- Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched the China Initiative in 2018 in an effort to counter Communist China’s rampant espionage practices.
- After meeting with Asian-American groups critical of the China Initiative, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen terminated the program on Feb. 23, 2022, but didn’t deign to share which groups had influenced his decision-making with the media.
- China watchers, such as Republican Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina, Peter Schweizer and Steve Yates expressed consternation at the termination of the China Initiative, while vocal critics of the program — some with CCP ties — took to social media to celebrate its demise.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the termination of the China Initiative Wednesday citing agreement with Asian-American groups critical of the anti-espionage strategy.
While announcing the termination of the China Initiative Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen launched the Strategy for Countering Nation-State Threats, a program aimed to counter espionage stemming from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In addition to the high-profile December 2021 conviction of Harvard nanotechnology professor Charles Lieber, the Department of Justice website lists eight examples of successful 2021 China Initiative cases, which include crimes such as the theft of GE trade secrets, misleading global financial institutions, lying on government grant applications, illegally exporting $100,000 of U.S. goods to a Chinese military university, economic espionage against Coca-Cola, two cases involving the theft of trade secrets related to pediatric medical conditions and the illegal exportation of cesium atomic clocks.
Olsen made clear to address China Initiative critics’ claims that the program had “disproportionately” targeted ethnic Chinese, and as a result was racist in nature. “We are focused on the actions of the PRC government, the Chinese Communist Party, and their agents — not the Chinese people or those of Chinese descent,” Olsen said.
During the press conference held at George Mason University, Olsen acknowledged the concerns of Asian-American critics, stating “the civil rights community” communicated to the DOJ that the China Initiative “fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias.”
However, during a subsequent question and answer session with journalists, Olsen declined to identify the Asian-American civil rights groups which had influenced his perspective.
Olsen said after taking office that a review of the China Initiative began leading to the conclusion that “this initiative is not the right approach” and that “the current threat landscape demands a broader approach.”
Identifying China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as nations seeking to “undermine our core democratic, economic, and scientific institutions,” Olsen described the new DOJ anti-espionage program as “threat driven,” but did not specify how the current threat landscape differed significantly from previous iterations. He said the four listed hostile countries were “more aggressive and more capable in their nefarious activity than ever before.”
Several China watchers expressed consternation following Olsen’s press conference in interviews with the Daily Caller News Foundation.
New York Times bestselling author of “Red-Handed: How American Elites Get Rich Helping China Win,” Peter Schweizer, told the DCNF that the decision to end the China Initiative “was met with loud cheering in Beijing. The Biden administration continues to give the CCP what they want.”
“It is a travesty,” senior fellow and chair of the China Policy Initiative Steve Yates told the DCNF. “Wrong move for the wrong reasons at the wrong time. Essentially the Justice Department is enabling the Chinese Communists’ use of woke talking points to shut down the only meaningful effort to penalize those engaged in unlawful theft and manipulation of Americans.”
“The Chinese Communist Party is not an ethnicity and it does not represent all Chinese people, even in China. It is an evil and malicious regime,” Yates said. “Without fear or favor, we need all elements of US national security prosecuting people of any ethnic background who are unlawfully enabling that regime.”
“While our adversaries are taking provocative steps to undermine U.S. power and influence, the Biden administration is sacrificing our national security in order to appease the woke Left,” Republican Rep. Greg Murphy of North Carolina told the DCNF.
Addressing claims from critics that the China Initiative resulted in racial profiling against Asian-Americans, Murphy said that “[t]he Biden administration and activist groups have blamed the China Initiative as being racist and have cited a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes as an example. They fail to point to any direct evidence that hate crimes are being committed because of the China Initiative and Assistant Attorney General Olsen directly stated none of the decisions made by the Justice Department were rooted in bias.”
In January, Murphy sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland urging the DOJ to continue the China Initiative, citing rampant CCP espionage on American campuses, but told the DCNF he has not received a response.
“We’ve repeatedly seen that China has used our educational institutions as a way to silence dissent, steal our technology and conduct espionage. The American people must be aware of any attempts by the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate our educational institutions and we cannot allow the risk of offending people to compromise our national security,” said Murphy.
When asked about which Asian-Americans groups may have influenced Olsen’s decision-making, Murphy said, “The Congressional Asian Pacific America Caucus recently met with Assistant Attorney General Olsen and praised his ending of the China Initiative. In addition, according to Fox News, the United Chinese Americans were one of the groups that pushed for the end of the China Initiative.”
Opponents of the China Initiative were quick to celebrate the decision on social media following Olsen’s announcement.
Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University, argued against the China Initiative in a 2021 paper titled “Criminalizing China,” in which she wrote: “using ‘China’ as the glue connecting cases prosecuted under the Initiative’s umbrella creates an overinclusive conception of the threat and attaches a criminal taint to entities that possess ‘China-ness,’ based on PRC nationality, PRC national origin, Chinese ethnicity, or other expressions of connections with ‘China.’”
Lewis cheered Olsen’s announcement in a tweet, writing that there was still “so much more work ahead to make sure changes are deeper than a name change.”
Xuanhe Zhao, professor of mechanical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), joined Lewis in celebration, tweeting that the “China Initiative has caused irreversible damages to national security, science and technology, Asian origins and many wrongfully prosecuted families who deserve a sincere apology.”
Thank you @MargaretKLewis and others for speaking out #EndChinaInitiative! China Initiative has caused irreversible damages to national security, science and technology, Asian origins and many wrongfully prosecuted families — who deserve a sincere apology. https://t.co/KM3dbAshc5
— Xuanhe Zhao @MIT (@ProfZhaoMIT) February 23, 2022
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, chaired by Democratic Rep. Judy Chu of California, also welcomed the end of the China Initiative, claiming in a tweet that the China Initiative put “lives at risk” through “racial profiling” and spread “xenophobia.”
Instead of keeping our country safe from global threats, the China Initiative put more lives at risk by relying on racial profiling & spreading xenophobia, w/ careers ruined in the process. Today, we welcome the DOJ's decision to end this flawed program. https://t.co/YdQcBQ9UwJ
— CAPAC (@CAPAC) February 23, 2022
Chu herself also insinuated the China Initiative caused racial profiling, and increased anti-Asian violence in a subsequent tweet.
The DOJ's decision to end the "China Initiative" would have been impossible without so many in our communities speaking out about the ways that racial profiling contributes to the rise of anti-Asian violence. This is a victory for all of us! #StopAsianHate https://t.co/sS2WQmM6qg
— Judy Chu (@RepJudyChu) February 23, 2022
Celebration over the end of China Initiative morphed into general calls for greater reform. In a tweet the ACLU called on the Biden administration to “fundamentally reform” DOJ policies which “enable racial profiling in the name of national security.”
Getting rid of this initiative is not enough.
The Biden administration must fundamentally reform the longstanding Justice Department policies that enable racial profiling in the name of national security. https://t.co/akWxc7VkY8
— ACLU (@ACLU) February 23, 2022
After labeling the China Initiative “a failed program that has fueled racial animosity, xenophobia, and suspicion” the Chinese-American group Committee of 100 added “more work needs to be done” and that the group looked “forward to continuing to work with the Department of Justice to recognize, address, and prevent future harms” to the Asian American Pacific Islander community for the sake of an “inclusive” America.
— Committee of 100 (@Committee100) February 23, 2022
A 2020 Newsweek article entitled “Exclusive: 600 U.S. Groups Linked to Chinese Communist Party Influence Effort with Ambition Beyond Election” identified the Committee of 100 as having ties to the United Front Work Department, a CCP department that works “to co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and authority of its ruling Chinese Communist Party,” citing a 2018 U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report.
Current Committee of 100 members, such as Ronnie Chan, are directly connected to the CCP. Chan is a governing board member of the China-United States Exchange Foundation — which is run by Tung Chee-hwa, vice chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference — and a recipient of the inaugural “Friends of Diplomacy” award given by the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC in the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region, which celebrates Chinese citizens who “have supported China’s diplomacy and made noticeable contribution to promoting the national interest, national image and China’s exchanges and cooperation with the world over the years.”
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