US University Foils Suspected Chinese Communist Party Influence Campaign

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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An American university has reportedly rejected funding from a Chinese foundation suspected of facilitating China’s broader efforts to expand its global influence.

The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) has decided not to accept funding for its new China Public Policy Center from the Hong Kong-based China United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF). The organization is led by Tung Chee-hwa, who serves as vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a self-proclaimed “united front” organization.

The CPPCC and the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department play an important role in advancing China’s vast influence operations abroad, according to The Washington Post.

While CUSEF asserts that it is not an agent of the Chinese government, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz calls CUSEF a “pseudo-philanthropic foundation” with questionable connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China called attention to the dangers of Chinese influence in December, with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio commenting, “Chinese efforts to influence our public policy and our basic freedoms are much more widespread than most people realize.”

CUSEF came under scrutiny last November, when an article in “Foreign Policy” magazine asserted that the organization was striving to buy influence in Washington’s most influential institutions and organizations. For UT-Austin, the issue arose after China Public Policy Center Executive Director David Firestein proposed making CUSEF the primary source of funding for the project, which opened in August 2017.

University President Gregory Fenves launched an investigation after members of the staff raised concerns. While the investigation was ongoing, Cruz decided to weigh in to prevent China from securing a foothold for the expansion of the country’s global influence campaign at a Texas university.

“I am deeply concerned that collaborating with CUSEF, given its affiliation with the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) united front system … would disseminate PRC propaganda within the [China Public Policy] Center and compromise its credibility,” the Republican senator explained in a letter, adding, “CUSEF and the united front are the external face of the CCP’s internal authoritarianism.”

CUSEF was founded in 2008 by Tung, a shipping tycoon who later became the first chief executive of Hong Kong after repatriation. Tung is said to have advocated for closer ties to Beijing.

In a response to Cruz last week, Fenves revealed that he had decided to not accept funds from CUSEF, noting the highly-suspicious nature of the organization. This effort to blunt possible Chinese efforts to hijack and subvert debates on issues of global importance may be the start of a new trend as American institutions, organizations, and businesses become more aware of the so-called “long arm of Chinese influence.”

As is, the U.S. has grown increasingly suspicious of Chinese investments in American businesses, and in some cases, the U.S. government has stepped in to shut down various deals perceived as detrimental to American interests. (RELATED: Trump Tanks China Chip Deal To Protect US National Security)

Nonetheless, countering Chinese efforts to influence American society represents a challenge, due to the scale of Chinese operations in the U.S. and elsewhere.


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