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Protesters tell of toll of China Initiative

By YIFAN XU in Washington | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-01-14 11:06

Protesters hold photos of eight scientists who are victim of China Initiative in front of the Department of Justice building in Washington on Wednesday. [Photo by YIFAN XU/for chinadaily.com.cn]

The leader of a protest against the US government's so-called China Initiative has called for the return of a "normal atmosphere" for Chinese scientists working in the country.

Haipei Shue, president of United Chinese Americans (UCA) and organizer of the protest, along with scores of others marched Wednesday outside the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building.

Shue told China Daily that many innocent Chinese American scientists have been put in a position of suspicion because of the China Initiative, started under former president Donald Trump. Shue said the measure is "hurting the science, hurting Chinese American scientists and hurting the progress of this country".

"We demand the federal government to end the China Initiative as soon as possible and to restore the normal atmosphere for the Chinese American scientists to get back to do their research rather than fear for their future," Shue said.

The protesters, many of whom were Chinese Americans, opposed what they said is racial profiling, along with selective, overzealous prosecution and mistreatment of Chinese American scientists.

They presented photos of eight scientists who they said the China Initiative has improperly prosecuted in recent years, including seven Chinese American scientists and one Egyptian American scientist. They chanted "End China Initiative", "Stop profiling Chinese American scientists", "We are scientists, not a spy" and "Science is global."

The China Initiative, launched in 2018, was proposed "to tackle Chinese espionage in the United States".

The initiative now "appears to be an umbrella term for cases with almost any connection to China", according to an investigation published in December by MIT Technology Review. "China Initiative has not found much success in catching spies or combating technology theft, despite its stated mission.

"What is more, the climate of fear created by the prosecutions has already pushed some talented scientists to leave the United States and made it more difficult for others to enter or stay. It endangered America's ability to attract new talent in science and technology from China and worldwide," said the article.

Chao Wu, a scientist who participated in the protest, told the media that it is wrong for the federal government to take such action against Chinese scientists.

"The [charges against] Chinese scientists innocently implicated were eventually dismissed, but their careers and families have been significantly harmed. If the Chinese community wants to protect their rights, they must be brave enough to express themselves in a compliant manner, and only then will our voices be heard by the whole community," Wu said.

One of the protesters, a businessman named Zhao who asked that his full name not be given, told China Daily that the China Initiative is "fundamentally wrong and not just about the scientists. The US government and DOJ should serve and protect rather than scare and persecute innocent people," he said.

Zhao said that the initiative was a product of deteriorating US-China relations. "The bad bilateral relations harm both the US and China, whether they live in the US or China. Both countries should seek common ground and talk rather than fight. Lack of understanding may be the cause of misunderstanding," Zhao said.

Another protester working in computer science, who requested anonymity, told China Daily that the initiative had affected her daily life. She had to switch her phone service provider after the US government canceled a permit for China Telecom due to the China Initiative.

"It is not good for China, the US, and the world. Science is global and should benefit the world," said Stan Tsai, the president of the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association-Grand DC Chapter. "By executing the China Initiative, the US is hindering the development of science and hurting the cooperation between China and the US, and the joint effort to fight the pandemic," Tsai told China Daily.

After the protest, an online news conference for the victims and witnesses to the China Initiative was also hosted by UCA, highlighting personal stories, suffering and mistreatment of the program's targets at the hands of federal law enforcement.

At the conference, US Representative Judy Chu of California, the US House Asian Pacific American Caucus chairwoman, called the China Initiative "an exercise in racial profiling", stressing that "numbers simply do not justify this program".

"After three years of investigations, over 150 defendants, at least 77 cases, the China Initiative has just prosecuted, just one single conviction in a court of law," Chu said. "This dismal record proves that the China Initiative is flawed. The vast majority of the people investigated have been Chinese academics, who have had the charges dropped without explanation."

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