First Lawsuit in DOJ’s China Action Plan to Combat Beijing’s Theft of U.S. Technology Goes to Trial

A jury trial began Monday (June 7, 2021) in a U.S. federal court for a Chinese-American university professor who allegedly concealed his ties to a Chinese academic institution. This is the first court case since the U.S. Department of Justice launched the China Initiative in 2018 to combat Beijing’s growing theft of U.S. technology.

Anming Hu, a former University of Tennessee associate professor, appeared Monday in federal court in Knoxville. He is charged with three counts of wire fraud and three counts of making false statements, and faces up to 20 years in prison.

Federal prosecutor Matthew McKenzie said in court that between 2013 and 2019, Hu, who researched nanotechnology, failed to list his affiliation with a foreign institution on his annual fill-in forms as required by the university, and failed to list such affiliation on his resume for a tenure-track position, even though he was also employed at BIT. Prosecutors said Hu’s deliberate concealment of his ties to a Chinese academic institution led the University of Tennessee to incorrectly certify that the university’s application for federal program funding from NASA complied with relevant federal law.

Hu entered a plea of not guilty in court. His attorney said Hu was innocent and that he did not list that he was also employed by BTI when he filled out the form because he did not clearly understand the university’s requirements, not because he intentionally withheld information. Lawyers told the jury that federal prosecutors targeted Hu Amming to meet the requirements of the China Action Plan launched by the former Trump administration to scare U.S. universities away from hiring foreign-born faculty and researchers.

Local media in Knoxville, Tennessee, reported that Hu, who was born in China and holds Canadian citizenship, enjoys a large reputation in scientific fields such as nanotechnology. Hu’s indictment has raised concerns among local Asian groups against the backdrop of increased cases of alleged discrimination against Asian populations across the United States.

Federal prosecutor John McKenzie said in court that Hu was arrested and prosecuted for his deceptive practices, not his place of birth or race.

The trial continues Tuesday and is expected to last two weeks.

The Justice Department filed similar charges in January against Dr. Charles Lieber, the non-Chinese chairman of Harvard University’s chemistry and biochemistry department, and arrested the nanotechnology expert for allegedly concealing his ties to China’s Wuhan University of Science and Technology and China’s “Thousand Talents Program.

Under the Department of Justice’s China Action Plan, federal prosecutors have brought more than a dozen criminal cases alleging that scholars at U.S. universities and research institutions concealed funding from the Chinese government, or that visiting researchers from China concealed their ties to the Chinese military. Some of these suspects have already pleaded guilty.