NOYES: Is China Infiltrating U.S. Colleges?

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020


Top House Republicans announced a probe to find out if China is attempting to infiltrate U.S. colleges. In their letter to the Secretary of Education, they express their concern over the potential implications involved when colleges and professors accept money originating from China or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Based on the current information available the U.S. should be concerned with Chinese infiltration through higher education and a thorough investigation to uncover the truth is warranted even if some concerns appear to be more hype than fact.

The allegations against China in the House probe include:

  • Attempting to steal confidential information and technology from business and the government.
  • “Restricting any research regarding the origins of COVID-19 that does not comport with CCP propaganda.”
  • Using U.S. campuses to indoctrinate students into supporting Communist and pro-Chinese views.
  • Hampering intellectual freedom through Confucius Institutes when ideas do not coincide with CCP propaganda.

Days after the probe was announced, a University of Arkansas professor was arrested and charged for allegedly hiding funding that he received from the CCP, according to the New York Times. Taking money from the CCP should have made him ineligible for NASA funding and other U.S. government grants that he ended up receiving. The same NYT article notes that the Chinese government has a history of using educational funding as leverage for other purposes, including recruiting professors to establish an intelligence apparatus and gain access to “scientific information” and occasionally “security clearances.”

One similar case that House Republicans cite is the recent arrest of a Harvard University professor and two Chinese nationals in connection with aiding China. Dr. Charles Lieber who specializes in nanoscience “was arrested and charged by criminal complaint with one count of making a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement.” According to the DOJ report, Lieber held a position with the Wuhan University of Technology that he hid from Harvard and participated in China’s Thousand Talents Program. The Chinese government paid Lieber $50,000 a month for three years, living expenses, and granted him $1.5 million to create a lab for the university in Wuhan.

Much of the critics have focused on the preponderance of Confucius Institutes [CI] in the United States, organizations purportedly established “to promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries.” As of December 2017, there were 110 CIs in the U.S. They act largely independently and so some MOUs between colleges and their CI may be more problematic than others. Regardless, Congressman Mike Rogers who joined the letter said, “It’s imperative we get a complete understanding of the depth of foreign influence in our higher education institutions.” 

However, not everyone is convinced of Chinese infiltration. Professor William R Thomas, an Adjunct Instructor of Economics at Siena College told Lone Conservative “the idea that the Chinese government is promoting leftist or socialist politics in U.S. universities is basically absurd. He noted that “U.S. colleges were dominated by politically correct leftists long before the surge of Chinese scholars arrived.” He did, however, acknowledge that China is not the best partner in other regards such as protecting intellectual property rights.

It’s difficult to know how much of the controversy is hype without the probe. Considering the information currently available, House Republicans are right to be at least concerned, especially about intellectual property theft and COVID-19 research.

None of this is to say that students and professors from China are a problem. In fact, as unique individuals like the rest of us, they enrich the communities to which they belong. Professor Thomas said that America has benefited enormously from international exchange and immigration. With this in mind, it’s important not to project the problems we have with Chinese government interference onto individuals. The issue isn’t with Chinese students or professors, but with Chinese government involvement when the goal is to steal intellectual property or compromise the security of the U.S.

The U.S. government certainly has a role in protecting the intellectual property of American citizens and businesses as well as ensuring national security. We must learn the extent to which China has infiltrated the U.S. through higher education. It seems unlikely that China is directly pushing socialism on U.S. campuses. However, based on Professor Lieber’s case, the CCP’s involvement in recruiting Americans to divulge scientific secrets appears to be legitimate. Any individuals or institutions that compromise confidential information or national security need to be dealt with. If the probe uncovers further evidence of Chinese government infiltration, the U.S. should further restrict grants to individuals and colleges receiving money from the Chinese government and try Americans that may have committed treason.

Matt works for the Japanese Conservative Union, the Japanese counterpart to the ACU, where he promotes free markets and small government in Asia. A New Hampshire native, he is driven by a passion for liberty to take part in civic discourse and grow the freedom movement worldwide. He holds a bachelor's degree from SUNY Albany where he wrote for Campus Reform and founded the university's Turning Point USA chapter.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Matthew Noyes

SUNY Albany

Matt works for the Japanese Conservative Union, the Japanese counterpart to the ACU, where he promotes free markets and small government in Asia. A New Hampshire native, he is driven by a passion for liberty to take part in civic discourse and grow the freedom movement worldwide. He holds a bachelor's degree from SUNY Albany where he wrote for Campus Reform and founded the university's Turning Point USA chapter.

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