The Department of Justice is set to make changes to its "China Initiative" very soon, sources tell Fox News, likely rolling back some of the program's efforts to combat Chinese spying in the U.S. after pressure from activists.
The program was started in 2018 to protect U.S. national security against Chinese snooping on U.S. intellectual property and in academia – a rampant problem Congress is currently trying to address.
"In addition to identifying and prosecuting those engaged in trade secret theft, hacking, and economic espionage, the Initiative focuses on protecting our critical infrastructure against external threats through foreign direct investment and supply chain compromises," a description of the program on the DOJ website says.
The description also says the program aims to stymie "covert efforts to influence the American public and policymakers without proper transparency."
A review of the program by the DOJ is currently nearing completion, Fox News is told, and some changes will be made to the program. What those changes will be is not yet clear.
Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Biden administration are under pressure from activists and faculty at some universities over the effort. They say it is harming U.S. competitiveness in research and disproportionately targeting people based on race.
Last month, protesters stood outside the DOJ saying the initiative unfairly targets Chinese professors. And nearly 200 Yale professors recently signed a letter to Garland asking him to end the initiative.
"We just hope that they will end the prosecution of Chinese-American scientists and allow them to go back and do their research, rather than fear for their future," United Chinese Americans president Haipe Shue said.
The left-leaning think tank Brennan Center for Justice argued earlier this year for completely ending the initiative. It said the program is harming the U.S. in part because it is making Chinese and Chinese-American scientists afraid to work in the U.S.
"Scaring researchers is antithetical to the open and collaborative nature of fundamental research at academic institutions, which has historically made the U.S. an attractive place for cutting-edge science and scientists to flourish," Brennan Center authors Michael German and Alex Liang said.
"To be clear, China poses a legitimate threat of espionage that the Justice Department and FBI must take seriously," they also said. "But too often, the Justice Department has brought cases under the China Initiative that have not targeted espionage or intellectual property theft by Chinese spies but minor administrative violations by scientists of Chinese ancestry who are not suspected of affiliation with the Chinese government."
The program came under increased scrutiny this year after the DOJ dropped a case against an MIT professor with ties to China. According to Politico, the department did not think it could prove its case in court.
But China still poses a major threat to the United States' national security and economic security, including through espionage and influence tactics at American universities. Among them are the Confucius Institutes, which function as propaganda arms for the Chinese Communist Party in the U.S.
There are 21 Confucius Institutes in the U.S. currently, according to the National Institute of Scholars, including at Stanford, West Virginia University, University of Utah, and others.
Congress is currently trying to pass legislation to combat China, though there is significant disagreement between House Democrats and Senate Democrats about what should be included. Congressional leaders are indicating they hope to reach some sort of compromise in the coming months to get the China competition bill to the president's desk.