The China Initiative, the US crackdown on Chinese economic espionage, is a mess. We have the data to show it.

Our analysis shows a significant shift in the focus on educators starting in 2019 and continuing through 2020. In 2018, no issue was related to the integrity of the research. By 2020, 16 of the 31 (52%) newly announced cases were. (In 2020, an investigative integrity case included allegations of EEA violations.)

At least 14 of these research integrity issues stemmed from suspicions arising from links to “talent programs” in which Chinese universities hired academics to conduct research, teach, or sponsor other activities. Provides financial incentives to repay. Or on a full-time basis. (At least four cases of commercial theft involving alleged involvement in a talent program.)

Federal officials have repeatedly said that participating in talent programs is not illegal – although they have also called them “brainwashing programs,” in the words of Bill Prestap, a former assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Service. “Encourages the theft of intellectual property from American institutions.”

Cases charged under the China Initiative by year

National security ties are sometimes weak.

The initiative’s growing focus on research integrity includes a number of issues for academics working on topics such as artificial intelligence or robotics, which could include national security requests. But much of the work in these areas is basic research, and many of the articles in which the cases have come to light have little to do with national security.

Nine of the 23 research integrity issues involved health and medical researchers, including those studying heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer. Six of them focus on researchers funded by the NIH, the institute’s aggressive stance on countering “undue influence of foreign governments on federally funded research”. Reflects The NIH’s efforts preceded the China Initiative, and the representative referred questions to the Justice Department about the initiative.

Funding agencies allegedly committed fraud in matters of investigative integrity.

Instead, the implications of national security seem to revolve around the concern that anyone with ties to China could act as an “unconventional collector”, known as the China Initiative Fact Sheet, Labs, Universities. And “researchers at the Defense Industrial Base.” Contrary to US interests, the transfer of technology is being supported. But as our database shows, only two out of 22 researchers have ever been accused of inaccurately accessing information or trying to smuggle goods into China. The charges were later dropped.

The China Initiative cases are not as successful as the DoJ claims.

Three years after the program began, less than a third of the defendants in the China Initiative have been convicted. Of the 148 people who have been indicted, only 40 have pleaded guilty or have been found guilty. About two-thirds of the cases (64%) are still pending. And of the 95 people still facing charges, 71 are not being actively prosecuted because the defendant is at an unknown location or cannot be extradited.

In particular, many issues related to the integrity of research have fallen apart. While eight are still pending, seven cases against educationists have ended on dismissal or acquittal, while six have ended on plea or punishment of convicts. According to an analysis by the Pew Research Center of Federal Statistics, this is in stark contrast to the usual results of federal criminal cases, where the majority end up on criminal application.

Results for Defendants under the China Initiative

About 90% of all cases are against people of Chinese descent.

One of the initial and most persistent criticisms of the China Initiative was that it could lead to an increase in racial profiling against people of Chinese descent, Asian Americans, and Asian immigrants. DOJ officials have repeatedly denied that China Initiative is involved in ethnic profiling, but people of Chinese heritage, including Americans, have been disproportionately affected by the move.

Our analysis shows that of the 148 people indicted under the China Initiative, 130% or 88% belong to Chinese heritage. This includes U.S. citizens who are ethnically Chinese and citizens of the People’s Republic of China, as well as citizens from longtime Chinese communities in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, among others.

Plaintiffs for Chinese heritage

Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University, said the number was “really high” for those who have written extensively about the China Initiative. “We knew it was going to be a majority,” he said, adding that “it simply means that” but we are also prosecuting other people. “

New cases are still being brought under the Biden administration.

The move was launched under the Trump administration, and has not stopped since President Joe Biden took office, apparently reducing the number of cases involving the China initiative.

Mingqing Xiao, a mathematics professor in Illinois, for example, was accused in April 2021 of failing to disclose his relationship with a Chinese university in his application for a National Science Foundation grant. And in July, four Chinese nationals were indicted for hacking dozens of companies and research institutes.

Meanwhile, federal lawyers have continued to pursue the prosecution. The trial of Charles Lieber, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University, is set to begin in mid-December on charges of concealing his ties to Chinese universities. Prosecutors plan to hear cases against high-profile educators in Kansas, Arkansas and elsewhere in the first few months of 2022.

New China Initiative cases brought in 2021.

How did it start

Concerns about Chinese economic espionage targeting the United States have been growing for years, with the US economy estimated to cost between $ 20 billion and $ 30 billion to $ 600 billion. Enforcement under the Obama administration began to grow dramatically: in 2013, when the administration announced a new strategy to reduce the theft of US trade secrets, China was mentioned more than 100 times.

In 2014, the Justice Department filed cyber espionage charges against five hackers affiliated with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army – the first time the United States had prosecuted state actors for hacking. Then in 2015, the United States and China signed a landmark agreement pledging against trade cyber-theft against each other’s businesses.

But it wasn’t until 2018, as part of the Trump administration’s far-reaching confrontation with China, that the department formally launched its first country-specific program.

According to the former Justice Department official, the effort was “data-driven”, and was born out of an intelligence briefing to the FBI’s attorney general and senior DOJ leaders, which revealed day by day that the PRC And its affiliate board [were] Deeply involved in hacking, economic espionage, theft of trade secrets, removal of our export controls, and unconventional methods of collection. He said it also includes Chinese consulates that “help hide the real backgrounds of Chinese visa applicants in order to avoid visa rejection based on their affiliation with the PRC military.”

However, Trump campaigned in part on anti-China and anti-communist rhetoric – notoriously saying at a rally in 2016, “We cannot allow China to rape our country, and that is what they are doing. have been.”

Within months of the initiative’s launch, Trump reportedly told a group of corporate executives at a closed-door dinner in his Mar-a-Lago state that “almost every [Chinese] The student who comes to this country is a spy.

It was against this backdrop that Sessions announced the launch of the China Initiative on November 1, 2018.

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