POLITICS
06/12/2017 10:36 am ET Updated Jun 12, 2017

Asians Most Likely To Be Charged For Espionage In U.S.: Report

“People continue to mistake us [Asian-Americans] for foreigners no matter how hard we assimilate and show our loyalty.”
Chinese-American hydrologist Sherry Chen and Chinese-American scientist Dr. Xiaoxing Xi, who were both accused of espionage a
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images
Chinese-American hydrologist Sherry Chen and Chinese-American scientist Dr. Xiaoxing Xi, who were both accused of espionage and had their charges dropped abruptly. 

Asians may be receiving unfair treatment when it comes to the U.S. government’s spying cases, a study says.

A recently released report on economic espionage shows that the minority group is more likely to be charged with the crime than any other ethnic group. And they’re also found innocent at a rate two times higher than individuals from any other race.

Though the findings, published by nonpartisan Chinese-American organization Committee of 100, aren’t conclusive, experts say they’re important to acknowledge. The results further confirm that the minority group has yet to be seen as “American,” the group’s chairman Frank Wu explained to HuffPost in an email.  

“I have seen from case after case after case ... that people continue to mistake us [Asian-Americans] for foreigners no matter how hard we assimilate and show our loyalty,” he said. 

The research, conducted by scholar Andrew Kim of South Texas College of Law, examined a random sample of cases from 1997 to 2015 that were charged under the Economic Espionage Act. The legislation was passed to prevent foreign governments from stealing trade secrets. 

Kim’s data shows that 62 percent of defendants charged since 2009 have been of Asian descent, with the number of those with Chinese heritage tripling.  Moreover, the intended beneficiaries of the alleged espionage were actually American entities in half the cases, while a third of the them involved Chinese entities. 

When looking at the outcomes of these cases, Kim found that one in five were never proven guilty of spying or any other serious crime. But when they were convicted, those with Asian-sounding names were given sentences twice as long than those with Western-sounding names. 

Wu told HuffPost that while the report may be new, the results aren’t surprising. Today, China is perceived as an economic threat and though Asian-Americans aren’t representative of Asia, they are unfortunately seen as such and could be targeted because of these perceptions. Referencing the “perpetual foreigner stereotype,” Wu added that even third generation Asian-Americans, are still mistaken as those from other countries. 

“There is anxiety that China will overtake America, whether in military, economic, political, or cultural terms,” Wu said. “That affects Chinese Americans, inevitably. We’re seen as representatives, potentially agents, of a rival power. So global politics affect domestic civil rights.”  

The report comes on the heels of Professor Xiaoxing Xi’s lawsuit against the FBI agents who investigated him for espionage. Back in 2015, agents stormed Xi’s home, rounded his family up at gunpoint, and arrested the professor, his daughter Joyce wrote in an op-ed. Charges were dropped abruptly against the wrongfully-prosecuted professor, but the incident had already affected his job. It also caused his family “trauma and paranoia from FBI surveillance,” among other consequences, Joyce said. 

Though there has no doubt been defendants of Asian descent who have been guilty of stealing trade secrets, Xi is one of many innocent Asian-Americans who have been accused of spying for foreign governments. Wu says the study is further proof that there’s more work to do to eliminate racial bias in these cases. And it starts with admitting that there is discrimination involved as well as mobilizing Asian-Americans to advocate for themselves.  

“This is real evidence. It reflects attitudes. This isn’t the result of random chance,” he said of the study’s significance. “The remedy won’t come about automatically. We have to stand up and speak out.”

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