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New Name, New Implementation?

The US China Initiative has a new name that researchers and civil rights activist hope will mirror a shift in the program's focus, Science reports.

The program was launched in 2018 during the Trump Administration with the aim of uncovering national security and economic espionage threats posed by China, but it soon came under fire for racial profiling for largely targeting Chinese and Chinese-American researchers. Most of the cases brought against researchers centered on them leaving off affiliations with Chinese institutions, rather than instances of trade secret theft, the Wall Street Journal reported in September. For instance, Anming Hu, a nanotechnology researcher at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, whose case was the first to go to trial, was acquitted on charges of wire fraud and making false statements.

The New York Times reported in February that the US Department of Justice planned to revise the China Initiative, following an evaluation conducted by the head of the national security division at the DoJ. Science now adds that the program has been rechristened "a strategy for countering nation-state threats" and that it would reconsider whether disclosure violations merit criminal charges.

"Dropping the name is good," the University of Houston's Steven Pei, who has called for revamping the program, tells Science. "But the real issue is how the new policy will be implemented."