House Bill Seeks to Stop Chinese Regime from Exploiting American Universities

September 17, 2018 Updated: September 18, 2018

New legislation and new approaches by law enforcement are addressing the longstanding problem of how the Chinese regime uses the American educational system to steal secrets that damage America’s national and economic security.

On Sept. 13, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) introduced the Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft (SHEET) Act of 2018 to stop foreign intelligence services from using college exchange programs to steal technology, recruit agents and spread propaganda. This legislation accompanies a Senate bill that was introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on May 22.

Rooney said in an email to The Epoch Times that he was moved to introduce the measure because “China uses many methods to steal technology from the United States.’

Rooney said one such example is the Confucius Institutes, which allow “the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate American universities to exploit the open research and development environment, spread propaganda and recruit agents. This threat to our national security should be taken seriously.”

The Thousand Talents Plan is of particular concern for U.S. officials. Established by the Chinese regime to recruit academic and research talent back to China, the program has been described by the U.S. National Intelligence Council as a means of enabling technology transfer to China from the United States.

Rooney said, “The SHEET Act will allow the FBI to designate foreign-intelligence threats to higher education, including professors and students associated with the Thousand Talents Plan. This authority is necessary to stop China from stealing American technology.”

The SHEET Act also requires stricter reporting rules by universities that receive foreign gifts, and protects civil liberties by allowing designations of someone as a foreign-intelligence threat to be appealed, similar to the way in which Foreign Terrorist Organization designations can be appealed.

Cruz, who introduced the Senate bill, “Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft Act of 2018,” said in a statement, “The Chinese Communist Party is working to undermine American universities by meddling with curricula, silencing criticism of their regime, and stealing intellectual property.

“Creating accountability for Confucius Institutes is a necessary step to protect our institutions of higher learning, and I’m glad that Rep. Rooney has introduced this important legislation.”

The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Donald Trump on Aug. 13 bars any U. S. university from using Pentagon resources for any program involving Confucius Institutes.

According to Hanban (the Chinese Language Council), which governs the Confucius Institutes, as of Dec. 31, 2017, 525 Confucius Institutes, which are in colleges and universities, and 1,113 Confucius Classrooms, which are in primary and secondary schools, have been set up in 146 countries and regions. There are 161 Confucius Institutes and 754 Confucius Classrooms in the Americas.

New Initiatives

With the acceleration of the U.S. trade war with China, coercive technology transfer, intellectual property protection, and academic espionage and theft have all emerged as part of the battlefront.

On Aug. 8, in an unprecedented gathering, FBI officials warned top leaders of Texas academic and medical institutions about classified security threats. It was said to be the first step in a new initiative that the FBI plans to replicate around the country.

The gathering was attended by more than 100 academic officials from the Texas Medical Center and around the state. Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, discussed the challenges of protecting educational and research opportunities while mitigating potential risks to U.S. national and economic security.

“Enhanced protection begins with enhanced awareness,” he said.

Another event “The Impact of Espionage Investigation on the Asian American Community” will be held Sept. 22 in Houston, with FBI special agents, legal experts, and academic leaders invited to discuss the Economic Espionage Act and other related policies.

Messages about the FBI’s new initiatives have been widely circulated among the Chinese community via social media. Some Chinese internet users commented that these efforts show that the U. S. government wants to address the problem at its root, which may have a bigger effect on China than the trade war itself.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms. There are 161 Confucius Institutes and 754 Confucius Classrooms in the Americas. The Epoch Times regrets the mistake.

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