Chinese American scientists accused as spies seek justice

A campaign, “Scientists Not Spies,” seeking justice for Chinese Americans wrongfully accused as spies, in most cases with charges dropped without explanation, apology or compensation, has been launched by Asian American advocates.

The effort follows a string of wrongful persecutions, in which several members of the Chinese American community – including Xiaoxing Xi, a Temple University professor – were accused of espionage-related crimes by the U.S. government.

A petition created by Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ) demands accountability from the government and an investigation of the U.S. Department of Justice. It also asks for an apology for “the wrongfully prosecuted and their families.”

“The pattern of wrongful prosecutions of Chinese American scientists and engineers is just another form of racial profiling,” said Karin Wang, vice president of programs & communications at AAAJ-LA. “The ‘Scientists Not Spies’ campaign seeks to raise the profile of these cases and to seek justice for falsely accused individuals.”

AAAJ is a civil rights and legal organization for Asian Americans that has worked closely with the accused. Its California Tour for the campaign, launched last month, was joined by Reps. Judy Chu and Ted Lieu.

Xi, who is a naturalized American citizen, was arrested and charged by the FBI in 2015 with wire fraud, and accused of sharing privileged technology with China. Prosecutors said Xi was sharing designs for a “pocket heater,” which is used in superconductor research. If he had been convicted, Xi could have faced 80 years of jail time and a $1 million fine. During the following trial, it was revealed Xi had emailed a colleague in China about information unrelated to the pocket heater. The charges were dropped, but he did not leave the incident unscathed – his family drained their bank account to pay for legal fees.

“I see dangers all over the place,” Xi told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I think I sound very annoyingly paranoid when I talk to my colleagues because I tell them, ‘You better be careful, what you’re doing is dangerous.'”

In another incident, Sherry Chen, a National Weather employee, was accused of stealing passwords to download information about U.S. dams. Guoqing Cao and Shuyu Li, former senior biologists at Eli Lilly and Company, were accused of stealing company trade secrets and passing them to China. In both cases, accusations were found to be false and charges were dropped.

“The multiple reckless prosecutions against Chinese Americans, and the secrecy and lack of transparency around the government’s actions, are unacceptable,” said Joyce Xi, program coordinator at AAAJ-Asian Law Caucus and daughter of Professor Xi, in a statement. “We think it is critical to combat this and any form of racial profiling by federal law enforcement.”