China Initiative, national security, academia, international students, China


In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice launched the “China Initiative” in response to the growing economic and national security threat posed by China. The China Initiative is a sweeping federal plan designed, in part, to protect the United States’ status as a leader in global innovation and scientific discourse. The U.S. is justified in its concern over China’s unfair practices to achieve military, technological, and economic prominence. While U.S. and Chinese intelligence agencies have spied on each other for decades, China has increased both the scope and the sophistication of its efforts to steal secrets from the U.S. in recent years. Nevertheless, the current approach to enforcing the China Initiative with respect to “non-traditional collectors”—such as students, professors, and scientific researchers—is unnecessarily over-broad and thus threatens to stifle innovation and scientific discourse by exacerbating existing issues of racial animus and creating increased uncertainty for U.S.-based researchers and institutions. This paper analyzes the negative effects of the China Initiative on academia through the eyes of institutions, students, administrators, and scholars. These negative effects vary in size and scale, ranging from subtle declines in international student enrollment, to administrative backlogs, forced removals, and criminal indictments of scientists and researchers with ties to China. This paper then presents alternative ideas for creating a more nuanced enforcement approach, in order to achieve the goals of the China Initiative and preserve the integrity of the U.S. academic community.