By Ben Weingarten
With America’s eyes fixed on Ukraine, the Biden administration just gave Communist China its greatest gift yet.
In so doing, it caved—by its own admission—to the demands of American progressives, who serve as the Chinese Communist Party’s most useful of idiots.
In a little-noticed February 23 university speech, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division announced the department would be terminating its preeminent counter-espionage program, the China Initiative.
The Trump DOJ launched the China Initiative as part of the administration’s comprehensive effort to confront the CCP. The program aimed to disrupt and deter national security threats posed by China with a focus on countering and prosecuting its economic espionage, intellectual property theft, hacking and related efforts to infiltrate and exploit strategically significant American institutions.
The DOJ had brought dozens of cases under the initiative, most notably prosecuting the former chair of Harvard’s Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department, Dr. Charles Lieber, and the chief financial officer of Huawei, Meng Wanzhou.
The initiative was more than justified given China’s penetration of America’s schools, research centers and businesses. As FBI Director Christopher Wray recognized just a few weeks ago in a speech on the domestic threat posed by Communist China:
When we tally up what we see in our investigations—over 2,000 of which are focused on the Chinese government trying to steal our information or technology—there is just no country that presents a broader threat to our ideas, our innovation and our economic security than China.
Olsen concurred with Wray’s remarks that China’s threats are “more brazen [and] more damaging than ever before.” The assistant attorney general conceded that China “stands apart.” But by the same token, he insisted that “we at the Justice Department confront threats from a variety of nation-state actors,” and that “there is no one threat that is unique to a single adversary.”
Multiple nations may threaten with the same tactics. But the extent of the threats—driven by an adversary’s capability and will—necessarily differs. Some are obviously more threatening than others. China is the single most formidable one America faces.
It would seem, given the termination of the China Initiative, that the DOJ either doesn’t agree, or doesn’t care.
As Olsen remarked during the Q&A that followed his speech: “focusing on the China Initiative didn’t make sense anymore in the context of the array of threats we face…from a broad range of state actors.”
How can we read this as anything other than that the DOJ is de-prioritizing China, treating it as one challenge among many?
Sure, Olsen was at pains to claim the department wouldn’t take its eye off the Beijing ball. But China’s threats, he suggested, would now be pursued under a far broader Strategy for Countering Nation-State Threats. If the DOJ pursues more nation-state threats, necessarily it will have fewer resources to dedicate to the China threat.
Does a lesser focus on China also signal a diminished willingness to vigorously pursue associated cases? The answer may well be “yes,” if the DOJ’s recent activity is any indication. During its review of the China Initiative, which culminated in the initiative’s cancellation, the department dropped a number of prosecutions and copped to a massive sweetheart deal in the critical case of the aforementioned Meng Wanzhou.
The termination of the China Initiative is all the more outrageous given the politically correct rationale behind it.
The Biden DOJ, in its own telling, did not drop the initiative because it was ineffective. Rather, it did so because progressive activists cried racism, and the department apparently lacked the will to weather the criticism, let alone rebut it, apparently prioritizing optics over national security.
As Olsen detailed in his speech, “We have heard concerns from the civil rights community that the ‘China Initiative’ fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias.”
Consequently, the DOJ felt that “by grouping cases under the China Initiative rubric, we helped give rise to a harmful perception that the department 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.”
Olsen therefore concluded the initiative “is not the right approach”—primarily based on “a harmful perception” of a policy.
True, Olsen also recognized the DOJ had been pressured by academics to drop the initiative. These academics claimed that investigating scholars and researchers who may have ties to the CCP would create a “chilling atmosphere” damaging to America’s “scientific enterprise.” However, this was not the main reason Olsen cited in his decision to kill the effort.
Progressive groups, who, as I detailed in a January 2021 piece for Newsweek, had been lobbying the White House to drop the China Initiative since before Biden’s inauguration, got a veto over U.S. national security policy merely by claiming it gave the appearance of being discriminatory.
Now every other adversary has learned an effective strategy to get out of the U.S. government’s crosshairs: claim U.S. polices to counter them are bigoted, and stir up American progressive groups to pressure the national security apparatus to relent.
Chinese officials learned this lesson long ago. They repeatedly “urged” the Biden administration to execute measures like ending the China Initiative.
Last summer, during Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit with Chinese counterparts in Tianjin, Beijing reportedly presented Washington with two lists, a “List of U.S. Wrongdoings that Must Stop” and a “List of Key Individual Cases that China Has Concerns with.”
One such item on the wish list was the revoking of the extradition request of Meng Wanzhou, which the Biden administration granted. Other requests reportedly included rolling back sanctions on Chinese officials and companies and removing visa restrictions on Chinese students.
Did Chinese officials ask the Biden administration to terminate the Justice Department’s initiative within the two lists, during those talks or otherwise?
I posed this question to the State Department, which referred me to the Department of Justice. A Justice Department spokesperson referred me to Olsen’s remarks, noting that he “addressed the reasons for ending the China Initiative and launching the new strategy to address nation -state [sic] threats” therein.
For China’s part, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying—channeling her inner American progressive during a press conference following Olsen’s speech—said the China Initiative:
exacerbates racial discrimination in the U.S., severely harms Asian-American groups, and also poisons the atmosphere of China-U.S. mutual trust and cooperation. The Foreign Ministry of China and the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. lodged multiple solemn representations on different levels from the very beginning to urge the U.S. side to stop implementing the initiative.
The Biden administration obliged.
In lobbying against the China Initiative, the CCP and its mouthpieces were recycling their playbook from the coronavirus pandemic that began in China, smearing critics as anti-Asian—this of course coming from a regime that engages in genocide and brutally persecutes minorities of every kind.
On that issue, too, the Biden administration provided the CCP a propaganda coup, barring the use of terms like “China virus” or “Wuhan flu” with a first-week executive memorandum.
This makes two times it served a CCP information effort.
China is the greatest winner of all here, not only because the Initiative thwarted its malign efforts, but because the DOJ legitimized claims that the American people and their government are bigoted.
Only years from now will we know the extent of the damage done by a president so deeply in hock to the woke, who here have done the CCP’s bidding to devastating effect.