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Justice Department ending 'China Initiative' after hearing civil rights concerns

Justice Department ending 'China Initiative' after hearing civil rights concerns
The so-called China Initiative was enacted in 2018 under former President Donald Trump in an effort "to develop a coherent approach to the challenges posed by the [Chinese] government." File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 23 (UPI) -- The Justice Department said Wednesday it is ending the "China Initiative" after hearing complaints from civil rights groups.

The policy was enacted in 2018 under former President Donald Trump in an effort "to develop a coherent approach to the challenges posed by the [Chinese] government," Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said Wednesday.

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At the time, the policy focused on the multi-faceted threat from the Chinese government, but Olsen said Wednesday it may have spurred unintended anti-Asian hate crimes.

"We have heard concerns from the civil rights community that the 'China Initiative' fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias," said Olsen, while addressing the George Mason University National Security Institute on the larger topic of countering nation-state threats.

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"To many, that narrative suggests that the Justice Department treats people from China or of Chinese descent differently. The rise in anti-Asian hate crime and hate incidents only heightens these concerns. The department is keenly aware of this threat and is enhancing efforts to combat acts of hate."

Albeit with a changed approach, Olsen said the Justice Department will continue to counter a legitimate threat from China.

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"The [Chinese] government threatens our security through its concerted use of espionage, theft of trade secrets, malicious cyber activity, transnational repression, and other tactics to advance its interests -- all to the detriment of the United States and other democratic nations and their citizens around the world," he said, agreeing with remarks made by FBI Director Christopher Wray at the end of January.

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Wray said the FBI opens around two new counterintelligence cases against China every day and called threats made by the country's government, "more damaging than ever before."

Wray made the comments Jan. 31 during a speech in California.

"I want to emphasize my belief that the department's actions have been driven by genuine national security concerns. But by grouping cases under the China Initiative rubric, we helped give rise to a harmful perception that the department applies a lower standard to investigate and prosecute criminal conduct related to that country or that we in some way view people with racial, ethnic or familial ties to China differently," Olsen said.

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"Make no mistake, we will be relentless in defending our country from China. The Department will continue to prioritize and aggressively counter the actions of the [Chinese] government that harm our people and our institutions. But our review convinced us that a new approach is needed to tackle the most severe threats from a range of hostile nation-states."

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