Feb 23, 2022 - World

Lawmakers and advocates say ending China Initiative a "first step" for DOJ

Photo of Asian American lawmakers standing at the podium with a sign that says "Stop Asian Hate" to their right

California Rep. Judy Chu is joined by other House Democrats at a news conference on the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in Washington on May 18, 2021. Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Asian American lawmakers and advocates said Wednesday that the Justice Department's decision to end the China Initiative, a Trump-era program aimed at combating Chinese economic espionage, is an important move but that it cannot be a matter of "rebranding."

Why it matters: DOJ's announcement comes after years of advocacy from Asian Americans who accused the department of using racial profiling to target Asian researchers. Scientists had also said the program's focus on grant fraud would chill research in the U.S.

  • Though assistant attorney general for national security Matt Olsen said Wednesday that he found no indication of racial bias in his review of the program, the DOJ is shifting its strategy to a broader threat-driven approach, in part due to Asian Americans' racial profiling concerns.

What they're saying: Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), said she is gratified the Asian American community raised its voice and that the announcement is long overdue.

  • "[DOJ] started with either the ethnic background or family ties or professional research collaborations," she told Axios. "There was clear racial bias."
  • Ending the initiative is only "a first step," Chu added, noting that the DOJ must actively involve both Asian Americans and the scientific community as it pursues its new strategy. "I'm anxious to see the fate of cases in the near future."
  • Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who led nearly 100 congressional members in demanding a probe into the program last year, told Axios the move is a "good win for Americans" and that other agencies should consider implicit bias training to prevent racial profiling. "It shouldn't be happening anywhere," he said.
  • "While we are cautiously optimistic about the Justice Department's announcement, it cannot be a rebranding exercise and more needs to be done to combat racial profiling, especially when we continue to see academics step forward with stories about being targeted," OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates’ national president Linda Ng said in a statement.
  • Stop AAPI Hate also shared concern that the DOJ's new strategy will simply retain the China Initiative in a different form. The organization warned that "such policies have painted people of Chinese descent as being untrustworthy, contributing to the racism against AAPIs."
  • Advancing Justice – AAJC President John C. Yang called for transparency as the DOJ dismantles the program. "We will be following how the Justice Department addresses pending cases and investigations that are inconsistent with [its] standards."

Catch up quick: The China Initiative was formally launched in 2018 with a focus on intellectual property theft. Asian Americans expressed alarm about possible racial profiling early on and pushed for an end to the program after multiple failed prosecutions.

Go deeper