Several experts on the United States relationship with China are weighing in after Biden’s Department of Justice announced Wednesday it is halting a Trump-era initiative that cracked down on Chinese spying.
The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it is ending its “China Initiative” program that was aimed at preventing spying by the Chinese Communist Party and launching a new, “broader approach.”
The China Initiative was started in 2018 under the Trump administration to protect U.S. national security against Chinese spying on U.S. intellectual property and in academia. The DOJ website said it was aimed at “identifying and prosecuting those engaged in trade secret theft, hacking, and economic espionage,” as well as “protecting our critical infrastructure against external threats through foreign direct investment and supply chain compromises.”
“China is stealing hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. intellectual property each year,” columnist and author Gordon Chang told Fox News Digital in response to the announcement. “John Ratcliffe, when he was director of national intelligence, estimated it was about $500 billion annually. So China should be the focus of U.S. efforts and now to drop the China Initiative sends a message to Beijing and everyone else that it’s open season on Americans.”
“It seems it’s become politically incorrect to go after China’s spies, so this is inexplicable in my view,” Chang added.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Biden administration had been under pressure from activists and faculty at some universities over the effort. They said it was harming U.S. competitiveness in research and disproportionately targeting people based on race.
“To be clear, China poses a legitimate threat of espionage that the Justice Department and FBI must take seriously,” Brennan Center authors Michael German and Alex Liang said. “But too often, the Justice Department has brought cases under the China Initiative that have not targeted espionage or intellectual property theft by Chinese spies but minor administrative violations by scientists of Chinese ancestry who are not suspected of affiliation with the Chinese government.”
“That’s crap,” Chang told Fox News Digital. “Look, the reason they went after academics on technical charges was because making an espionage or treason case was too hard. So what they did was they felt the best use of prosecutorial resources was to go for the easy convictions. That’s not to say that these individuals were not guilty of serious crimes.”
Chang explained that China operates a system where no citizen can refuse the government’s demand to spy on other countries, meaning that all Chinese nationals are legitimate targets.
“It’s not about race,” Chang said. “It’s about China forcing them to commit acts of espionage. The other thing is we know China targets American nationals of Chinese descent, and so again every ethnic Chinese is a legitimate target of counterespionage efforts because China has made them so. So, let’s drop this political wokeism. Let’s start defending our country, because we’re going to lose it if we don’t.”
Writer and policy expert Ying Ma told Fox News Digital that even an appearance of race-based targeting is “unhelpful and undesirable” but added the threats from China are real.
“The government that most aggressively targets Americans of Chinese descent is China’s,” Ma said. “Unfortunately, some individuals are in fact susceptible — whether due to greed or a misplaced sense of Chinese nationalism, or both. Just look at Eileen Gu betraying the United States at the Winter Olympics.”
Ma continued, “The threats from China are real. Let’s hope the Justice Department will find a more effective way than the China Initiative to be vigilant against espionage and the theft of American scientific research.”
Michael Pillsbury, author of the “The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower,” told Fox News Digital that the question is what this announcement means in terms of how the FBI and U.S. states’ attorneys interpret it.
“This is clearly pouring cold water on individual FBI agents in the field,” Pillsbury said. “If this is interpreted to mean give Chinese technology theft cases a lower priority, it’s going to be a disaster.”
The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News.
Congress is trying to pass legislation to combat China, though there is significant disagreement between House Democrats and Senate Democrats about what should be included. Congressional leaders are indicating they hope to reach some sort of compromise in the coming months to get the China competition bill to the president’s desk.
Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report