In February 2022, the assistant attorney general announced the closing of the Department of Justice‘s China Initiative. Though the Trump-era program successfully countered several Chinese espionage and foreign influence activities in the United States, the Biden administration ended the program due to concerns about “racial profiling.” Just weeks later, the Chinese Communist Party expanded its footprint on American soil.
Two Chinese American operatives — “Harry” Lu Jianwang of the Bronx and Chen Jinping of Manhattan — opened a secret police station in Manhattan on behalf of the CCP. For the better part of last year, the Chinatown-based agents carried out their mission of spying on and harassing Chinese dissidents who dare to speak out against the CCP. While the Biden administration cowered in fear of being called racist, the agents conducted an intimidation campaign against any pro-democracy critics of the CCP. It wasn’t until last week that both were arrested and charged with their crimes.
The Manhattan police station was part of a broader network of more than 100 Chinese police stations around the globe managed by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. The program is designed to surveil, track and intimidate critics around the world. The arrested CCP operatives even used fake online accounts to target Chinese expatriates, reveal their locations, and threaten physical harm.
According to U.S. government reports, the CCP seeks to intentionally interweave its influence operations with “sensitive issues such as ethnic, political, and national identity.” Thus, any effort to combat their influence is “vulnerable to accusations of prejudice.” And given the Biden administration’s recent decisions, their strategy seems to be effective.
Our political media establishment must stop playing into the hand of the Chinese Communist Party. We can’t allow fears of bad-faith attacks to stifle our efforts to end CCP influence in the United States.
The media hysteria — no doubt welcome in Beijing — and the countless articles stressing the need for “sensitivity” in our approach to Chinese espionage aren’t going to counteract China’s reach in the U.S. This misguided approach won’t stop China from developing secret police stations on American soil, providing precursor chemicals to Mexican cartel groups flooding American streets with fentanyl, or flying spy balloons over the continental United States.
The only response that the CCP understands is American strength.
The China Initiative exemplified this strength. The initiative exposed six students concealing their CCP affiliation when they applied to study in the United States; countered 10 cases of economic espionage; and charged several Chinese hackers attempting to steal intellectual property. After DOJ shut down the China Initiative, however, Beijing’s activities escalated.
In the last year, a person in California was repeatedly harassed and had their car broken into immediately after delivering a speech in support of democracy. Another major aspect of the CCP’s overseas efforts is “Operation Fox Hunt,” through which political dissidents living abroad are pressured to return to China. In many cases, CCP operatives threaten the dissidents’ families to force compliance.
The CCP isn’t playing softball; we shouldn’t either. To be sure, some leaders in Washington are taking the threat from Beijing seriously. In fact, Rep. Mike Gallagher, Wisconsin Republican — chairman of the House China Select Committee — hosted a bipartisan news conference outside the Manhattan CCP police outpost shortly after it was raided. His committee also organized several hearings drawing attention to the CCP’s propaganda efforts and its manipulation of multinational institutions.
Of course, the scope of the bipartisan committee’s important work hasn’t stopped some progressive members of Congress from undermining their efforts. Rep. Grace Meng, New York Democrat, quickly followed up on the committee’s creation by expressing concern that it would “promote policies and language that endanger Chinese Americans and people of Asian descent living in the U.S.” Though House Republicans have rightly drawn a sharp distinction between freedom-loving Chinese Americans and those who partner with the CCP, some on the left immediately frame their work as racist.
But the U.S. can’t craft national security out of fear of offending someone. We need more policymakers to step up and force President Biden to crack down on China’s information operations and repression in the United States. The Biden administration ought to reopen DOJ’s China Initiative and devote the necessary funds and staff to track and dismantle the CCP’s activities on U.S. soil. American citizens shouldn’t have to live in fear of Chinese surveillance, whether from undercover agents, sky balloons, or their cellphones.