U.S. spy charges in academia: Lingering racism or governmental paranoia?
The Point with Liu Xin
U.S. spy charges against China are haunting the halls of universities.
Andrew Lelling, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said last week, "We want to encourage people to come here and study. This isn't about targeting everyone who's a Chinese national. But there are thousands who are directly linked to a state-sponsored effort to steal intellectual property," according to the Boston Herald newspaper.
John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security also referred to a report submitted to the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, noting that "From 2011-2018 more than 90 percent of the Department's cases alleging economic espionage by or to benefit a state involve China."
There are currently 360,000 Chinese students in the U.S., many of whom have already reported feeling the impact of these accusations.
According to Christopher Chambers from Georgetown University, the U.S. attorney has not been specific about any evidence yet, and a lot of the accusations are based on lingering racism.
"It is a general feeling of paranoia in the country towards foreigners, especially foreigners who don't look like the mainstream of the average American student."
Victor Gao, vice president of the Center for China and Globalization echoed Chambers' thoughts, stating that Lelling's accusations are not based on facts. He stressed that Chinese students in the U.S. will eventually become the bridges between the two countries and are great assets for Sino-U.S. friendship rather than evil forces that damage the cooperation.
Reacting to the accusations that Chinese students might steal intellectual property, Chambers said that most Chinese students don't have access to the sensitive material that the U.S. attorney might be worried about.
"They have access to the same tools that American students use, and they have the same clearance to use those tools. And those tools are freely available, many of them on the Internet," said Chambers.
The U.S. is wary of Chinese students pursuing education in its universities. /VCG Photo

The U.S. is wary of Chinese students pursuing education in its universities. /VCG Photo

FBI Director Chris Wray commented on the "counterintelligence risk posed by Chinese students in academic settings" at a Senate hearing last year. He said that one of the things they're trying to do is "view the China threat as not just a whole-of-government threat but a whole-of-society threat," and called for a whole-of-society response in the academic and private sectors.
Research by Andrew Kim from the South Texas College of Law found that the percentage of people of Chinese heritage charged under the Economic Espionage Act has tripled since 2009 to 52 percent, and for people of Asian heritage up to 62 percent.
But why are Chinese people being "targeted"? According to Chambers, China has become a scapegoat as the U.S. is facing challenges while China's economy is rising.
"Chinese students, because of their number, become that convenient monster," said Chambers.
However, it would be disturbing if Chinese people are disproportionately charged, and many of them are in fact innocent, such as the case of the Chinese American scientist Sherry Chen, who was fired from her institute over espionage suspicions. Charges against her were later dropped.
Chinese students in the U.S. will become important factors for greater relations between the two countries. 
"I personally don't think a stronger, larger and powerful China will by definition become an enemy of the United States," stated Gao.
"People in the United States, being very honest and very decent, will know the truth as it stands."