ASBMB statement on the termination of the Department of Justice’s China Initiative

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) applauds the U.S. Department of Justice for ending the China Initiative, a program launched in 2018 under the Trump administration to counter theft of American intellectual property. Instead, the DOJ will pursue a broader plan called the Strategy for Countering Nation-State Threats to tackle increasingly “aggressive” and “nefarious activity” of hostile nations. 

The focus of the China Initiative has increasingly shifted away from economic espionage and computational hacking cases to research integrity cases involving federally funded scientists. The China Initiative has brought 23 cases against federally funded scientists, many of which ultimately fell apart in court. Nearly 90% of the defendants charged under the initiative are of Chinese heritage, indicating the use of racial profiling.  

The ASBMB has been vocal in advocating for the DOJ to put an end to the China Initiative and has called on federal funding agencies to reform the current conflicts-of-interest reporting system to ensure a fair and equitable process is in place to catch genuine bad actors. Research integrity cases must be handled by federal funding agencies and not criminalized.  

The China Initiative and related efforts have had a chilling effect among the scientific community and significantly hampered international collaboration. For example, a member survey of more than 3,200 physicists found that more than 43% of foreign early-career researchers now consider the U.S. to be unwelcoming for international students and scholars. And, in 2020 alone, more than 1,000 Chinese researchers left the country.  

Now that the DOJ has ended the China Initiative, the scientific community must work to restore trust in the American research enterprise and ensure that the U.S. is a welcoming environment for international students and researchers.