Our analysis shows a shift in focus towards academics. There were no research integrity cases in the year. By 2020, 16 of the 31 cases were announced. One research integrity case in 2020 included a charge of violating the EEA.
There are suspicions that some Chinese universities give financial incentives for academics to conduct research, teach, or bring other activities back to the sponsoring institution on a part- or full-time basis. At least four cases of trade secret theft involve talent program participation.
The federal government has said that talent programs are not illegal, even though they have called them "brain gain programs" and encouraged theft of intellectual property from US institutions.
The China Initiative cases are charged every year.
National security links can be weak.
Several cases of academics working on topics such as artificial intelligence or robotics, which may have national security applications, have been included in the initiative's increasing focus on research integrity. Most of the work in these areas is basic research, and many disciplines in which cases have been brought have no links to national security.
Nine of 23 research integrity cases involve health and medical researchers, including people studying heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer, and six of those centered on researchers funded by the National Institute of Health. The representative referred questions on the China Initiative to the Justice Department.
Funding agencies are accused of fraud in research integrity cases.
The national security implications seem to center around concerns that any individuals with links to China could serve as non-traditional collectors, which the China Initiative fact sheet describes as researchers in labs, universities, and the defense industrial base that are being coopted into transferring technology contrary to the US. Our database shows that only two of 22 researchers were accused of trying to smuggle goods into China. The charges were later dropped.
The DoJ claims that China Initiative cases are successful.
Less than a third of defendants have been convicted three years after the program started. Only 40 of the 148 individuals charged have pleaded or been found guilty, with guilty pleas often involving lesser charges than originally brought. Almost two-thirds of cases are still pending. 71 of the 95 individuals still facing charges are not being actively prosecuted because they are in an unknown location or cannot be extradited.
Many of the research integrity cases have fallen apart. While eight are still pending, seven of them have ended in dismissal or acquittal. The vast majority of federal criminal cases end in a guilty plea, according to an analysis of federal statistics.
The outcomes for defendants charged under the China Initiative.
The majority of cases are against people of Chinese origin.
One of the earliest criticisms of the China Initiative was that it could lead to an increase in racial profiling against people of Chinese descent. The China Initiative has been accused of engaging in racial profiling, but DOJ officials have denied it.
The analysis shows that of the 148 people charged, 130 are of Chinese heritage. This includes American citizens who are Chinese and citizens of the People's Republic of China as well as citizens and others with connections to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and long-standing Chinese diaspora communities in Southeast Asia.
Chinese heritage defendants.
Margaret Lewis, a law professor at Seton Hall University who has written extensively about the China Initiative, said the numbers are high. She said that they knew it would be a majority, but that it was not convincing.
There are still new cases being brought.
The number of cases explicitly linked to the China Initiative has fallen since President Joe Biden took office, but they have not stopped.
A mathematics professor in Illinois was charged with failing to disclose ties to a Chinese university on his application for a National Science Foundation grant. An indictment against four Chinese nationals for hacking dozens of companies and research institutions was released in July.
Federal attorneys are pushing prosecutions forward. The trial of Charles Lieber, a Harvard chemistry professor accused of hiding his ties to Chinese universities, is scheduled to begin in December. In the first few months of 2022, prosecutors are planning to go to trial in cases against high-profile academics in Kansas, Arkansas, and elsewhere.
There are new China Initiative cases in the year 2021.
How did it start?
Estimates of the cost to the American economy of economic espionage by China have been growing for years. When the Obama administration announced a new strategy to mitigate the theft of US trade secrets, China was mentioned more than 100 times.
The first time state actors have been prosecuted for hacking in the US was in the case of five Chinese hackers. In 2015, the United States and China signed an agreement not to conduct commercial cybertheft against each other.
The department launched its first country-specific program after the Trump administration launched a more aggressive approach to China.
The former Justice Department official said that the intelligence briefings to the attorney general and senior DOJ leaders from the FBI showed that the PRC and affiliated actors were deeply involved. He said that Chinese consulates were helping to mask the actual background of Chinese visa applicants to avoid visa rejection based on their affiliations with the PRC military.
At one rally in 2016, Trump said that we couldn't continue to allow China to rape our country.
In the months before the initiative launched, Trump reportedly told a group of corporate executives at a closed-door dinner at his Mar-a-Lago estate that almost every Chinese student that comes over to this country is a spy.
The China Initiative was announced on November 1, 2018).