The Chinese government and institutions have long infiltrated American academic institutions, especially with money to influence American scholarship and freedom of expression. The US government and experts have proposed various measures to stop Chinese infiltration. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says U.S. academic institutions should do more to combat The Influence and activities of the Chinese government. American experts say universities should disclose more, or even cut off, funding from China.
In a recent speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Pompeo said U.S. colleges and universities should conduct “rigorous assessments” of future students from China, work to prevent intellectual property theft, disclose foreign funds and monitor student activities on campus.
“We have a responsibility to manage it,” he said. Some of this is the responsibility of the U.S. government, and we have to do better, but we also need educational institutions to be more transparent and clear about what the U.S. Department of Education wants.”
He asked university administrators across the country to review the foreign funds they receive to prevent undue financial influence, and to review the activities of Confucius Institutes on campus.
“We cannot allow the Communist Party to crush academic freedom,” Mr. Pompeo said. “But we need your help. We need the help of students. We need the help of teachers. We need the help of administrations across the United States. We need boards of trustees to oversee donations from China, and universities to oversee deals with the Communist Party and groups it supports.”
In general, Pompeo said, “left-leaning” college campuses “are saturated with anti-Americanism and are easy targets for anti-American messages.”
Article 117 of the Higher Education Law requires higher education institutions to report foreign gifts and contracts in a transparent manner, but in the past year the Ministry of Education has uncovered billions of unreported financial links.
In a report released in October, the U.S. Department of Education detailed the failure of many U.S. academic institutions to disclose more than $6.5 billion in funding and resources from countries including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.
Among them, The Chinese tech giant huawei has financial ties to almost all of the academic institutions under investigation. Huawei is spending higher education on issues critical to national security, such as nuclear science, robotics and online cloud services. Two Chinese companies are working with a US university on a research project involving crowd monitoring and behavioural prediction techniques. The report says the Chinese government may be using the project for nefarious purposes.
Separately, China has given nearly $1 billion in gifts and contracts to U.S. universities since its launch in 2013, according to an analysis of U.S. government data by Bloomberg. As of June, about 115 universities had received money gifts and contracts from China in the past six and a half years. Harvard received the most money, about $93.7 million, most of it as gifts. The University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania ranked second and third.
The most recent school to be disclosed is Columbia University. The Washington Free Beacon reported last week that Columbia has not disclosed at least $1 million in Chinese government funding for its Confucius Institute. Columbia is the only Ivy League university to have a Confucius Institute. Hanban, the Beijing office that runs the Confucius Institute, has pledged at least $1m to Columbia, according to state media. Records from the U.S. Department of Education show that Colombia never disclosed the donations to the federal government.
When CONTACTED by VOA, the Confucius Institute at Columbia University did not respond to requests for comment until press time.
Gordon Chang, a political commentator and China expert, told VOA that U.S. academic institutions should completely cut off the flow of money from China because China is not funding its institutions to help the United States.
“Some American universities, including the Ivy League, have not fulfilled their legal obligation to report donations from China,” he said. This is a systemic problem. I think our only solution is to stop China from transferring money to American academic institutions. We should cut off funding from China because they are not funding American institutions of higher education.”
He added: “China poses a great threat to the United States, so we must carefully examine any links between Beijing and American society. We should not be allowed to use China’s money to influence American institutions of higher learning. I think it is absolutely necessary for US colleges and universities to report money from China. It should not be measured by the schools themselves. We have to make sure that all relations between China and the United States are legitimate and appropriate.”
Stephanie Segal, former director of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of East Asian Affairs and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA: “I think the more disclosure the better. We should have transparency, certainly for public universities. I think there is no doubt about it. But if there are private colleges that are recipients of federal funds, I think full disclosure is warranted. But I think whether we’re talking about funding for political campaigns or research grants, the more disclosure the better.”
The fact that so many universities are exposed to China’s money also shows that university boards, which are supposed to set strategic goals and policies, approve budgets and set program funding, are not doing their jobs well, Mr. Chang said.
“We know that many schools censor themselves to silence criticism of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. So obviously, the College Board has not done its job, and that’s why we have to be very careful about any money that comes in from China.”
According to the Washington Free Beacon, federal prosecutors have filed more than a dozen criminal cases accusing scholars of concealing their ties to the Chinese military from receiving government funding or visiting researchers from China.
Pompeo’s speech drew a backlash from some U.S. academic institutions. Terry Hartle, the council’s senior vice president for government and public affairs, called Pompeo’s comments “ridiculous and insulting” in an interview with Bloomberg.
But monitoring China’s penetration of American universities cannot be done without the cooperation of American universities. Hartl says the U.S. government should treat American colleges and universities as partners.
“I think we need to recognize that it’s in the best interest of the university and it’s in the national security interest of the United States. Building a partnership that protects national security and protects The United States is an advantage for innovation. So I think if we start from that common starting point, it will help shape the kind of relationship that we will need in the future.”
She said it is in the interest of American universities to protect the integrity of research, ensure that funding sources are known and that certain codes of conduct relating to the protection of secrets are being enforced. So when it comes to the implementation of regulation, she said, “universities themselves can be the first line of defense” and should be led by universities, with the U.S. government playing a supporting role.