Biden Admin Scrapped China Counterspy Program Under Activist Pressure, Republicans Say

Decision follows high-profile cases against Chinese nationals accused of spying in United States

Attorney General Merrick Garland (Getty Images)
March 31, 2022

Republican lawmakers are challenging the Biden administration's decision to shut down the Justice Department's China Initiative following a series of high-profile cases against Chinese nationals accused of spying in the United States.

A trio of House Republicans allege in a letter to the Justice Department that the agency scrapped the Trump-era China Initiative due to pressure from progressive activists and the Chinese Communist Party. Republicans will also introduce a bill this week to require the Justice Department to release an annual report laying out the agency's efforts to combat China's national security threat.

"The Biden administration's decision to end the China Initiative appears to be motivated by nothing more than identity politics," Reps. Scott Fitzgerald (R., Wis.), Michael Waltz (R., Fla.), and Andy Biggs (R., Ariz.) said in a letter to Matthew Olsen, the head of the department's national security division.

Olsen announced an end to the China Initiative last month, even as he acknowledged the program was driven by "genuine national security concerns" over China's aggressive espionage activity on U.S. soil. Olsen cited complaints from civil rights groups that the initiative had "fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias" against Chinese Americans.

China hawks praised the initiative, launched in 2018, as necessary to address the massive counterintelligence threat posed by China. FBI director Christopher Wray has said that the U.S. government is conducting 2,000 investigations into China's theft of trade secrets from American companies and universities, as well as into Beijing's counterintelligence operations.

Fitzgerald and Waltz said that China steals intellectual property worth $600 billion from the United States each year, much of it used to build up China's military capability.

"The decision to end the China Initiative shows the Biden administration's eagerness to sacrifice national security to appease political activists and the Chinese Communist Party," the Republicans wrote to Olsen.

The Justice Department has revealed several criminal cases against Chinese government operatives since scrapping the China Initiative last month. Olsen announced charges on March 16 against five Chinese nationals accused of stalking and harassing anti-CCP dissidents living in the United States. The operatives allegedly targeted a House candidate who had organized the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. One operative, Fan "Frank" Liu, cultivated ties for years to Rep. Tom Suozzi (D., N.Y.), the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Olsen on Wednesday announced charges against another Chinese national who took part in "Operation Fox Hunt," a Chinese government initiative to repress dissent from Chinese nationals overseas. The defendant, Sun Haiying, is accused of hiring private investigators to wage a campaign of intimidation against critics of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Republican bill, dubbed the China Initiative Accountability Report Act, would require the Justice Department to release an unclassified report detailing China’s trade secret and intellectual property theft, as well as threats posed by academics and researchers working covertly for the Chinese government. The Justice Department in recent years has charged numerous researchers who failed to disclose ties to China's People’s Liberation Army while working at U.S. universities.