Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, is leading an effort to undermine the federal government’s investigations of Chinese influence over scientists, researchers, and others engaged in alleged economic espionage.
Mr. Lieu believes such investigations are racially biased against Chinese Americans and must be stopped. He is pressuring the Department of Justice to end its “China Initiative” that started under former President Trump to probe instances of economic espionage.
The lawmaker is working with the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American leadership organization, to shape public opinion against the government’s investigations.
“Through oversight and hearings and letters and other actions we’ve taken in Congress, we’re trying to put pressure on the Department of Justice to really take a look at the China Initiative and make some fundamental changes or eliminate it,” said Mr. Lieu to Committee of 100 supporters in a webinar this week.
Mr. Lieu told Committee of 100 supporters that he personally wants the China Initiative eliminated and he has an agreement to meet with Attorney General Merrick Garland, Justice Department officials, and other members of Congress about his concerns. He said he would report back to the committee after the meeting.
The congressman also urged all of the Committee of 100’s supporters to wage a campaign to pressure the Justice Department into changing its investigations of Chinese influence, and added that “public sentiment is everything.”
“Understand your power to help shape public sentiments,” Mr. Lieu said to the committee’s supporters. “Everyone watching this, if you would say things on social media or write to the Department of Justice, or if you served there before, call some of your colleagues.”
The Committee of 100 published a report this week arguing that there was a “new red scare” resulting in people of Chinese and Asian descent being disproportionately targeted in economic espionage cases. The group claimed approximately one-in-five people of Chinese descent charged under the Economic Espionage Act are not convicted, and that such a result shows discrimination against potentially innocent people of Chinese ethnicity.
The committee’s report sorted court records involving cases with defendants having “Western” names, including names that read European or Hispanic to the committee, and names that sounded Chinese, Asian, Arabic, or of unclear origin. If a name could be Western or Chinese or something else, the committee’s report relied on Google and Facebook searches to make a determination.
As a result, the report alleged that prison sentences are harsher for defendants with names indicating Chinese descent than for Western-named defendants. The report also claimed the Justice Department publicized its cases involving Asians charged under the Economic Espionage Act more frequently than cases involving Western-named defendants.
“Although there could be legitimate explanations for these disparities, the fact that the DOJ publicizes alleged espionage by ‘spies’ with Chinese names more than ‘spies’ with Western names can only reinforce the false stereotype that Americans of Chinese descent have less ‘loyalty’ than Americans of other races,” the report stated.
The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.
Alongside Mr. Lieu, the Committee of 100 has other powerful allies assisting its push to shape public opinion about Justice Department investigations of Chinese influence.
Rep. Judy Chu also participated in the Committee of 100 webinar and argued that the focus on Chinese scientists was misplaced. The California Democrat argued that looking specifically at Chinese scientists meant the U.S. government might miss other instances of espionage from other countries.
“This initiative stands out as one of the only Department of Justice efforts named for a specific country and so as a result, simply doing research while [being] Chinese could be enough to have your life and career ruined by a criminal conviction,” said Ms. Chu to Committee of 100 supporters. “This is more commonly known as racial profiling.”
Carol Lam, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, also penned a critical commentary accompanying the committee’s report and participated in the committee’s webinar alongside Mr. Lieu.