Read more of Lewis’ analysis
about why Varlan’s decision is such a stinging rebuke to the government’s case.
Although the judge’s ruling brings closure to the investigation and prosecution of Hu, there are still a number of big questions swirling around the China Initiative, the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation of academic and economic espionage.
What’s the future of the China Initative?
As I wrote
last month, many observers expected the Trump-era effort to wind down with the new administration. It hasn’t. A Justice Department spokesman declined to answer Axios’ questions
about the future of China Initiative in the wake of the Hu acquittal.
China experts have emphasized the bipartisan nature of suspicions of China, including Chinese students and scholars, both in Washington and among the public
. “There is pressure to be tough on China,” Rory Truex, an assistant professor of politics and international affairs, told me.
What could change is the use of the courts to counter China. The dismissal of the Hu case amounted to a very public scolding, but in recent months, prosecutors have also dropped charges against a number of researchers and visiting scholars brought under the China Initiative. That doesn’t mean an end to the scrutiny of research ties with China, but it could take different forms. The White House science adviser has laid out principles
for new research-security requirements for federally funded scientists.
What’s the role and responsibility of universities? Hu’s trial raised questions about the role of the higher-ed institutions. The University of Tennessee cooperated with the FBI and fired Hu based on its allegations.
Not long ago, universities were encouraged to engage in international academic collaboration; now, they are supposed to police their researchers’ work abroad. Colleges have moved to put in place clearer reporting and training
, but administrators I talk to acknowledge the need for greater accountability and transparency. It’s not entirely clear, though, what institutions ought to be tracking.
There are also fears that in their quest to comply, universities could swing too far in the opposite direction, limiting scientific cooperation and discovery. Colleges wary that they could be seen as having a “China problem” might pull back from ties with China rather than risk losing out on federal grants, Yasheng Huang, president of the Asian American Scholar Forum, said.
What’s the impact on Chinese and Chinese-American researchers and on U.S. science?
is already being felt by scientists of Chinese and Asian descent, who have comprised most of the China Initiative prosecutions. Researchers at the University of Arizona surveyed scientists about the impact of the investigations, and early findings suggest Chinese and Chinese-American researchers are more likely to feel targeted by the China Initiative and to say that it affects their work.
“It’s creating a very fearful sentiment among Chinese-American scientists,” Yiguang Ju, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton, told me. The impact could be especially great on early-career scientists, who don’t have the protections of tenure and who may decide the U.S. isn’t the right place to build their career — a potentially significant disruption to the talent pipeline.
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