AASF to AP, NPR: Proposal to Reinstate China Initiative Heightens “Chilling Effect” Among Asian American Scholars


Contact: Melissa Stek, media@aasforum.org, 616-550-8039

Washington, DC—As the new year begins and civil rights groups prepare for Congress to return, Asian American scholars and allies are at the ready to keep pushing back against some policymakers’ attempts to reinstate the DOJ’s now-defunct “China Initiative”—a devastating program ended nearly two years ago that raised concerns of racial profiling and targeting of Asian Americans and immigrants, particularly of Chinese descent. 

As reported this week by Emily Feng of NPR, “About 90% of the more than 70 cases prosecuted under the [China Initiative] involved people who were ethnically Chinese. Just about a quarter were convicted and usually for much lesser charges.”

Those directly impacted by the initiative included Asian American Scholar Forum (AASF) board member and MIT professor Dr. Gang Chen, who told NPR, “I’m no longer the same. I can never go back to the same as I was before. The China Initiative has fundamentally harmed the U.S. competitiveness. The biggest competition is on talents. And that really deterred a lot of talents coming to the U.S.”

AASF executive director, Gisela Kusakawa, posed the question, “How are we going to be tackling disclosures moving forward in a way where there isn’t a disproportionate impact on Asian American scholars, or a chilling effect within the Asian American scholar community?”

Concerns about this chilling effect were also raised late last month by Didi Tang of Associated Press (AP): “The number of Chinese students in the United States is down, and U.S.-Chinese research collaboration is shrinking. Academics are shying away from potential China projects over fears that seemingly minor missteps could end their careers.”

AP cited AASF’s study, published last year in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, which “said the China Initiative likely has caused widespread fear and anxiety among scientists of Chinese descent. The study, which surveyed 1,304 scientists of Chinese descent employed by American universities, showed many considered leaving the U.S. or no longer applying for federal grants.” 

Said Dr. Chen to AP, “Very few people in the general public understand that most U.S. universities, including MIT, don’t take on any secret research projects on campus. We aim to publish our research findings.”

Early last month, AASF and coalition partners led nearly 50 organizations in a letter to Congress opposing the legislative language that would reinstate the “China Initiative” and any future iterations of the Initiative – the announcement of which received over 44,000 views on Twitter. 

Regarding the letter and the initiative’s impact on the scholar community, Ms. Kusakawa stated, “No one should have to endure what Dr. Chen endured. Ending this program was a necessary step in the right direction for our country as a whole. There is absolutely no justification to reinstate it. Our country is made stronger when Asian Americans and immigrants are able to contribute freely without fear of discrimination—and the federal government’s budget should be a reflection of that.”


Asian American Scholar Forum (AASF) is a national non-profit that promotes academic belonging, openness, freedom, and equality for all. In response to heightened anti-Asian sentiments and profiling in the U.S., AASF has been a leading national voice fighting for the rights of Asian American and immigrant scientists, researchers, and scholars. AASF membership includes members from the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, in addition to past and current university presidents, provost, vice provosts, deans, associate deans and past and current department chairs.