US President Donald Trump has identified China as the US’ biggest foe and the US Department of Justice mirrored that emphasis over the past four years with a drumbeat of cases against defendants ranging from hackers accused of targeting intellectual property to professors charged with grant fraud.
Even after US president-elect Joe Biden’s administration arrives, the law enforcement focus on China might not look radically different, in part because of actions by Beijing that US officials, lawyers and analysts say run afoul of international norms.
Even if the anti-China rhetoric is cooled in the White House, cases against agents of the Chinese government might well continue, especially as some of the focus — including against trade-secret theft — preceded the Trump administration.
“I think this is going to continue, because it’s not really up to the US. It’s the Chinese who are being really aggressive,” said James Lewis, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The department in 2018 launched the China Initiative to combat what officials saw as a multipronged effort by Beijing to steal intellectual property and conduct foreign influence operations in the US.
It was part of a focus on China that has accelerated in the past year as Trump blamed the country for the spread of COVID-19 and as leaders of multiple agencies delivered speeches blasting Beijing.
“There is no turning back the clock to an era when free market liberal democracies turned a blind eye to [China’s] theft of intellectual property, appetite for sensitive personal data, and repression and censorship,” US Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said in a statement.
“The department’s commitment to disrupt the illegal and predatory Chinese activity aimed at America and its allies, as illustrated in prosecution after prosecution, will not waver,” he added.
Analyst expect Biden, who has referred to China a “serious competitor,” to make few major changes to US policy in conflicts with China over trade, technology and security amid widespread frustration with Beijing’s trade and human rights record and accusations of spying and technology theft.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has said that the bureau opens a Chinese counterintelligence case about every 10 hours.
The justice department said it has charged more than 10 trade-secret theft cases tied to China since the China Initiative began.
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