On February 23, 2022, Matthew Olsen, US Assistant Attorney General for National Security, announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would end the “China Initiative” and implement a broader strategy for countering nation-state threats in its place. The Asian American Scholar Forum appreciates that the DOJ heard the voices and concerns of the scientific and the Asian American communities. We support the new strategy and welcome the termination of a flawed program that targeted scientists based on national heritage.
According to the FBI, for the past three years, two cases were opened on a daily basis under the auspices of the China Initiative. Among these many cases, 148 individuals were formally charged, nearly 90% of whom are of Chinese heritage. Only about a quarter of people and institutions charged under the China Initiative have been convicted according to a recent article in MIT Technology Review. Wrongful prosecutions destroy lives and ruin careers. Conducted on a large-scale, wrongful investigations and prosecutions also create what Mr. Olsen described as “a chilling atmosphere for scientists and scholars that damages the scientific enterprise in this country.”
The chilling effect is palpable in the scientific community. A recent AASF survey polled university faculty members across the United States, most of whom are US citizens and permanent residents of Chinese descent. Among 1,354 respondents, 64% indicated that they feel unsafe as an academic researcher, and 67% are considering leaving the US, though 89% would like to contribute to strengthening US leadership in science and technology. In addition, 44% are wary of applying for federal grants and 90% note that it is more difficult to recruit top international students compared to five years ago.
The chilling effect must be quickly and fundamentally addressed, to ensure that the United States continues to be a beacon and magnet for the world’s talents. As Mr. Olsen stated in his remarks, the purpose of reviewing the China Initiative is “forward-looking.” We call on the DOJ to take the following actions:
- Stop ongoing China Initiative investigations of academic researchers and scholars across US campuses.
- Reevaluate all open China Initiative prosecutions, to determine “whether criminal prosecution is warranted or whether civil or administrative remedies are more appropriate.”
- Provide academic researchers and scholars with procedures to correct inaccurate or incomplete prior disclosure, under the new guidance recently released and being refined by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology.
We commend Mr. Olsen’s intent to create a coordinated approach among government agencies in the fight against economic espionage. We remind people to be vigilant about the government’s actions, and call on Congress to continue holding the DOJ, FBI, and other federal agencies accountable.