Peng of writing to investors with claims about Zang that were untrue.

In April, QTEC said it would establish a quantum network in Hangzhou’s Xiaoshan District, and in June, it said it had reached an agreement with another district government in Zhenjiang, a city in Jiangsu province, eastern China, to establish a quantum communication industrial park. In his letter, Peng questioned the wisdom of these kinds of projects.

QTEC rejected The Paper’s interview request on Friday, but that day released an announcement stressing that the company was operating well, had a rapidly growing team, and that it had applied for more than 60 patents. “For the false allegations circulating online these days, we reserve our right to pursue their legal liabilities,” the company said.

Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.

(Header image: A presentation about quantum communication technology is given during the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, Nov. 16, 2016. IC)