WASHINGTON – The US Justice Department will counter hacking and other illegal activity by the Chinese government while being careful to avoid negatively stereotyping Asian Americans and citizens of China, Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Tuesday (June 22).
Mr Garland described a delicate balancing act that the department is taking with regard to China.
“We want to be careful to separate out a country that is a serious competitor with us – aggressive competitor – with Americans and also with residents who come from that country,” he told reporters in Washington. “We are going to be careful that we do not forget the distinction between those two.”
The US has escalated efforts in recent years to combat activities by the Chinese government that include hacking, espionage and the theft of trade secrets, going as far as closing the country’s consulate in Houston.
At the same time, however, the Justice Department has come under criticism for creating bias against Asian Americans and Chinese citizens in the US.
Under former President Donald Trump, the department began the so-called China Initiative, which included targeting Chinese researchers and scientists working in the US.
The department frequently alleged they were acting as spies or had previously unreported connections to China’s military, but the government often provided little evidence in court to back up the accusations.
Mr Garland gave no indication that the department under President Joe Biden would end the China Initiative.
“We will counter Chinese espionage and cyber and everything else but we won’t forget the civil rights and the civil liberties of the people in this country,” he said.
The top US law enforcement officer also took issue with criticism by some congressional Democrats that he isn’t being forceful enough when it comes to rooting out corruption and politicisation within the department under Mr Trump.
Mr Garland said he wants to wait to find out what the department’s inspector general determines as it investigates activities that occurred during the Trump administration, including the collection of communications metadata on members of Congress and journalists.
Mr Garland said it wouldn’t be fair to department employees to pre-judge the findings before they’re made.