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Looking at the U.S. Justice Department's China Initiative

Links to interviews USCI has conducted and documents it has collected relating to the Justice Department's push to "curb Chinese economic espionage."

September 30, 2020

Updated January 11, 2020

In November 2018 in the midst of the U.S.-China trade war, Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched the U.S. Justice Department's China Initiative. The initiative is part of the "all of government" response to China articulated by Vice President Mike Pence the month before. Sessions said the U.S. was "standing up to the deliberate, systematic, and calculated threats posed, in particular, by the communist regime in China, which is notorious around the world for intellectual property theft." He highlighted claims made in a report by the U.S. Trade Representative that the Chinese state sponsored hacking efforts of U.S. companies. The White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy headed by Peter Navarro issued a report that spring describing intellectual property theft as an example of Chinese economic aggression. In February and November 2020, the Department reported on progress on the initiative. In May 2020, the administration issued a policy document on policy toward China. In July 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau was "opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours.”

Of course, for decades prior to the initiative, the U.S. government has been concerned with cyberespionage and intellectual property theft. For example, in 2011 the U.S. government issued a report on "Foreign Spies Stealing U.S. Economic Secrets in Cyberspace." In 2012, General Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Administration and U.S. Cyber Command, said that this theft represented "the greatest transfer of wealth in history." The issue was an important focus at the meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in California in 2013. That meeting coincided with the first of the Edward Snowden revelations about NSA intelligence gathering, including on Chinese firms and individuals. In 2014, the U.S. issued hacking and economic espionage indictments against five People's Liberation Army officers. Negotiations on this continued and at an Obama-Xi joint press conference in September 2015, Obama said, "We’ve agreed that neither the U.S. or the Chinese government will conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, including trade secrets or other confidential business information for commercial advantage."

USCI presentations and discussion about the China Initiative

John Demers discusses the China Initiative and Chinese investment in America 

Assistant Attorney General John Demers heads the U.S. Justice Department's National Security Division and has guided the China Initiative (YouTube). Sept. 24, 2020




Margaret Lewis on "Criminalizing China"

Seton Hall University School of Law Professor Margaret Lewis examines the initiative's design, language and implementation (YouTube). May 11, 2020





David Zweig on China's Talent Recruitment Efforts

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Chair Professor Emeritus David Zweig shares research into the evolution of China's talent recruitment efforts and discusses U.S. investigation and prosecution efforts towards scholars of Chinese descent
(YouTube). July 2, 2020 Zweig spoke earlier about the Communist Party's role in recruitment efforts (USCI | YouTube).




Additional resources:

Video: Scientists in the Crosshairs, The Serica Initiative, Oct. 30, 2020.
Margaret Lewis, "The U.S. China Initiative: From Review to Reformulation," The China Story, December 14, 2020.




January 28, 2021 - 4:00pm

Jennifer Pan examines how China's major social assistance program, Dibao, has been used to quell dissent.

February 4, 2021 - 4:00pm

Scott Rozelle discusses his new book that looks at the stark contrast between China's rural and urban populations.