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China / Across America

Chinese-American scientists should not be singled out unfairly

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA) Updated: 2016-02-02 12:19

The two particular terms - "economic espionage" and "trade secrets" - have become disquieting and even worrisome among Asian Americans.

As the world's two largest economies keep expanding exchanges and cooperation in a wide spectrum of fields - including science, innovation and technology - we are noticing that the number of Asian Americans or Chinese nationals suspected or being accused of economic espionage is also on the rise.

As I try to understand the complexities of the US legal environment and the geopolitical background of national interest and security, I simply cannot accept the federal government's inclination to view certain citizens as more suspicious than others, simply because of their race, origin or skin color, with seemingly no other solid evidence.

Consider the ordeal of 60-year-old scientist Sherry Chen, a naturalized US citizen originally from Beijing.

At a series of activities held last week in Silicon Valley to support Chen and similar victims of racial profiling, Chen told the community that finally "she was not feeling alone any more".

The former civil service employee of the National Weather Service in Wilmington, Ohio, was arrested on Oct 20, 2014, and accused of being a spy for the Chinese government.

The government alleged Chen used a stolen password to get access to information about the nation's dams and passed it to a high-ranking Chinese official in Beijing.

In March 2014, just a week before she was scheduled to go on trial, prosecutors dropped all charges against Chen without explanation, saying only that they were "exercising our prosecutorial discretion".

Chen has continued to suffer from a tarnished reputation, loss of her job and financial difficulties ever since.

On Thursday in Palo Alto, the Committee of 100, in collaboration with APAPA (Asian Pacific-Islander American Public Affairs Association), hosted a seminar entitled Trade Secrets and Economic Espionage: Legal Risks in Advancing Technology between the US and China to explore issues particularly relevant to Chinese-American and Asian federal employees, government contractors and professionals in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), as this specific ethnic group has increasingly become the focus of criminal investigations and prosecutions involving national security, intellectual property theft and corporate espionage in the United States.

On Saturday, a legal defense fundraiser was held in Chen's name in Santa Clara and drew about 250 attendees.

Chen is no stranger to Silicon Valley. Ten years ago she went to Intel to receive on-the-job training. This time around, she made her case to unite the community, to awaken Asian Americans to fight against injustice and prejudice and educate professionals in the high-tech arena on self-advocacy and protection.

"I knew I did not commit any crime and had done nothing wrong," said an emotional Chen at the gathering. "For over 20 years, I've been working so hard and have given my best to the American people and this country."

She admitted that she has become stronger and more resilient. "This year is different than last year. I have received so much support from people all over the country after my case was made known," she said.

The unswerving support of, among others, Congress members such as Judy Chu, Ted Lieu, Mike Honda, and opinion leaders from the Asian Pacific American Caucus, APAPA and Committee of 100, has had an influence on the outcome of Chen's case.

Last month, 20 renowned scientists - including Nobel laureates Peter Agre, David Baltimore and Paul Berg - published a petition on the website change.org asking the US Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation into the cases of Chinese-American scientists Sherry Chen, Xiaoxing Xi, and other similar cases to determine whether race, ethnicity or national origin played an illegal role.

Even though the group supports the government's efforts to investigate and prosecute those who steal government and corporate secrets, the scientists said they were still "appalled" by the apparent singling out of Chinese Americans.

According to the petition, those cases were "without adequate investigations by federal law enforcement and prosecutors on the basis of ethnicity in violation of their equal protection rights".

Xiaoxing Xi, chairman of the physics department at Temple University, was dragged from his home on May 22, 2015, with guns pointed at his wife and children. He was later released, after charges of selling sensitive US defense technology to the Chinese government were dropped.

Contact the writer at junechang@chinadailyusa.com.

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