Advocates say China’s initiative has become an excuse for racial profiling, part of a long US history of treating Asian Americans as untrustworthy foreigners. In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act prevented Chinese immigrants from entering the country for 10 years, and during World War II the federal government detained hundreds of thousands of innocent Japanese Americans. Under the Clinton and Obama administrations, there have been a series of failed espionage cases against Chinese-American scientists, including Wen Ho Lee From Los Alamos National Laboratory, Temple University Shi Xiaoshengand Sherry Chen of the National Weather Service.
“The China initiative is explicitly built on the theory that there is racial affinity … on the part of people of Chinese descent – even if they are US or Canadian citizens – to act in violation of US law in favor of Beijing,” says Frank Wu, president of Queen’s College at City University of New York Under this system, he says, “Normal behaviors such as scientific cooperation or visiting your mother [in China] Suddenly I became suspicious.”
It also has a chilling effect on Chinese-American scientists, says MIT’s Huang. He says that during his regular meetings with the Asian American Scholars Forum, others have expressed fear of arrest, fear of losing their funding, and fear of how their non-Asian colleagues might view them. Young PhD students are no longer looking for professorships in the United States, he says, while established scholars are now looking for international options. number He returned to China to prominent positionsIt is an outcome that China’s initiative hoped to avoid — after ruining their careers in the United States.
“It’s too bad and too prevalent. We are seeing a climate of fear engulfing Chinese American scientists,” Huang says. “The United States is losing the most talented people to other countries because of China’s initiative. This is bad for science. This is bad for America.”
Hu Jintao’s case is over
For activists and civil society researchers who follow the China initiative, Hu’s case is not at all surprising.
A Chinese-born Canadian citizen, he is a renowned researcher in nanotechnology. In 2013, the University of Tennessee recruited him to teach and pursue his research. Hu has revealed on numerous occasions that he has worked part-time teaching graduate students and researchers at Beijing University of Technology, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.
None of this raised any problems at the time. When Hu began collaborating with NASA, which is legally prohibited from funding any research that involves “sharing, collaborating, or coordinating” with “China or a Chinese-owned company,” officials at the University of Texas assured him that this part-time job did not infringe restrictions. The law is intended to apply to NASA, not to its research collaborators.
But in 2018, the FBI identified Hu as a possible spy. During his court testimony, Agent Sadiq said he had found and performed a “rough translation” via Google of a Chinese-language news release and a post indicating that Hu had once received a short-term contract from the Thousand Talents program. This was enough evidence for Sadiko to open an official investigation.
During Sadeko’s first visit to Hu’s office, he says, the agent tried to persuade him to admit to participating in the talent show.
“They said: You are very smart. You should be in the Thousand Talents programme.” “I’m saying, I’m not that smart.”
Sadiq also tried to persuade him to become a spy for the US government, using his work at Peking University as a cover. He declined via email after visiting Sadiko. Next, Sadiku doubled down on his investigations, placing he and his son—and then a new student at UT—on probation.
But after nearly two years, Sadko walked away from the espionage allegations and instead began building the fraud case with which he was eventually accused. The evidence was based on a form the university required academics to fill out, revealing any outside work that earned them more than $10,000. He did not disclose his part-time work because he earns less than $2,000. Sadiku says this is evidence that he deliberately concealed his China-related business to defraud NASA. However, the jury could not make a decision, and the impasse led to a wrongful trial.
The FBI is under pressure
Observers say the details of the case mirror those of others brought in as part of China’s initiative: a spy investigation is opened with an ethnic Chinese researcher with little evidence, and charges are later changed when no sign of economic espionage can be found.
According to Germany, a former FBI agent, this is due to pressure “on FBI agents across the country, every FBI field office, [and] Every US attorney’s office is developing cases to fit the framework, because they have to prove statistical achievements.”
On Thursday, June 17, shortly after news of the mistrial, members of the House Judiciary Committee wrote to the Justice Department’s Inspector General. Request the Ministry of Justice to investigate Whether there was sufficient evidence unrelated to race or ethnicity for the FBI to open the case, whether the bureau used false information and made false statements, and whether China’s initiative resulted in “unwelcome pressure” to engage in ethnic and racial profiling.
This follows growing demands to investigate whether the initiative has led to such profiling – and calls to end the program altogether.
“The Department of Justice does not need a special initiative targeting China to go after spies,” says Alex Nuraste, director of immigration studies and the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. “They should be able to use their normal methods and procedures.”
He adds that Hugh’s trial indicates that “the scope of Chinese espionage is probably much lower than people think”. “If there were a lot of them, you’d think it would be a little easier to find, and they wouldn’t have to make up the issues.”
As for Hu, his nightmare wasn’t over yet.
He is still under house arrest, pending a decision by the Ministry of Justice to renew or drop the case, or to cancel the government charges permanently. He has been unemployed since his US work visa expired, but he has also not been granted leave from house arrest so he can return to Canada to renew it. According to his lawyer, doing so could put him in the crosshairs of ICE.
All he can do is wait for the US government to make its next move.