GOP rips Biden DOJ’s decision to end Trump crackdown on Chinese espionage

by Jerry Dunleavy, Justice Department Reporter

Republicans on Capitol Hill are harshly criticizing the Biden Department of Justice’s decision to shutter the Trump-era China Initiative, which had aimed to combat the growing national security threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party.

The Biden Justice Department announced Wednesday that it would pull the plug on the effort directed at pushing back on China’s economic espionage following a year of criticism from some fellow Democrats, hundreds of university professors, left-wing activists, and the CCP itself.

Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, named to the House Intelligence Committee this month, said the Biden administration made a dangerous mistake in dropping the China Initiative.

“The Chinese Communist Party is devoted to stealing American innovation and turning it against us in support of its malign ambitions. This relentless campaign, which includes but is not limited to traditional espionage, continues whether or not we choose to counter it,” the Wisconsin congressman told the Washington Examiner. “By ending the China Initiative, the Biden administration is sending a terrible signal about the U.S. government’s commitment to countering this activity. I will be pressing the administration for answers in the coming weeks about how it plans to replace these critical efforts.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen, who runs the DOJ’s National Security Division and said Thursday that he decided to end the China Initiative, contended that the effort could have been perceived as racist.

“By grouping cases under the China Initiative rubric, we helped give rise to a harmful perception that the Department of Justice applies a lower standard to investigate and prosecute criminal conduct related to that country or that we in some way view people with racial, ethnic, or familial ties to China differently,” he said, even as he acknowledged that China poses an “evolving, significant threat.”

The about-face comes after many Republicans had already accused Attorney General Merrick Garland of softening enforcement of the initiative.

Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he was “deeply concerned” by the Biden DOJ’s decision.

“As a former federal prosecutor who worked on counterintelligence threats from the CCP, this initiative brought overdue focus to a very real threat. Now is not the time to weaken our response,” The Texas lawmaker said.

The China Initiative, started by the Trump DOJ in 2018, attempted to shine a light on the CCP’s coordinated and multifaceted efforts to steal research and technology from the United States, with a particular focus on rooting out academics who concealed their ties to China.

Despite big setbacks in some cases, numerous people have been convicted through the China Initiative, including Harvard professor Charles Lieber, who was found guilty in December of all federal charges related to concealing his ties to a Chinese university and the Chinese government’s Thousand Talents Program while receiving U.S. government funding.

Garland was asked about the China Initiative in October, and he called the CCP a “serious threat” in relation to intellectual property, espionage, cyberattacks, and ransomware.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, a well-known China hawk, said, “The CCP has stolen trillions of dollars of American intellectual property, destroyed millions of American jobs, and turned students and researchers studying in the United States into foreign spies.”

“Canceling this initiative is just another instance of weakness from an administration more concerned with being politically correct than protecting Americans,” Cotton, of Arkansas, added.

Democrats in the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus said they had met with Olsen prior to his decision.

“By starting with a focus on researchers and scientists who are ethnically Chinese, the China Initiative not only engaged in blatant racial profiling but also reinforced harmful stereotypes that Asian Americans are ‘perpetual others’ who cannot be trusted, ruining numerous lives in the process,” Democratic Rep. Judy Chu claimed.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu also celebrated the end of the initiative when he claimed, “Since the program was created in 2018, multiple professors and academics have been targeted by law enforcement because of their race.”

But the claims by Democrats contradicted what Olsen said in his speech.

“In the course of my review, I never saw any indication — none — that any decision that the Justice Department made was based on bias or prejudice of any kind,” the Biden DOJ official said. “This was a concern that I understand, and I appreciate that perception, but I didn’t see that in any of the cases or any of the decisions that were made.”

The CCP has attacked the China Initiative relentlessly and has also seized on U.S.-based efforts by professors and activists to end it.

Last month, an activist group, United Chinese Americans, held a protest outside the DOJ calling for an end to the initiative. Haipei Shue, the group’s president, held a virtual panel discussion after the protest, and Chu and Lieu also spoke on the panel about their opposition to the DOJ’s efforts.

The U.S. Heartland China Association, a pro-China business group that counted two key Biden administration picks as strategic advisers, also likened the DOJ’s China Initiative to “McCarthyism” in a panel discussion in November. The panel trashing the DOJ’s efforts to combat Chinese espionage was led by Shue.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray said this month that the growing economic and national security threat posed by the CCP is graver than ever, likening the danger to a more technologically sophisticated Soviet Union, arguing that “there is just no country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, our innovation, and our economic security than China.”

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