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The Opposite Effect

The US effort to root out academic and economic espionage by focusing on researchers with ties to China may have the opposite of its intended effect of strengthening US research, the Chronicle of Higher Education writes.

It adds that the China Initiative, started by the Trump Administration in 2018, has largely targeted Chinese and Chinese-American researchers, an emphasis it notes critics have called racial profiling. The program, MIT's Yasheng Huang tells the Chronicle, "is driving talent away from the US, and it is creating an atmosphere of fear."

Additionally, the Chronicle notes than rather than uncovering instances of trade secrets being stolen, researchers instead have been indicted for leaving off ties to China on grant applications or making false statements to authorities. Further, it says that while arrests and indictments haves been trumpeted by the Department of Justice, many cases have ended without fanfare. For instance, the case against the University of Tennessee's Anming Hu ended in a mistrial — though there may be a retrial — while charges against other researchers have been dropped.

This atmosphere, the Chronicle writes, may lead researchers to decide not to study or work in the US. "If in this process we create such a hostile climate that students no longer want to come here, we've shot ourselves in the foot," Princeton University's Rory Truex tells it.