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Relaunch of controversial program may send 'shock waves of fear' in US

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-01-31 09:28


Almost two years after the "China Initiative" ended in the US, more than a dozen US lawmakers and nearly 50 organizations are warning of the potential reinstatement of the controversial program.

They are urging congressional leadership to remove concerning language from a key House of Representatives spending bill.

Their warning pertains to the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, which funds the Commerce and Justice departments and other science-related programs.

The legislation demands that the so-called China Initiative be reactivated. In the explanatory materials for the appropriations proposal, Republican members of Congress called the decision to end the initiative "unwise" and "deeply irresponsible".

The legislative language has generated backlash from both lawmakers and civil rights activists as well as academic organizations since it was introduced in October.

"A budget is a representation of our priorities and values," read a recent letter signed by 15 Democratic US senators and representatives to House and Senate leaders. "It would be both a misallocation of resources and a backsliding for civil rights to restart the China Initiative."

They said they object to the initiative's characterization in the explanatory materials, calling on the language of relaunching the program to be stricken.

The initiative was launched by former United States president Donald Trump in 2018 to combat so-called economic espionage.

Racial profiling

It officially ended in February 2022 after several of the alleged espionage and national security cases ended in acquittal, dismissal or were dropped. The Justice Department admitted the program was racially profiling Chinese Americans and other residents of Chinese origin or ancestry.

US Representative Judy Chu, chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, who along with Representative Grace Meng and Senator Mazie Hirono, initiated the letter, warning that the "China Initiative" undermined the country's scientific innovation and global partnerships while "perpetuating the 'forever foreigner' stereotype and ruining the careers and lives of the innocent scholars" solely because of their Chinese ancestry.

The initiative was also a failure at collecting evidence of economic espionage so that the Justice Department had to switch its investigations from espionage to academic integrity issues, Chu said. That is why the program was canceled and why congressional leadership should stop resuscitating a program based on xenophobia, not evidence.

"Reimplementing this program would send shock waves of fear across the AAPI community," Cindy Tsai, interim president and executive director of the Committee of 100, said in a statement on Friday.

Joint research by the Committee of 100 and the University of Arizona unveiled that the "China Initiative" was producing a wave of fear among scientists of Chinese descent, with 42 percent of them feeling they were racially profiled by the US government in contrast to only 8 percent for scientists of non-Chinese descent.

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