Communist China has been engaging in a systematic program to co-opt American higher education institutions and steal U.S. intellectual property. And many schools have been less than forthcoming about the vast sums they have received from Beijing. A study published in June found that over 70 American universities receiving major funding from the Chinese government failed to report these grants, as required by law. Section 117 of the Higher Education Act mandates that schools report “any gifts from, or contracts with, foreign sources with a value of $250,000 or more in a twelve-month period.” Judicial Watch has filed a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Education (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Education) for records between the Department and any schools being investigated for violations of Section 117 for false or misleading reporting of foreign gifts.
The millions being lavished on American universities is part of a multi-pronged, coordinated Chinese effort. The PRC has adopted a national strategy of Military-Civil Fusion (MCF) under which select Chinese institutions seek collaboration with foreign universities to gain access to high-end research and technology. Under the MCF strategy, all research and technology thus acquired must be diverted to the Chinese military. The PRC’s China Scholarship Council underwrites 30,000 Chinese scholars, professors, and other researchers to travel abroad to obtain advanced research and technology that is sent back for use by the People’s Liberation Army. Many Chinese researchers abroad either voluntarily cooperate with communist military or intelligence agencies or are coerced into cooperation through threats to their families back home. Sometimes they are actual members of the Chinese military. For example, last week the FBI arrested University of California, Davis researcher Juan Tang, for concealing on her J1 visa application that she was a uniformed officer of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force.
The PRC has also targeted American scientists and researchers to transfer cutting edge technology to China. The Thousand Talents Program offers lucrative salaries and other incentives for people in STEM fields to share research findings and establish shadow labs in China to duplicate their research efforts. China directs researchers in the program to hide their relationship with the PRC. FBI Director Christopher Wray said recently that China uses the Thousand Talents Program to pay scientists at US universities to “secretly bring our knowledge and innovation back to China — including valuable, federally funded research.” This has both economic and national security ramifications.
Former Harvard Chemistry and Chemical Biology Department chair Charles Lieber is one of the highest profile examples of a prominent American researcher corrupted by China. Lieber was indicted in June 2020 for lying to federal authorities about his participation in the Thousand Talents program. Lieber had concealed both from Harvard and from the National Institutes of Health that he was being paid $50,000 a month by the Wuhan Institute of Technology, in addition to $150,000 for living expenses and $1.5 million to establish a shadow laboratory in China to duplicate his research. This week Lieber was also hit with charges of tax evasion for not reporting his Beijing-backed bounty.
There have been a series of other similar arrests in the last few months, including former Emory University professor Xiao-Jiang Li who collected half a million dollars from China, Simon Saw-Teong Ang, a NASA researcher at the University of Arkansas, and the Cleveland Clinic Foundation’s Qing Wang, who was collecting millions from the NIH while also pulling down millions to duplicate his research in China. A 2019 Senate report advised all government agencies to give enhanced scrutiny to researchers potentially under the sway of Beijing’s recruitment programs.
China is also exploiting college campuses to present the communist system in a favorable light. Since 2004 the PRC has established hundreds of “Confucius Institutes” (CIs) at colleges and universities to teach the Communist Party’s version of Chinese history and culture. China controls the staffing and curriculum, and money-hungry universities provide the venue and the students. In 2014 the American Association of University Professors denounced this third-party curriculum control as “inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities.” The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act went further, banning universities that host CIs from receiving U.S. Defense Department funding for Chinese language study. Recently sixteen of the approximately 100 CIs have been shut down. Meanwhile the 150 American chapters of the Beijing-controlled Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) monitor Chinese students studying in America for signs of disloyalty to the communist orthodoxy.
Last May, ranking members of seven Congressional committees requested information from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about foreign influence in American higher education, highlighting the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to silence academic research into the origins of COVID-19. It is imperative for the U.S. government to be forthcoming about the many ways China is exploiting the taxpayer-supported US education system to steal our most cutting-edge research.
Chris Farrell is director of investigations and research at Judicial Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog. He was previously a military intelligence officer