ANALYSIS: Ending the China Initiative adds to the growing skepticism about Biden's dedication to national security

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen attributed discrimination against Asian Americans as the first reason for disbanding the China Initiative in a speech he delivered in February 2022.

The end of the China Initiative, a Trump-era security program that prosecuted Chinese government agents involved in economic espionage and trade secret theft, adds to the growing skepticism about the Biden administration’s dedication to national security.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen attributed discrimination against Asian Americans as the first reason for disbanding the China Initiative in a speech he delivered in February 2022.

“We have heard concerns from the civil rights community that the ‘China Initiative’ fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias,” he said. “To many, that narrative suggests that the Justice Department treats people from China or of Chinese descent differently. The rise in anti-Asian hate crime and hate incidents only heightens these concerns.” 

“The Department is keenly aware of this threat and is enhancing efforts to combat acts of hate,” he added. “These efforts are reflected in the Attorney General’s memorandum issued last year following the enactment of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act.”

Authors of a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science argue that the initiative was discriminatory as well.

The study’s authors conducted a survey from December 2021 to March 2022 of Chinese-descended tenured and tenure-track American scientists who self-reported feelings of fear and anxiety. 

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The authors said this caused them to consider leaving the U.S. and avoid applying for federal grants. The summary of the survey, however, does not mention how many people were surveyed. 

Executive Director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School Dan Murphy argued in a New York Times article that the initiative was built on a witch hunt.

“The damage caused by the Department of Justice’s now-disbanded China Initiative still reverberates. Designed to counter economic espionage and national security threats from China, it resulted — in some cases — in researchers and academics of Chinese descent being placed under house arrest or taken away in handcuffs on charges of hiding ties to China, cases that ended in acquittal or were later dropped,” Murphy wrote. 

However, like every story, there are two sides to this issue. 

Abandoning the China Initiative because of self-reports of discrimination and mistrials seems to be an insufficient reason to cancel the program when considering how China has risen to scientific prowess.

China’s rise is possible because scientists from China steal intellectual property in the United States and hand that property over to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Zheng Xiaoqing, a former General Electric Power employee in Schenectady, New York used steganography to hide stolen confidential files in digital photographs and sent them to China, for example. 

He was sentenced to only 24 months in prison for that crime. 

China has ascertained other intellectual properties in industries such as aerospace, aviation, pharmaceuticals, nanotechnology, and bioengineering through industrial espionage, joint venture agreements, and cyber-espionage.  Much of that has been made possible due to lax penalties for espionage, as the case with Xiaoqing, and lax policies that allow those with ties to the CCP to study in the United States.

As of late, policymakers have been most concerned about Chinese nationals infiltrating America’s higher educational institutes. Campus Reform recently reported on Chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Rep. Dr. Virginia Foxx’s concerns about University of California Berkeley’s relationship with Tsinghua University in China.

She is alarmed about the possibility of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) gaining access to Berkeley’s research and expertise through TBSI.

“TBSI is engaged in research on technologies that have major intelligence and military applications,” Foxx told Campus Reform on July 26. “This research bears a striking resemblance to the People’s Republic of China’s stated military goals. In addition, Berkeley received millions from Tsinghua University to set up TBSI but didn’t care to disclose this funding under section 117 of the Higher Education Act. This partnership wreaks of bad intentions from the CCP.”

With regard to President Joe Biden, ending the program that investigated Chinese espionage adds to a growing list of examples that demonstrate he approves of the CCP and is not planning to stop its aggressive expansion.  

On that list are reports that showed that the Penn Biden Center received significant funds from Chinese sources between 2017 and 2019, which raised concern that CCP potentially influenced faculty and research at the University of Pennsylvania. 

[RELATED: Confucius Institutes a ‘smoke screen’ for Chinese Communist Party ‘propaganda,’ Cabot Phillips says]

Biden’s rhetoric is on the list as well. 

He often fails to critique any of the CCP’s actions, including its genocide of Uyghurs, which he chalked up to cultural differences during a 2021 CNN Town Hall.

Human rights advocate and survivor of a Chinese labor camp Jennifer Zeng told Campus Reform that Biden’s commentary on the Uyghur genocide proves he cannot be trusted to root out Chinese influence in the American education system. 

Yet legacy media groups, many policy experts, and researchers are keen on purporting that the end of the China Initiative is a good step since it, as they say, ends former President Donald Trump’s discriminatory policies.

While the program was started during his administration, data in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science study shows a steady increase in the annual number of Chinese-descent scientists leaving the U.S. before Trump ever took office, proving that reasons to return to China go beyond discrimination issues. 

Evidence of Chinese espionage and theft of intellectual property cannot be ignored.

China’s rise in scientific prowess is partly fueled by its ability to exploit lax penalties for espionage and lenient policies that make it easy for CCP-affiliated individuals to study in the United States. Balancing civil rights and national security is a task that Biden could have more wisely chosen, but instead, his administration has ditched investigations altogether, revealing his grave lack of concern for U.S. higher education and national security. 

Campus Reform contacted the Department of Justice for this analysis, but it did not respond. As ties between U.S. universities and China continue to be investigated, additional details and developments are expected. 

Follow Jared Gould on Twitter for more stories like this.