Stanford faculty denounce DOJ China Initiative, seek end to screening of Chinese researchers for spy threats

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More than 160 Stanford University professors have signed an open letter to the U.S. attorney general asking that the Justice Department to end the China Initiative, citing concerns that it harms the U.S.’s competitiveness and fuels racial biases. 

The 177 Stanford University faculty members signed the Sept. 8 letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland detailing how the program, which was created under former President Trump that investigates researchers in the United States has raised concerns about racial profiling and discouraged scholars from staying in or coming to the country.

The Justice Department in 2018 launched the China Initiative to combat what officials saw as a multi-pronged effort by Beijing to steal intellectual property and conduct foreign influence operations in the U.S. 

During the Trump administration, a particular area of emphasis was placed on American college campuses and research institutions, where dozens of academics working in the U.S. were charged in cases that often accused them of failing to disclose research grants they had received from universities in China. A persistent concern at the time was that talent recruitment programs linked to the Chinese government were enticing academics to steal research from American universities for Beijing’s economic benefit.

Attorney General Merrick Garland departs after speaking at the Justice Department in Washington, on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)

The U.S. Justice Department did not respond to Fox News’ request seeking comment. 

In their two-page letter to Garland, Stanford faculty members acknowledged “the importance to the United States of protecting both intellectual property and information that is essential to our national and economic security.” They further acknowledge that “Chinese government sanctioned activities including intellectual property theft and economic espionage are important to address.”

“We believe, however, that the China Initiative has deviated significantly from it claimed mission: it is harming the United States’ research and technology competitiveness and it is fueling biases that, in turn, raise concerns about racial profiling,” the letter states. 

The letter outlines the program’s “fundamental flaws,” such as that it “disproportionately targets researchers of Chinese origin,” and the alleged crimes are often not related to intellectual property theft or espionage. 

“Third,” the letter states, “the China Initiative is harming the U.S. science and technology enterprise and the future of the U.S. STEM workforce.”

China is the biggest source of foreign students in the United States, according to U.S. government data. The number fell 20% in 2020 from the previous year but at 380,000 was nearly double that of second-ranked India.

The California university has made headline in recent months in connection with allegations that a visiting researcher withheld information regarding her involvement with the People’s Liberation Army.

Chen Song, 39, had previously been charged  with visa fraud after she allegedly hid her military background when, in February, she was accused of lying to authorities and destroying evidence “of her official affiliation with the Chinese military,” a law enforcement official said at the time. 

The letter goes on to describe how the initiative, as well as other federal actions, has created “an increasingly hostile atmosphere” for Chinese Americans and immigrants and visitors of Chinese origin.

“We strongly urge you to terminate the China Initiative and develop and alternative response to the challenges posed by our relations with the People’s Republic of China,” the letter concludes, “one that avoids racial profiling and discouraging beneficial and important collaborations and influx of talented personnel.”  

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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