US academics speak out against China Initiative trial

US academics speak out against China Initiative trial

US academics are speaking out against the impact of the canceled program as another Chinese American professor faces trial under the China Initiative.

Mingqing Xiao, an applied mathematician at Southern Illinois University, SIU Carbondale, faces charges of defrauding the US government by failing to disclose his ties to Chinese universities.

He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Benton, Illinois on May 2. The trial is expected to last two weeks.

Xiao, who was indicted a year ago, is the latest of a number of cases under the China Initiative, a controversial program launched by President Donald Trump in 2018 to fight economic espionage. Under pressure from critics who accused the program of racial profiling, the government stopped the program in February.

The prosecutors said Xiao received a grant from the National Science Foundation in the year 2019 to develop new mathematical tools for analyzing high-dimensional data sets, while failing to tell SIU and NSF about his ties to Shenzhen University and Guangdong University of Technology.

Xiao, a US citizen since 2006, was named an outstanding SIU scholar in 2016.

In December, the SIU Faculty Senate passed a resolution in support of Xiao, saying the government should drop all charges and ask the university to reinstate Xiao and finance his legal defense.

According to APA Justice, 24 academics or government scientists were involved in the China Initiative cases. When the government announced it was cancelling the program two months ago, cases against eight people had been dismissed, one had been acquitted by a judge, and trials were pending for six. All of the defendants are of Chinese descent.

One of six researchers, Feng Tao, received a guilty verdict in Kansas in April for fraud and making a false statement, but legal experts said it could be overturned. The judge for Tao's case postponed sentencing, saying she saw significant issues with the government's evidence.

The trial of Xiao is expected to be another test of the government's prosecution of academics with links to China, and the outcome of Xiao's trial could determine whether the government's effort is justified or unfair, according to some experts.

The China Initiative hasn't involved accusations that scientists improperly transferred research results from the US government. They tend to focus on academic integrity, similar to the charges that Tao and Xiao face.

In December of this year, the MIT Technology Review identified 77 China Initiative cases and more than 150 defendants, the majority of whom are of Chinese descent. The prosecutions focus more on research-integrity charges rather than espionage.

Many academics and civil rights groups have criticized the prosecutions, calling the China Initiative a witch hunt, which fuels racial bias against scientists of Chinese descent and causes a chilling effect on legitimate research collaborations.