AMAC Exclusive – by Aaron Kliegman
As China aggressively works to displace the U.S. as the world’s most powerful country – and employs a vast and well-funded campaign of economic espionage to do it — the Biden administration is coming under intense pressure to stop even the modest efforts the American government has undertaken to blunt malign Chinese economic activities.
The so-called “China Initiative” was launched in 2018 by the Trump administration. It is run by the Justice Department and designed to preserve America’s technological edge by thwarting Chinese spies. Its specific mission is to identify and prosecute those engaged in hacking, stealing trade secrets, and conducting economic espionage for the Chinese government in the United States. In recent months, however, the ever restless woke mob has now decided that the program is “problematic” because it monitors the activities of primarily non-white individuals – namely, Chinese nationals suspected of being spies.
Critics say the China Initiative shouldn’t be called a national security program. They argue it’s mainly focused on “innocent” academic researchers and has largely yielded charges of fraud — such as lying about accepting foreign money or links to Chinese entities — as opposed to concrete espionage.
Last week, for example, the Committee of 100, a non-profit organization promoting closer U.S.-China relations, released a study arguing American prosecutors are more severely punishing and more often falsely accusing Asian and Chinese defendants of espionage than others.
Two weeks earlier, a group of 177 faculty members at Stanford University wrote an open letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland claiming the China Initiative “disproportionally targets researchers of Chinese origin.” The Stanford professors called for Garland to kill the program – this despite the fact that just last year federal authorities arrested a Stanford researcher for failing to disclose that she was actively working for the Chinese military.
Meanwhile, the media is demonizing the initiative as a “witch hunt” targeting Asians. In recent days, several journalists have penned articles describing it as a failed endeavor that engages in racial profiling.
Such criticism both reveals ignorance about the nature of Chinese espionage and demonstrates that China has grown very sophisticated about how to use “woke” propaganda against American elites. China doesn’t distinguish between commercial and military applications. Instead, Beijing takes a “whole of society” approach to espionage, blurring the lines between academia, industry, the private sector, and military research. Surveillance of all such activity serves the interests of the Chinese state. This makes it difficult to detect “clear” spying. What seems innocuous may be a carefully planned operation.
Moreover, none of those targeting the China Initiative appears to realize that each and every individual accused of spying for China gets due process under American law. Nor do they seem to understand that the overwhelming majority of China’s espionage activities are carried out by individuals of Chinese ethnicity. Is it so strange that a government program designed to stop espionage from a specific country would focus on individuals connected to that same country? Of course not.
Perhaps not so coincidentally, the coordinated push to shut down Chinese espionage activities is taking place at a time when the China Initiative seems to some extent to be working. The Washington Post reported that, in December of last year, more than 1,000 individuals associated with the Chinese military fled the country in the wake of several arrests for spying activities.
Nevertheless, all indications suggest the effort to stop the China Initiative will only grow. And, given Biden’s propensity to bow to the radical left, combined with his apparent soft spot for China, nobody should be surprised if it works.
Indeed, the Biden administration has already shown that it is unwilling to take a strong stand against Chinese misbehavior. Just last week, the U.S. allowed Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, to return to China without going to trial.
Canadian authorities had arrested Meng in 2018 at the request of the Trump administration. She was charged for bank and wire fraud in the United States and was awaiting extradition. Meng and Huawei were accused of serious crimes, including stealing trade secrets and obstructing a criminal investigation. She also admitted to lying about evading U.S. sanctions on Iran.
To make matters worse, Huawei is a central tool of the Chinese security state run by the communist party. Countries that allow Huawei to build their 5G networks guarantee their exposure to Chinese spying, surveillance, and data collection.
Yet, the Biden administration let Meng go free, virtually unpunished. The reason? By all appearances, Biden is seeking “better” relations with China through a more conciliatory approach. If Biden’s Justice Department didn’t fight a battle to stop giving up Meng, the chances the China Initiative survives the next three years look slim.
For all of their recent failures, the intelligence community at least appears to somewhat recognize the severity of the threat. FBI Director Christopher Wray testified his agency is opening counterintelligence investigations into China “every 12 hours.” According to Mike Orlando, the acting director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, Chinese espionage costs the U.S. between $200 to $600 billion a year in stolen intellectual property. This has been happening for 20 years, putting the total cost well into the trillions of dollars. And earlier this year, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines described Beijing as “an unparalleled priority for the Intelligence Community.”
So where are all the China-related prosecutions? And why has the Biden administration taken no action on these alarm bells? Did all the spies go home when Biden entered the White House?
The U.S. risks letting up the pressure even as Chinese espionage activity has increased significantly in recent years. Moreover, almost 80 percent of the Justice Department’s cases alleging economic espionage by or to benefit a state involve China, while two-thirds of the department’s trade secret theft cases are connected to China. The threat is growing and clearly the China Initiative is more important than ever. Yet, we are already lifting restrictions on the visa programs that bring many of these Chinese spies to America and now we may be ending the legal program that prioritizes catching them.
After Trump repeatedly blasted Biden for being “soft on China” in the 2020 campaign, Biden’s commitment to protecting America against China is now being put to the test. While it is evident that Beijing is smart about its spying operations, it remains to be seen whether Washington will be dumb about them.
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