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DOJ Drops China-Focused Anti-Espionage Initiative

The Department of Justice is moving on from a three-year-old prosecution initiative known as the China Initiative, citing concerns of discriminate and heavy-handed treatment, Politico reports. The program, announced days before Jeff Sessions' ouster as Attorney General on November 1, 2018, encouraged federal prosecutors to build criminal cases against those suspected of conducting espionage for the Chinese government. It led to a wave of high-profile prosecutions of Chinese academics living in the U.S., some of which are still moving forward. These cases centered around faulty disclosures on grant applications and accusations that professors hid their involvement in scientific development programs run by the Chinese government. DOJ officials maintain that a major consequence of leaving the China Initiative behind will be a change in the way "grant fraud" cases are handled, perhaps with a shift to pursuing them civilly. Instead, prosecutors will focus their resources on efforts by China, Russia, Iran, and other actors to maintain technology of national security significance.

DOJ insists that efforts to thwart Chinese espionage are a priority for federal prosecutors and that dropping the China Initiative is merely a recalibration of enforcement efforts. Officials maintain that they are still particularly concerned with China's persistent efforts to acquire tech secrets illegally and intimidate dissidents abroad. They regret that the China Initiative may have painted Chinese people residing in the U.S. as disloyal and the impresssion that a lower bar was applied to their actions than to people of other nationalities. Before announcing an end to the program, DOJ officials met with Asian American advocacy groups who had lodged complaints. One of their main arguments was that the China Initiative became a hindrance to U.S. national security because it discouraged Chinese nationals with valuable skills from pursuing work in the U.S. DOJ insists that the initiative was racist or discriminatory in its conception or practice.

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