CAA Responds to the DOJ’s Decision to End the China Initiative

On February 23, 2022, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen for National Security announced that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) would end the China Initiative, a Trump-era program intended to target economic espionage by the Chinese government. As a long-time critic of the China Initiative, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) believes that the Justice Department’s decision to end it falls short of confronting the racial and ethnic bias that is pervasive throughout the United States’ national security apparatus. 

That the DOJ will expand the scope of the China Initiative to include alleged threats from countries such as Russia, Iran, and North Korea in addition to China is proof that this announcement simply window-dresses the racist nature of the program. And it is a racist program. It is disappointing that Olsen found no bias or prejudice in his review of the China Initiative despite the alarming number of cases brought by the Justice Department that have singled out academics of Chinese descent.

The Justice Department announced that it will expand its tools beyond criminal prosecution to include civil and administrative actions. CAA believes that this is a step in the wrong direction.  Many of the cases brought by the government had little to do with trade secrets or economic espionage. Instead, they were situations where Chinese academics had made administrative errors or were not required to disclose information pertaining to China. Olsen’s decision to expand the Justice Department’s tools will only result in continued overzealous investigations and destroy people’s lives. 

CAA has been at the forefront of opposing the racial profiling of Asian scientists for decades now. Our activism dates back to the 1999 arrest of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, who was jailed in solitary confinement without bail for nine months. The government’s espionage case against Dr. Lee fell apart and the federal judge accused the government of mishandling the case.  In 2015, CAA provided support to the family of Dr. Xiaoxing Xi who was also falsely accused of sending American technology to China.  CAA continues to provide support and respond to the community’s request for assistance in cases involving racial profiling and ethnic scapegoating. 

Asian Americans have historically been treated as inherently suspect and perpetually foreign resulting in the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II to the xenophobic policies post 9.11 targeting South Asians, Arabs, and Muslims. The failure to end the racial and ethnic bias in programs like the China Initiative will only continue to perpetuate the hostility towards Chinese Americans and anyone who is perceived to be Chinese.  It is not enough for the government to acknowledge the concerns of the civil rights community, particularly, as we continue to see a rise of anti-Asian hate.

Instead, we call on the government to review the pending criminal cases under the existing program and open an independent investigation into the China Initiative.