The United States ends the Trump-era ‘China initiative’ aimed at technology theft
The United States ends the Trump-era ‘China initiative’ aimed at technology theft

The United States ends the Trump-era ‘China initiative’ aimed at technology theft

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Justice closes on Wednesday a program focusing on combating Chinese espionage and theft of intellectual property, shifting from what an official called a “nearsighted” focus to addressing threats from a wider range of hostile nations .

Critics have said the initiative, launched under the administration of former President Donald Trump, constituted racial profiling and created a culture of fear that has cooled scientific research.

The move is a recognition that the focus on China was too limited, said Matt Olsen, assistant justice minister for the national security department.

“We are seeing nations like China, Russia, Iran and North Korea become more aggressive and skilled in their sinister activity than ever before,” Olsen said. “Our new strategy is threat-driven.”

The department’s “China Initiative,” which began in 2018, has been the subject of intense scrutiny by civil rights groups and some members of Congress for its extensive study of professors at U.S. universities on whether they revealed economic ties to China when applying for federal funding and visited Chinese scholars from military affiliated universities.

“By choosing one country, what the China initiative did, it created in some ways a somewhat short-sighted approach that I do not think really reflects the nature of the threat landscape,” said Olsen, who will discuss the change later Wednesday. in a speech at George Mason University.

At least 20 academic researchers have been charged as part of the China initiative, including Charles Lieber, a professor at Harvard University convicted in December to lie about his ties to China in connection with federally funded research.

But several of the department’s cases were rejected because of flaws in the evidence or premise, including one against Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Gang Chen, who was accused of hiding ties to China while seeking federal funding.

“Anything that creates the impression that the Department of Justice applies different standards based on race or ethnicity harms the department and our efforts, and it harms the public,” Olsen said.

In future, the Ministry of Justice will have a much higher bar and conduct more intense supervision before instituting similar future criminal cases against academics, Olsen said.

Olsen added that the department will not “take any tools off the table” when it comes to bringing possible future cases involving researchers, nor will the department drop any of its outstanding cases against professors.

“The department will continue to stand behind the cases that we are currently prosecuting,” he said.

The Ministry of Justice’s new strategy will focus primarily on cases within a few core areas: defending the nation against threats of espionage, export controls and violations of sanctions; protection of corporate intellectual property, private information about Americans, and supply chains; and defend democracy against rising threats from authoritarian regimes.

“Make no mistake, we will be relentless in defending our country from China,” Olsen said.


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