Jian-Wei Pan's Personal Statement


In this June, Deutsche Welle together with CORRECTIV published an investigative report titled “China's quantum leap – made in Germany”. The report is full of subjective speculation, deviates from the news spirit of “truthfulness and objectivity”. This report not only has a detrimental impact on the science and technology cooperation between China and Germany, but also causes great trouble to our international colleagues who have been treating us with great kindness and sincerity. For instance, misled by this report, the German Federal Minister of Education and Research, Ms. Bettina Stark-Watzinger, also expressed negative views on collaborating with China later. Recently, more medias have been contacting me to inquire about relevant questions. In order to prevent the politicization of international academic collaborations and exchanges, I feel obligated to clarify and eliminate misunderstandings.

In 1996, I was very lucky to be supported by the Nord-Süd-Dialog Stipendienprogramm of Austria, which allowed me to join professor Anton Zeilinger's group in Innsbruck. During my time with Anton and his team from 1996 to 2003, we worked on some of the earliest experiments in quantum information science, including the first quantum teleportation, entanglement swapping, multi-photon entangled states, and the verification of the Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger theorem. Looking back now, it was truly an exciting and fruitful time for me. However, we had no idea how far these basic research would take us, since at that time quantum information was even considered metaphysics in China.

From 2003 to 2008, I was fortunate enough to establish an independent laboratory at Heidelberg University. In this laboratory, I was engaged in fundamental research on quantum repeaters based on cold atoms and quantum simulation based on ultra-cold atoms. In the long run, quantum repeaters can extend the distance of quantum communication, while ultra-cold atom quantum simulation can provide a unique platform for studying strongly correlated many-body systems such as exotic quantum matter and ultra-cold chemistry. However, achieving these goals requires sustained effort. Despite nearly 20 years having passed, the research fields in which I was involved in Heidelberg are still in the early stages of fundamental research. This fact is widely recognized by experts in the field of quantum technology, including our colleagues in Germany.

Starting from 2008, I returned to China and focused on a drastically different avenue in long-distance quantum communication: free-space quantum communication. It is important to emphasize that all the key technologies we developed for the Micius quantum satellite were completely independent of our work at Heidelberg University. This can be easily verified by examining the relevant publications during the satellite's development and post-launch in 2016. With the exception of the intercontinental quantum communication collaboration with the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) in 2018, all these publications were authored solely by Chinese researchers.

The mentioned collaboration in 2018 originated in 2010, when the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the ÖAW signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a co-operation in the field of quantum physics. Building upon this MOU, in 2011, Anton Zeilinger's group, the IQOQI of ÖAW, signed a research cooperation agreement on quantum physics experiments within the scope of space missions with our group. According to the agreement, ÖAW did not contribute scientifically, financially, or technologically to the development of the Micius satellite. In the collaborative intercontinental quantum communication experiment, the ÖAW group's contribution is establishing ground stations in Graz and the Canary Islands to receive the single photons down from the Micius satellite.

I have always deeply appreciated and been immensely grateful for Austria and Germany's openness in attracting and nurturing scientific and technological talents, regardless of their origins. This personal experience has solidified my belief in the importance of promoting academic exchanges and fostering talent across national borders and cultural differences, not only for the healthy development of science, but also for understanding of other cultures and people with a different historical background. Even after returning to China, we have actively cultivated international scholars and shared our cutting-edge research findings with colleagues from all around the world. We have been holding an open attitude towards scientific research; all international visiting scholars can access our offices and laboratories freely, which can be attested by all of our visiting scholars. Immediately after completing the primary scientific experimental mission of the Micius quantum satellite, we collaboratively utilized the satellite and embarked on a groundbreaking endeavor with ÖAW, resulting in the world's first successful intercontinental quantum key distribution.

Building upon this achievement, we share the Micius satellite as an open scientific facility worldwide, as we believe that it is instrumental in advancing the frontiers of quantum communication technology and fostering global scientific progress. We continued cooperative with academic institutions from Italy, South Africa, India, Russia, and other countries, facilitating the shared utilization of the Micius satellite for collaborative research purposes. These international collaboration has been completed before the end of 2021. We remain committed to nurturing international cooperation, exchanging knowledge, and pushing the boundaries of quantum research for the betterment of humanity.

My research interests have always revolved around fundamental scientific exploration and the development of common technologies that have the potential to benefit humanity as a whole. Since my return to China in 2008, I have not engaged in any military-application project supported by defense agency. All of our research achievements have been made publicly available through publications, accessible for anyone to learn from and utilize.

It is essential to emphasize that the dual-use nature of scientific discoveries and technologies is widely understood. As scientists, we cannot control or predict how our findings may be used. A prime example is the German-speaking region's contributions to quantum mechanics through scientists like Planck, Heisenberg, and Schrödinger. Their work has led to advancements in modern information technology, but it can also be applied to the development of nuclear weapons. However, blaming these scientists for the potential misuse of their discoveries is unjust. Scientists strive to advance knowledge and improve society through their research. It is crucial to maintain open dialogue and responsible ethics within the scientific community and beyond to ensure that scientific advancements are harnessed for the betterment of humanity while minimizing potential harm.

The development of quantum information technology holds great potential for benefiting all of humanity, akin to how the Internet and GPS, originally supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the US, have significantly improved lifestyles and advanced human civilization. With this understanding, many of my colleagues in Europe and US have received research funding support in quantum information technology from DARPA.

For the same reason, I actively contribute within my capabilities to initiatives that promote the development of quantum information technology from various perspectives. For instance, in 2014, I accepted an invitation to serve as a member of the Quantum Technologies Hub Peer Review Assessment Panel. This role involved assisting the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the UK in selecting hubs for their quantum technologies initiatives. In 2019, I was invited to deliver a talk on future prospects of quantum technology at a conference organized by the United States Department of Energy (DOE), albeit that the DOE conference organizers did not fulfill the initial commitment to send me their presentation slides, due to the so-called “U.S. export control issues”. Furthermore, I used to serve as the deputy director of the science and technology committee of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC) where I played a similar role in consulting activities from the perspective of a pure scientist. These engagements allowed me to contribute my scientific expertise and insights to further advancing the field. In all these instances, I approached my responsibilities with the mindset of a dedicated scientist, striving to provide objective evaluations, share knowledge, and foster collaborations that benefit the scientific community as a whole.

However, the report from Deutsche Welle attempted to fabricate evidence to prove “Pan's connections to Chinese defense contractors” (as stated in the legend of DW) by including a photo of me with the Chinese astronaut Liwei Yang, see below. 

Ironically, the scene in the photo is about a press conference in 2018, which is to introduce the public media the latest national achievements in the fields of quantum technology, aerospace, and high-speed train. The so-called “Chinese defense contractor” shown in the photo is actually Mr. Liwei Yang, the first Chinese astronaut who entered the space, and the other lady is Ms. Hongwei Zhao, the chief designer of China's high-speed train “Fuxing”. It is clearly shown from the photos below that the three of us were being interviewed.

Since ancient times, the Chinese nation has been generous in sharing and advocates for “great harmony under heaven”, as Mr. Bill Gates praised a Chinese scientific predecessor, Mr. Yuan Longping, “Yuan Longping developed the world's first hybrid rice varieties. Yuan also taught more than 3,000 rice scientists from more than 50 nations, who applied what they learned from him in their home countries. It's hard to imagine a more important discovery than the one that made it possible for billions of people to survive and thrive.” Similar to Yuan Longping's research fruitfully solving the problem of hunger, I firmly believe that quantum technologies will ultimately bring broad benefits to human society, that is my original intention to actively share our research results.

As a physicist who has been devoted to quantum science for more than 30 years, I would like to emphasize that quantum information technology is a blue-sky research and fundamental endeavor, which has a long way to go before it can be widely used, where active international cooperation and open exchanges are imperative. In fact, this viewpoint has been widely recognized by the international academic community. In September 2019, the International Conference on Emerging Quantum Technology (ICEQT2019) was held in Hefei, China. More than 500 experts of research institutes and universities from Austria, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States, etc., participated the conference. These experts reached a consensus on the future development of quantum technology and formulated the White Paper from ICEQT 2019 – Hefei Declaration of Quantum Technology. The main conclusions of the White Paper are that, “the scientists at the ICEQT agreed that it is necessary to establish global collaborations to jointly promote the development of this field in the future.”

Finally, I would like to quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits; everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.” As a scientist, I have the unquestionable right to explore the laws of nature and use them to promote the well-being of all humanity. I strongly agree with the recent statement made by Dr. Marcia McNutt, the President of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, “Our country has benefited over the centuries from our ability to access the talent and ideas being developed around the world. At a time when more and more science is being produced outside the U.S., the nation is handicapping itself by restricting these collaborations.” In order to promote the advancement of science, the collaboration and communication between scientists of different countries should be promoted, especially in the field of basic research and common technologies.

Jian-Wei Pan

Professor of Physics,

School of Physical Sciences,

University of Science and Technology of China

September 19th, 2023

Updated on November 25th, 2023