CAPAC Members Welcome End of China Initiative

Feb 23, 2022 Issues: Civil Rights

Washington, D.C. —  Today, Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen announced changes to the Department of Justice’s “China Initiative,” including a change in name and focus to more accurately reflect the global security challenges facing the US without singling out China and promoting anti-Asian xenophobia and violence. Prior to his announcement, AAG Olsen met with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific America Caucus (CAPAC) to hear concerns about the China Initiative, its use of racial profiling, and the harm it has caused the Asian American community. Members of CAPAC issued the following statements:

Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-27), CAPAC Chair:

“I am grateful to Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen for his remarks today acknowledging the China Initiative’s deep flaws and announcing that the Department of Justice will no longer use this program’s framework in their investigations of economic espionage. By starting with a focus on researchers and scientists who are ethnically Chinese, the China Initiative not only engaged in blatant racial profiling, but also reinforced harmful stereotypes that Asian Americans are ‘perpetual others’ who cannot be trusted, ruining numerous lives in the process. With only one conviction since its creation in 2018, the China Initiative will be remembered not for any success at curbing espionage, but rather for ruining careers and discouraging many Asian Americans from pursuing careers in STEM fields out of fear that they too will be targeted. And by focusing solely on China despite ongoing threats from countries like Iran and Russia, this initiative painted China as a uniquely existential threat to the US, something we know has led to more violence. There are serious national security concerns facing our country from all across the world, but our response must be based on evidence, not racism and fear.

“I welcome today’s announcement that makes significant changes to this program, including removing the ‘China Initiative’ name, and using existing federal government frameworks, like the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s recent guidance, to address issues of research security. I especially appreciate the acknowledgement of the harm that this program caused to our communities and the willingness to adapt the Department’s work to focus on economic espionage cases in a holistic way that does not rely on race or ethnicity.  I want to praise the Asian American community whose outspoken advocacy made this change possible. And I thank Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen for their leadership and their attention to CAPAC’s grave concerns about the China Initiative. As we look ahead, I will continue to work with the Department of Justice to ensure transparency and accountability as these changes are fully implemented.”

Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-06), CAPAC First Vice-Chair:

“Today, the Department of Justice announced changes to a Trump-era program, wrongfully named the China Initiative. This program was intended to combat academic espionage and national security threats from abroad. However, the China Initiative has only contributed to animosity, suspicion, and bigotry toward Asian American researchers, while also fueling the anti-Asian sentiment caused by scapegoating Asian Americans for the spread of COVID-19. Many of the alleged espionage and national security cases have ended in acquittal or dismissal and in one notable case federal prosecutors withdrew charges all together against Gang Chen, a mechanical engineering professor at M.I.T. Even so, the damage to their personal and professional lives are irreparable which is why we must recommit to ensuring our national security programs do not wrongfully target innocent people. I applaud the Justice Department for taking steps to ensure its programs do not perpetuate unintended consequences and I look forward to partnering with them to implement these changes.”

Congressman Mark Takano (CA-41), CAPAC Second Vice-Chair:

“The Trump Administration’s racist ‘China Initiative’ did nothing more than target Chinese Americans based on their ethnicity and racial characteristics. For years, prominent researchers and professors of Asian descent have been unjustly targeted and accused of engaging in misconduct, and time and time again, we have seen the severe ramifications of these actions.

“I’m glad that now, under the Biden Administration, the Department of Justice is taking decisive action to make serious adjustments to this poorly executed initiative. My colleagues and I in the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus have continuously called for a revamp or an end to the program in its entirety, and today’s announcement is a great win for all of us in the AAPI community. I am thankful to Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen for spearheading this effort and I am looking forward to further opportunities to collaborate with the Department of Justice to help those who have been wronged.”

Congressman Ted Lieu (CA-33), CAPAC Whip:

“I’m pleased that the DOJ is walking back its China Initiative program, something I have called for since its inception. Since the program was created in 2018, multiple professors and academics have been targeted by law enforcement because of their race. Some, including Americans, were wrongfully accused of spying for China, and were then charged with crimes that had nothing to do with espionage. These actions by the DOJ amounted to targeted racial profiling, which has had a chilling effect on academic freedom and the scientific community. Addressing espionage should remain a priority for law enforcement, but it should never come at the expense of individual liberties.”

Congressman Andy Kim (NJ-03):

“The Department of Justice’s decision to remove the China Initiative from their investigative framework when looking into cases of economic espionage is the right step,” said Congressman Andy Kim. “This deeply flawed and divisive program did little to keep us safe while engaging in blatant racial profiling.”

Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08):

"As a democracy defending freedom and individual rights, America rejects collective guilt, guilt by association, and guilt by blood as concepts totally antithetical to due process and the rule of law. Thus, our nation should celebrate the demise of the flawed China Initiative, which has promoted racial profiling of Chinese Americans in the scientific community at a time of intense and rising bigotry against Asian Americans.

“I applaud the Biden Administration for ending this program, which has capsized the careers and lives of several innocent Chinese American researchers. I am encouraged to see that the Department of Justice is now making an effort to distinguish between legitimate national security problems and simple research grant application errors. I look forward to working with CAPAC to monitor the Administration and the DOJ's implementation of these changes and am hopeful that they will restore a measure of justice and fairness to this troubled area."