Mistrial of College Professor Leads to Questions Over DOJ China Initiative
A Chinese professor has been cleared of espionage charges after the FBI couldn’t corroborate its claims that he was spying.
Over the past few years, the federal government has kept a close eye on Chinese students and researchers at U.S. universities after several were discovered to have stolen intellectual property, conducted breaches in scientific integrity, and spearheaded cyberattacks. Under the Trump administration, a ban on Chinese students and researchers with ties to Chinese military universities was implemented.
While the campaign was enacted to protect the U.S. national security, it has also led to claims of racial profiling and baseless targeting. Since 2018, when the China Initiative was officially launched, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has brought charges in over a dozen cases, largely against researchers of Asian descent.
But recently, as reported by Axios, University of Tennessee at Knoxville professor Anming Hu was wrongfully accused of economic espionage by FBI agent Kujtim Sadiku. The case ended in a mistrial, and Hu has been charged instead with fraud, as the FBI, which had spied on Hu for nearly two years, could not corroborate claims of spying.
Revelations about Hu’s trial have heightened criticism of the Chinese Initiative program. Civil rights groups are now demanding that the case be dropped and that the Biden administration halt the Chinese Initiative program altogether.
Scientists, meanwhile, are concerned that if the program continues, it could have a chilling effect on academia. Amnesty International invoked America’s history of criminalizing Asians in a letter to the White House: The “use of generalizations” based on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin “is not only a counter-productive and ineffective form of policing, but also violates human rights.”
Adam Hickey, the deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s National Security Division, said, “This is not about finding Chinese people who are doing bad things. It’s about protecting everyone who’s here from exploitative activity.”
Having a separate research security initiative not specific to China would help the DOJ “frame its work to the public in a way that’s precise, proportional, and at a lower risk of stoking harmful narratives” of Chinese disloyalty, commented Ainikki Riikonen, from the Center for New American Security.
The DOJ has not decided whether the initiative will cease.