Wednesday 31 May 2023

AMERICAN Universities: An Overlooked Front in America’s Cold War with China


Source: Arizona State University

By Michele Bachmann, Regent University Dean of the Robertson School of Government

America’s national security depends on the quality of our education system, particularly our universities. Across America, our universities are developing innovations that will preserve our prosperity and national power. However, as we grapple with the multi-faceted China challenge, they also represent a huge area of vulnerability, which the Chinese Communist Party has been quick to exploit.

In a 2019 report, the State Department showed evidence of a systematic CCP campaign directed at U.S. universities, designed to “threaten academic freedom, misuse access to world-class institutions, and seize research to enhance the PRC military.” While policy-makers have rightly focused on the threat from CCP-FUNDED Confucius Institutes, PRC influence on our universities is both broader and deeper.

For example, according to the State Department, since the 1970s, the CCP has used Chinese Students and Scholars Associations “to monitor Chinese students and mobilize them against views that dissent from the CCP’s stance. That directive has not changed.” Other forms of CCP influence on universities include: direct university-to-university partnerships; suborning scholars to bring valuable, federally-funded research back to China; and direct CCP grants to U.S. universities. The top 10 list of recipients of CCP funding is a who’s who of elite schools, from Harvard at 138.77 million to Arizona State at 44.12 million.

As the U.S. pursues vital national security research, these extensive CCP ties complicate our efforts. Arizona State is an illustrative example. In congressional remarks on March 28, Senator Mark Kelly strongly argued that the new Irregular Warfare Center, designed to combat unconventional threats from China, Russia and other peer competitors, should be hosted at Arizona State. In his words: “It is clear to me that it is time to move forward with Arizona State University and ensure that the IW Center can deliver on its promise for DOD and the nation.”


While ASU closed down its Confucius Center under DOD pressure, it: ranks number 10 in the nation in grants from CCP sources; retains extensive ties with several Chinese universities; touts its ability to place Chinese nationals into highly influential careers; and has an active Chinese Students and Scholars Association. To be sure, ASU is far from abnormal.

Even many universities in the nation’s capital, such as George Washington University, have equally extensive ties. Still, this example highlights the complex challenge CCP influence on our universities poses for national security. On one hand, organizations like the Irregular Warfare Center will need university partnerships to accomplish their mission to keep America safe. On the other hand, widespread, systematic and malign CCP penetration of universities makes it much harder to ensure a high level of security for this vital national security effort.

Four immediate steps can be taken to address this security risk. First, the House Select Committee on China should prioritize investigation of CCP influence on universities. The State Department and FBI have released helpful documents, but a one-stop congressional report, along with a public hearing, would spot-light this vitally important issue.

Second, the federal government should thoroughly assess its university partnerships, with particular attention to protecting vital national security research from falling into the hands of the PRC.

Third, state governments should discontinue any relationships with the PRC or its affiliates that might unduly influence state university systems and K through 12 education. Under Governor Youngkin, Virginia has taken steps to distance itself from PRC influence, from a TikTok ban for government phones to the Governor’s recent opening of a trade office with Taiwan. Ensuring that our educational institutions are free of CCP influence is a logical next step.

Finally, our university administrators must step up to the plate. Many of the threats we face in the academic arena would be neutralized if American universities spent half as much time and effort on combating CCP influence operations on their campuses as they do promoting woke ideology through their diversity, equity and inclusion offices.

America’s world-class universities are the envy of the world, and can and should be the engines of our success in countering the China challenge. By protecting them against malign CCP influence, we can ensure that this promise is realized, and preserve a legacy of freedom, prosperity and national competitiveness for the next generation.

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