HomeChinese AmericanChinese academics fear racial witch-hunt caused by “China Initiative”

Chinese academics fear racial witch-hunt caused by “China Initiative”

A new report reveals ongoing feelings of persecution among Chinese scientists despite widespread acknowledgement of Chinese academics’ contributions to research in the U.S. 

The study aimed to highlight the impact of the China Initiative, a 2018 U.S. Department of Justice program passed under the Trump administration. It was conducted in collaboration between the non-profit Committee of 100 and the University of Arizona. 

“Overall, scientists of Chinese descent and non-Chinese descent both recognize the value of scientists of Chinese descent and support collaboration with China,” Committee of 100 reports, “96.8% of scientists of Chinese descent and 93.6% of scientists of non-Chinese descent believe that scientists of Chinese descent make important contributions to research and teaching programs in the U.S.” 

Yet, the China Initiative’s goals of protecting national security by identifying trade and economic espionage leaves scientists of Chinese descent in fear, according to Dr. Jenny J. Lee in an NPR piece. Lee is a professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona. 

“They are concerned that any connection with China – this may mean collaborating on a research project, visiting China, applying for a grant or working and collecting data, analyzing data – any extent of that would open themselves up for potential investigation by the FBI,” Lee said, according to NPR. 

The survey, which was sent to scientists, including professors, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students, at 83 highly ranked universities in the U.S., found that 42.2 percent of Chinese scientists feel racially profiled by the U.S. government, compared to 8.6 percent of non-Chinese scientists.

The study also found that more than a third of Chinese scientists face hurdles in obtaining federal funding as opposed to 14.2% of non-Chinese scientists. 

“This is actually undermining the U.S.’s ability to be globally competitive,” Lee told Inside Higher Ed

The Department of Justice has brought 16 cases of economic espionage or trade theft and 12 of grant fraud related to China in the last three years, NPR reports. Only 8 cases so far have resulted in convictions or pleas. Anming Hu, a Tennessee professor accused of grant fraud, was eventually acquitted. 

“There is this fear in the community that economic espionage, that this national security threat, is just being used as a pretext,” Gisela Kusakawa, an Asian Americans Advancing Justice attorney, said.

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