A group of professors at Stanford University has asked the Justice Department to discontinue a program aimed at combating Chinese economic espionage.

The letter, signed by 177 Stanford faculty members from more than 40 departments and addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, asks the Justice Department to end its China Initiative, a program started in 2018 that seeks to identify and prosecute Chinese spies engaged in trade secret theft, hacking, and economic espionage. The letter argues that the program fuels anti-Asian sentiment and harms scientific progress.

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“The China Initiative disproportionately targets researchers of Chinese origin,” the Stanford professors’ letter says. “Moreover, racial profiling—even when undertaken in pursuit of justice—is both inconsistent with U.S. law and with the principles underlying our society.”

Over two dozen researchers and professors have been arrested since the beginning of the initiative, according to Reuters. Those charged include Haizhou Hu, a Chinese national and researcher at the University of Virginia who allegedly attempted to abscond to China with stolen trade secrets, and Charles Lieber, a Harvard chemistry professor who reportedly concealed his relationship with the Chinese government.

However, the Stanford faculty members argue that most of the prosecutions under the China Initiative were not related to economic espionage, and concerns over theft of trade secrets were largely unwarranted. 

“While such problems should be addressed, they should not be confused with national security concerns,” their letter to the Justice Department says.

The academics also argue that the initiative created a “hostile atmosphere” for Chinese Americans that could discourage Chinese academics from working in U.S. universities, thereby harming American scientific progress.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment, but told Reuters it was committed to countering China’s “efforts to undermine America’s national security and harm our economy.” The department also said it took seriously concerns of anti-Asian sentiment and discrimination.

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