ASBMB opposes re-instating the China Initiative in FY24 appropriations

Feb. 22, 2024

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology opposes the proposed language re-establishing the China Initiative in the Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies fiscal year 2024 appropriations bill. While the ASBMB supports policies to counter theft of American intellectual property and firm up research security, measures that target specific countries and scientists based on ancestry will harm the U.S. research enterprise. If re-established, the China Initiative would irreparably damage international collaboration and ultimately slow scientific progress.  

The U.S. Department of Justice launched the China Initiative in 2018 with the mission of countering economic espionage. However, many science and advocacy organizations expressed concerns about racial profiling when the majority of defendants were of Chinese descent or nationality. Beginning in 2019, prosecutors brought charges against scientists related to research integrity issues — the most prominent being a failure to disclose relationships with Chinese institutions on federal grant applications. The program ended in 2022, after several cases ended in acquittal or dismissed. 

The China Initiative caused a chilling effect on international scientific collaboration while significantly hampering academic freedom. A survey on behalf of the Asian American Scholar Forum of 1,304 scientists of Chinese descent employed by U.S. universities found that 42% were fearful of conducting research and 65% were worried about collaborations with scientists in China. The survey also reported 45% of the scientists who have obtained federal grants now wish to avoid applying and 61% have thought about leaving the U.S. In 2020 alone, more than 1,000 Chinese researchers left the country. Since 2018, 85 scientists have resigned, retired or been fired due to cases of grant fraud.  

The U.S. research enterprise thrives on international collaboration and benefits tremendously from attracting international scientists from all over the world. Efforts like the China Initiative weaken and ultimately slow scientific progress due to racial profiling and unequal treatment of scientists. To address research security concerns, the ASBMB has advocated for science federal agencies to strengthen their grant application and disclosure requirements to catch bad actors. It is crucial to ensure that scientists, the scientific community and our key leading federal agencies are leading the charge to protect the research enterprise from bad actors.  

Notably, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has harmonized its disclosure requirements and agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have significantly improved their policies to provide clarity and security to the research community.  

The ASBMB urges Congress to remove language from the final text in the CJS Explanatory materials accompanying the FY24 CJS appropriations bill and allow federal science agencies to tackle research security issues. We cannot risk further eroding the U.S.’s role as a global leader in science and technology.