Washington’s campaign against academics linked to China is under pressure when another case collapses

Proponents say the China initiative has become an excuse for racial profiling, part of a long history of the United States treating Asian-Americans as unreliable foreigners. In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Law prevented Chinese immigrants from entering the country for 10 years, and during World War II the federal government detained hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese-Americans. Under the Clinton and Obama administrations there were a number of failed espionage cases against Chinese-American scientists, including Wen Ho Lee of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Temple University Xi Xiaoxing, and Sherry Chen of the National Meteorological Service.

“The China initiative is explicitly based on the theory that there is an ethnic affinity … on the part of people of Chinese descent – whether they are U.S. citizens or Canadian citizens – to act in violation of the law. for the benefit of Beijing, ”says Frank Wu, president of Queens College at New York City University.Under this system, he says,“ ordinary behaviors like scientific cooperation or visiting your mother [in China] it suddenly becomes suspicious. ”

It also had a frightening effect on Chinese-American scientists, says Huang of MIT. During his regular meetings with the Asian American Scholar Forum, he says, others expressed fear of being arrested, fear of losing their funding, and fear of the way they might be perceived by their non-Asian colleagues. Young doctors are no longer looking for professors in the United States, he says, while established scientists are now looking for international options. A number returned to China to prestigious places-A result the China initiative had hoped to avoid — after his career in the United States was destroyed.

“It’s pretty bad and quite common.” We see this climate of fear engulfing Sino-American scientists, ”says Huang.“ The United States is losing the most talented people in other countries because of the China initiative. It’s bad for science. It’s bad for America. ”

The Hu case played out

For civil society activists and researchers who have followed the China initiative, Hu’s case is nothing short of surprising.

Hu, a Canadian-born Canadian citizen, is a renowned researcher in nanotechnology. In 2013, the University of Tennessee recruited him to teach and continue his research. He disclosed on several occasions that he had worked part-time teaching graduate students and researchers at Beijing University of Technology, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

“The China initiative is explicitly based on the theory that there is an ethnic affinity on the part of people of Chinese descent to act in violation of American law for the benefit of Beijing.”

Frank Wu, New York City University

None of this has raised issues at the moment. When Hu began collaborating with NASA, which is legally barred from funding any research that involves “participation, collaboration or coordination” with “China or a Chinese-owned company,” UT administrators assured both him and the agency government that this part-time work does not violate the restriction. The law is intended to apply to NASA, not its research collaborators.

In 2018, however, the FBI identified Hu as a potential spy. During his court testimony, Agent Sadiku said he had found and made an “approximate translation” via Google of a Chinese-language press release and a flyer suggesting that Hu had once had a contract. shortly after the Thousand Talents Program. That was clear enough for Sadiku to open a formal probe.

During Sadiku’s first visit to Hu’s office, Hu says, the agent tried to make him admit to participating in a talent program.

“They say,‘ You’re so smart. You have to be in the Thousand Talents program, ”he said during his trial. “I say, ‘I’m not so smart.'”

Sadiku also tried to convince him to become a spy for the US government, using his work at Peking University as a cover. He declined to email after Sadiku’s visit. After that, Sadiku doubled his investigation, putting Hu and his son – then freshmen at UT – under surveillance.

But after nearly two years, Sadiku turned away from espionage claims and instead began to build the fraud case that Hu ended up being accused of. The evidence is based on a form the university requires academics to fill, revealing any outside work that earns them more than $ 10,000. He did not disclose his work part-time because he earned less than $ 2,000. Sadiku says this is evidence that Hu intentionally hid his work affiliated with China to defraud NASA. However, the jury was unable to decide, and the block sparked a verdict.

FBI under pressure

Observers say the details of the case represent those of others brought within the framework of the China initiative: a spy probe on an ethnically Chinese researcher is open with little evidence, and the allegations are changed later when no no sign of economic espionage can be found.

According to German, the former FBI agent, this is due to the pressure “on FBI agents across the country, every FBI office, [and] each U.S. Attorney’s office to develop cases to fit the framework, because they have to demonstrate statistical achievements. ”

“The DOJ does not need a special initiative aimed at China to go after spies. They must be able to use their normal methods and procedures.”

Alex Nowrasteh, Cato Institute

On Thursday, June 17, shortly after the news of the missile, members of the Judiciary Committee of the Chamber wrote to the inspector general of the Department of Justice. requesting that the DOJ investigate if there was adequate evidence that it was not related to race or ethnicity for the FBI to open the case, whether the bureau had used false information and made false statements, and whether the China initiative led to a “reckless pressure” to engage in ethnic and racial profiling.

This follows growing demands to investigate whether the initiative has led to such profiling — and calls for an end to that program as a whole.

“The DOJ does not need a special initiative aimed at China to go after the spies,” says Alex Nowrasteh, director of immigration studies and the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. “They need to be able to use their normal methods and procedures.”

Hu’s trial suggests “that the scope of Chinese espionage is probably much less than people think,” he added. “If there were a lot more, you’d think it would be a little easier to find, and they wouldn’t take almost home.”

As for Hu, his nightmare is far from over.

He is still under house arrest, pending a decision by the Justice Department to dismiss the case or drop it, or by the judge to drop the government’s charges in full. He has been out of work since his work visa in the United States expired, but he has not yet been granted a home arrest permit so he can return to Canada to renew it. Doing so could put him in the spotlight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to his lawyer.

All he can do is wait for the U.S. government to make its next move.

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