The “China Initiative” had been criticized by civil liberties advocates as having racial prejudices, and judges in several court cases had expressed skepticism about the FBI’s tactics to question scientists.
On Thursday and Friday, the U.S. government filed petitions in federal courts to dismiss charges in five cases of Chinese researchers arrested for visa fraud last year.
All have pleaded not guilty to falsifying visa applications to cover up military ties and other charges.
The nonsuit motions coincide with the visit of the Under Secretary of State in the new Biden administration, Wendy Sherman, to China on Sunday and Monday.
The five arrests came about a year ago, when US-China relations were at their lowest and now the world’s two largest economies are looking to navigate a rocky relationship.
The Justice Department said in a statement it was classifying cases in “the interests of justice.”
Chinese officials based in the United States could not immediately be reached for comment on this development.
“Recent developments in a handful of cases involving defendants with suspected and undisclosed ties to the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China have prompted the ministry to reassess these prosecutions,” the spokesman said. Department of Justice, Wyn Hornbuckle, without giving details. what were these developments.
Court documents filed this month in two cases included a draft FBI analysis that questioned the usefulness of the investigation to protect technology developed in the United States. The report said the issue of the military service visa application that trapped scientists was unclear.
The analysis was written in response to the FBI’s China Tech Transfer Analysis Unit’s nomination for an award in February for the “strong impact” of “PLA student arrests.” PLA refers to the Chinese military.
The FBI unit chief disagreed over the impact of the arrests and withdrew the unit from award nominations, court documents show.
Asked about the court case, a Justice Department official responded by email that “the draft analysis has prompted follow-up questions and requests from defense counsel that we have not been able to resolve before. Monday’s trial date ”.
One of the cases was due to start on Monday.
The official said in most cases sentences would be one year or less and that defendants have had their freedom restricted during that time, whether in jail or on bail.
Defense attorneys said their clients’ only “crime” was to go against US-China policy.
John Hemann, an attorney for Chinese brain researcher Song Chen, said they were “grateful and relieved” that the case against her was closed and “the government has done the right thing.”