Posted on November 9, 2018

China Infiltrates American Campuses

Gordon G. Chang, Gatestone Institute, November 8, 2018

Beijing, in seeking influence on American college and university campuses, has been infringing on academic freedoms, violating American sovereignty, and breaking U.S. law. U.S. officials, neglecting their responsibilities to the American people, have allowed this injurious behavior to continue, in some instances for decades.


China’s Communist Party, especially its United Front Work Department, has targeted institutions of higher learning as part of an intensive, multi-decade effort to influence American society. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has placed great emphasis on international propaganda efforts, in May 2015 identified students as “a new focus of United Front Work,” suggesting they should be promoters and implementers of Party efforts.


{snip} What the official may have found “unacceptable” was that students from China have acted in ways that have intimidated faculty, staff, and other students at American universities. Chinese students have done this by, among other things, demanding schools remove research materials, by insisting that faculty change teaching content to suit Beijing, by trying to prevent others from criticizing China, and by trying to force the cancellation of academic activities.

Chinese students, not surprisingly, are becoming a part of what is known as “China’s long arm.” Far more worrying than the activities of students, however, are the actions of Chinese diplomats. Chinese diplomats, as Lloyd-Damnjanovic wrote in her September 2018 report, have been “employing intimidating modes of conversation.”

Diplomats have also infringed on academic freedom by complaining about on-campus speakers and events, by trying to coerce faculty, and by threatening retaliation against American university programs in China.

The main instruments of Chinese power on American campuses are the Confucius Institutes and CSSA chapters.

CIs, as the Confucius Institutes are known, were first established in 2004 to provide Chinese language instruction, but they now teach Chinese society, culture, and other topics. They have also, incredibly, organized demonstrations on American soil, often to welcome Chinese leaders or to hound the Dalai Lama.

The CIs operate at Beijing’s direction. The 107 or so Confucius Institutes in the U.S. formally report to the Hanban, the National Chinese Language Office, “affiliated” with the Chinese Ministry of Education.

In reality, the Hanban appears to be a front for the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, which is charged with managing relations with other organizations and individuals. Liu Yunshan, once head of the Party’s Propaganda Department, in 2010 exhorted CIs to “actively carry out international propaganda battles.” CIs appear, in fact, to be funded by the Propaganda Department. {snip}


The contractual language the Hanban pushes on universities poses a more substantive threat to academic autonomy. The Confucius Institute constitution requires all universities to avoid “tarnish[ing] the reputation of the Confucius Institutes” — an offense punishable by revocation of the contract, immediate loss of all Hanban funds, and potential unspecified “legal action.” I examined eight signed contracts between American universities and the Hanban, all eight of which duplicate this language almost verbatim.

The institutes, therefore, have been set up from the get-go to be exempt from criticism. This immunity, by itself, undermines the ability of administrators to supervise the CIs.

Even more dangerous are the 150 or so chapters of the CSSA and their closely affiliated groups. These organizations are sometimes covertly sponsored, funded, and, most disturbingly, directed by China’s embassy and five consulates in the U.S.

Sometimes these links are openly admitted, but often the chapters try to hide their connections to Beijing. {snip}

The main points of contact for CSSA chapters are often intelligence officers in the embassy and consulates. China’s Ministry of State Security uses CSSA students to inform on other Chinese on campus. Sulaiman Gu, a student at the University of Georgia, told Radio Free Asia that MSS agents tried to get him to inform on fellow Chinese. Gu actually provided RFA with tapes of MSS agents giving him requests for information on certain targets.

Moreover, the Chinese state has, for several decades, been organizing — and paying for — Chinese students to engage in demonstrations on U.S. soil outside campuses, thereby impermissibly interfering in the American political process.


So what should America do?

First, universities can take over many of the functions of CSSA chapters. {snip}

Second, Washington should rely on existing norms, rules, and laws. American institutions certainly can deal with whatever Beijing throws at them. So, for instance, any CSSA chapter that hides funding from Beijing — a violation of college and university rules — should be disbanded.

Most of all, let us get the FBI to round up Ministry of State Security agents who, up to now, have been given free rein to operate in America. Putting these agents behind bars or even just revoking their visas will end many of the activities that endanger American campuses. The Chinese kill CIA agents in China. The least Washington can do is declare China’s agents personae non gratae.

The Chinese feel emboldened to violate American sovereignty and break laws because American administrations have let them do these things — sometimes openly — since at least the early 1990s. {snip}

Third, Congress can also change laws to make life inhospitable for Confucius Institutes. The John McCain 2019 National Defense Authorization Act provides that an educational institution cannot receive Defense Department funds for any program that involves a Confucius Institute.

{snip} Legislation should bar an educational institution from receiving any federal funds if it hosts a CI.


Fourth, U.S. and campus officials must make sure that Communist Party members do not abuse their First Amendment rights. {snip}

The existence of a Party cell on a U.S. campus — there are now several of them — signals to Chinese students and faculty that, although they are in the United States, they are still subject to Beijing’s supervision.