What exactly are Confucius Institutes, and what role do they play in spreading Chinese communist propaganda on college campuses?
How does the Chinese regime systematically steal research from American universities and co-opt professors and students?
And how does the Chinese Communist Party exploit America’s sensitivity about race and xenophobia, especially now during this coronavirus pandemic?
In this episode, we sit down with Cabot Phillips, the Editor-in-Chief of Campus Reform, a college news source and conservative watchdog to America’s higher education system.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Cabot Phillips, so great to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Cabot Phillips: Thanks, Jan. I appreciate it.
Mr. Jekielek: Cabot, it’s quite amazing. You were just telling me offline moments ago that you went through every rung in this national campus media organization. I had a similar experience here at The Epoch Times. It’s quite incredible to have this kind of insider’s perspective into the company or into the organization.
Mr. Phillips: Yeah, it’s been very helpful. So Campus Reform is the largest college news site in America covering political bias, specifically liberal political bias. We are a conservative organization. We’re very open about that but we cover bias on college campuses and the free speech culture wars going on in American universities. I started as a college student, as a freelance reporter. A “campus correspondent” is what we call it. Then moved on afterwards to an intern, and then moved on to a reporter, and then media director, and now editor-in-chief. So I’ve seen through, for the last four and a half years, every position and we’ve continued to grow at a rapid rate. We have over 100 student correspondents around the country, the eyes and ears on their campus publishing articles about what’s going on, on their campus. The free speech suppression, the First Amendment violations, all those types of things are things that we document and shine a light on, to try and protect students’ First Amendment rights on college campuses. We have started to cover heavily the influence of China on university campuses as well as with our full team of reporters and editors right outside Washington, D.C. in Arlington, Virginia. It is important work that we’re doing, and I’ve been really blessed to see us grow and see through every single position on the team. I feel like I have a good understanding of things at this point.
Mr. Jekielek: Something that really caught my eye, was this interactive map of Confucius Institutes which you guys have on the campus reform website. It’s actually quite useful and quite valuable even to us. What prompted this?
Mr. Phillips: Well, for people that don’t know what Confucius Institutes are, these are essentially Chinese propaganda centers on college campuses. Universities will host these “cultural centers” as they believe them to be, but according to the Department of Defense, Pentagon, intelligence community here in the States, we now know that they are centers on campus for the Chinese to try and push revisionist history in the classroom, to try and deceive people about what the Chinese government is doing now and what they’ve done in the past to try and hide human rights violations all under the guise of a cultural exchange program.
There are anywhere from 75 to 86 operating currently. 11 of them this year are in the process of shutting down. So it depends on who you’re asking what the exact number is. We’ll go with 75, though, operating at full steam right now and that was something where we were shocked. The more we looked into this, how many there were still operating, that people weren’t paying attention more clearly, and so we had readers that were emailing us saying, “Is there one in my state? What’s going on? How do I find out about this,” because many times the schools aren’t exactly bragging about this, because of their controversial nature, so it can be a little hard to find them online. We wanted to provide a one-stop shop for people to be able to see around the country where they are. Some people even said, “I’m not sending my kid to a school,” or students said, “I’m not going to a school that has one of these out on principle, and I want to know where they are when I’m picking what school I’m going to.” So we put together a map there at campusreform.org, and we have an entire page now campusreform.org/china where we’re covering all of the Chinese infiltration efforts on campus as well as the interactive map where people can go to see if there is a Confucius Institute operating in their state.
Mr. Jekielek: There’s quite a bit of money involved in these Confucius Institutes. It’s a bit of an answer to the question of why there are so many.
Mr. Phillips: There’s quite a bit of money. So starting in 2004, Hanban, which is the Chinese affiliate with the government, technically they are nonprofit, although the Ministry of Propaganda in China has come out and openly said that their purpose is to spread propaganda abroad. So they’re actually in countries around the world, in Australia, in South Korea, all throughout the Middle East, Asia and Europe, and there are plenty of them here in America as well. And the Chinese government is spending hundreds of millions and billions of dollars on these efforts. Don’t think for a second that this is out of the kindness of their hearts that they’re trying to spread Chinese culture and teach the Chinese language, and the music and history as they claim to be. They’re not spending all this money to try and spread those positive things, which are good things, they are using this as a smokescreen so that people think that. But certainly, there are a lot of times, the process for it is they’ll come to a campus and they’ll say, “we want to build this shiny new building on your campus, so we’ll give you $10 million if you spent the other $10 million on building this, and you can tell people that you have this cultural exchange program on campus.” It’s a selling point for the schools, and the schools look at it and say, “great! A $10 million donation from this nice-sounding nonprofit in China. They’re going to help us build a Confucius Institute. It sounds very learned, very philosophical, very educational and academic, all things that we should strive for on a college campus.” Many times what they fail to recognize is the fact that when the schools allow these centers to become built, many times the Chinese then get a foothold and they’re able to use that as a way of spreading propaganda. So we can get all into what they’re doing, what they’re open purposes, what we’ve seen so far and how they’re using these things, but a lot of the schools oftentimes place the benefits of getting these new buildings on campus, the benefits of these financial donations, over defending the integrity of their academic institutions, and that’s where the problem comes in.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s dive in a little bit. There are some recent examples I’m sure I’m not even aware of even though I have been following the Confucius Institute issue for some time. Maybe illustrate to us for our viewers, how this plays out. What kind of a threat really is there here through an example or two?
Mr. Phillips: So there’s a two-pronged approach that the Chinese government takes when it comes to infiltrating college campuses. The first element is the propaganda side. And so again, the Ministry of Propaganda in China has been very open about the fact that their intention is to use these centers to influence what’s being said about the Chinese government on campus. So there are a few approaches there. First of all, it’s in the curriculum. They’re very open about their pressure that they put on universities, on each individual campus. [They are] going to the university saying. “We’re going to help you craft your curriculum, then see that what you’re teaching about China in our history, in our current day, is accurate.” So they say, “Well, we know it better than anyone. We are actually coming from the Chinese culture and government. We know what’s best in history.” So they will try and influence the curriculum on each individual school to make sure that nothing unflattering is getting out. And then they’ll work with student groups. Many times they are Chinese Student Associations of international students from China, and these groups are heavily monitored by the Confucius Institutes to make sure that none of the students are speaking ill of the Chinese government. So that’s kind of a way for them to make sure that they’re censoring what the students are saying, they keep very close relations with them.
The other side of it is, according to the Department of Defense, these Confucius Institutes are actually safety hubs for espionage efforts. So because a lot of times when the contracts are signed with universities, the Confucius Institutes will be able to demand secrecy and they’ll say, “we’re going to operate but there’s not much transparency.” They aren’t exactly letting you know the university is looking at everything that’s going on within these centers and institutes, and so the Chinese will use them as ways to start to hack into things on campus, whether that’s research, we’ve seen multiple cases of them hacking into research from universities, or going into any kind of other cyber warfare things of that nature. That is kind of the element that we see there.
The second side of what they’re trying to do on the college campuses is actually just buying American research is one way of putting it. They’ll go to American professors and they will offer them huge amounts of money and say, “work with us. Provide us research.” Many times they are secretly doing so, and so the professors will smuggle them information without disclosing it to the U.S. government, and they will essentially be buying information that American universities are working on and attempting to smuggle it out to the Chinese government to take credit for it. We’ve seen a lot of that effort being ramped up now with the coronavirus as there’s a race for the cure. We know that China is wanting to be the ones to find that cure. They want to be the ones to tell the world, “Look, our medical facilities are up to par with anyone in the world. We found the cure.” Because of that, they are ramping up their efforts to try and steal American medical research with regards to coronavirus, and they’re using American campuses as a beachhead for that operation because so much of the medical research is happening there. The FBI actually released a statement this week, a PSA warning people that if you’re working on any kind of coronavirus research, that you can expect that there will be actors from within the Chinese government that are trying to come in and take that whether from a cyber perspective or other areas.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s incredible. You’ve raised so many amazing vantage points here. I want to stick to the Confucius Institutes just for a moment. What happens when you go against the party line of the Confucius Institute? Do you have an example?
Mr. Phillips: Yeah, so we’ve seen students that have sent us tips and people have said that they’ve been a member of the Chinese Student Association on different college campuses and they’ll face pressure from the Confucius Institutes. One of the more nefarious things that will happen, and there’s been numerous examples of this, great reporting that’s been done on this issue, is what will happen is the Confucius Institutes will kind of keep an eye on what the Chinese students are doing on campus, and if they feel like they’re not up to par with what they would want, then they will essentially make threats to the students or go to their families back home in mainland China, and say, “we let your student go study abroad. They are now speaking ill of our government.” [The Chinese government will] make threats to them. They’ll meet up with their families there in China and kind of send veiled threats to them saying you need to make sure your student is in line. This is kind of a way for them to monitor the students that they do let go to the United States.
There are 379,000 Chinese students that are coming to America to study. That makes up about a third of all international students on college campuses are coming from China. So there is a large incentive for the Chinese government to monitor what those students are doing and the Confucius Institutes are a way for them to do that. And then we’ve had administrators and history teachers and things of that nature that have reported on the fact that they’ve felt internal pressure from these Confucius Institutes who are monitoring what they’re teaching in class, and essentially trying to pass a revisionist form of history in their curriculum and saying, “well, it’s offensive to us that you were teaching this about Mao” or “it’s offensive that you are bringing up some of the human rights discrepancies going on in modern-day China, and this is not actually accurate” and trying to influence those as well. There have been multiple cases of that going on. But many times it’s very insidious. It’s more under the surface and they’re very good at gaslighting anyone that comes out and questions them. They’re very adept at making it seem as if what they’re doing has the best of intentions and making it almost sound like a conspiracy theory to say that there are these Chinese centers operating on campus. They make it sound like it’s crazy for anyone to be afraid of that. That is one tool that they will use as well, is trying to make people sound as if they’re crazy for sounding the alarm on their presence.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, something that’s coming out from what you’re describing here is basically how these different organizations under the Chinese Communist Party, which is every organization in China, official one anyway, all kind of work in this coordinated fashion. So you have the Confucius Institute, the Ministry of Education, the military, Chinese security, and the United Front efforts, which is these overseas propaganda, billion dollar efforts. So when it comes to actual students, a lot of people are actually concerned right now about Chinese students being basically coerced by the state.
Mr. Phillips: That is a huge part of it as well. And one thing that makes it difficult is you don’t want to punish all of the Chinese students that are here for legitimate purposes. The vast majority of them, you have to assume aren’t here to spy on America. They’re here to try and better their lives, to get an education, and again, over 370,000 of them are here. And you don’t expect that all of them are here for nefarious purposes. However, many times it makes it difficult to know who is and who isn’t working with the Chinese government for negative reasons.
We’ve had an example. For example, we reported a Harvard medical student that came here. They were doing valuable research at Harvard. Very sharp person. And then when they went to leave to go back to China at the end of the semester, they were caught with 21 vials of cancer research from the Harvard medical labs. That student now, who essentially was exploited by the Chinese government, we don’t have any details yet. The investigation is still going on. He’s facing decades in prison because of this. However, we don’t know if this student acted on their own volition, if they were an agent for the Chinese government, or because we’ve seen other cases where these students will come here with good intentions, and the Chinese will say, “we let you go over there. If you don’t come back with this cancer research, then something bad could happen to your family.” That is the kind of threat that makes it very difficult to decide, when punishing these students, how to treat them, and when deciding who’s coming here, who’s a threat and who isn’t? Because again, there are so many of them.
Some politicians have suggested outright a ban on international students coming from China until they can have more assurances that they’re not going to pose a threat to our education system and our national security. I don’t think that’s the right approach, because I think you’re punishing too many people for the crimes of a very small minority. But there does need to be more accountability, more transparency in the process to make sure that that’s not happening on a wider scale.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s like the Chinese Communist Party is really putting everyone in a horrible position, whether it’s the students, the families of the students, the educators, the universities. I mean, absolutely everybody.
Mr. Phillips: And they’re hypocritical too, because it’s not like college campuses don’t keep in mind what’s being spread on their campus. They are some of the most vigilant places in America on monitoring the speech that’s going on, on monitoring all of the information it’s getting out to students, oftentimes to their detriment. I think many universities are too uptight on monitoring what’s going on. And in this case, for them to not monitor what’s coming out from these centers, I think that is kind of hypocritical on their part, to say, “we are these bastions of human rights and of liberalism and good classical liberalism and human rights and freedoms and all of those wonderful things and tolerance.” And then to allow a country that does not stand for any of those things, a country then imprisons their own people based on their religious affiliations or political beliefs. Now to give a foothold to those people on your own campus, to that government, that regime on your own campus, is completely antithetical to the tenets of classical liberalism and things that the university should be concerned about.
So I have spoken to students. I’ve been on over 100 college campuses, I’ve interviewed students at many universities, where these Confucius Institutes operate, and many of them see the hypocrisy there. They realize, “Well wait a second, the Chinese government actually does sound pretty bad,” because many of them are ignorant to what is going on. But I do think that a lot of the hypocrisy is there from universities. And then there’s also hypocrisy from the Chinese government, obviously, because there’s no reciprocity here. If you go to Chinese universities, you don’t see Reagan centers. You don’t see Roosevelt Institutes, you don’t see Lincoln centers on college campuses, because there’s not reciprocity. The Chinese are very tight about allowing American influence on their college campuses. But when it comes to them influencing ours, they say, “Well, of course, you know, we’re just spreading the culture.” But if there were American centers for free markets and capitalism on Chinese campuses, I think that might be a different story. But those things aren’t existing right now, because it is a one-sided approach. There’s not reciprocity from country to country.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and to your point, I’m just thinking of the last few days in Hong Kong, where essentially the Beijing representation has been saying, essentially, that the students of Hong Kong have been corrupted by the western liberal influences, and we need to adapt the education system to make sure they’re thinking more according to Chinese Communist Party rationale with things. That’s how I read it anyway.
Mr. Phillips: Yeah. That is what it’s all about. Ultimately, it is control. They don’t want people thinking for themselves, and they do want that fear. And frankly, they rely on that type of groupthink to pressure people into it. And that’s what they’re trying to export here to the United States as well. They’re trying to get that same kind of thinking going. One of the tools in their arsenal is actually political correctness. I know there’s kind of the PC wars raging in America, but they’ve actually taken a page out of the playbook of what some people want to call the social justice warriors, whatever it is, but people that weaponize political correctness for their own purposes. They’ve taken a page out of that playbook, and they now realize that one way for them to squash dissent, one way for them to get people to stop asking questions is to accuse them of being politically incorrect. And so if people do come out and start to question the presence of these Chinese government-funded centers on campus, then they run the risk of being called xenophobic or bigoted or intolerant or racist in many cases. That’s the last thing that most people on a college campus want to be called and you can understand why they don’t want to be called those things, even if it’s ridiculous, even if that has nothing to do with being xenophobic to question the presence of a communist regime’s center on your campus. But they still will use that to their advantage and they know that people are terrified of being politically incorrect.
I think one reason these things have gone on for so long without anyone really taking note is because of the political correctness element. People don’t want to call them out for fear of being labeled all those things. We’ve actually already seen that in this past month or two with the way that the coronavirus response has gone from a Chinese PR perspective. If people call it the Chinese Virus or if people point out the fact that much of the virus has spread is due to the fact that the Chinese government was not allowing the global medical community to come in and get information to help in research. It was a Chinese government cover-up of the virus. But if you point that out, Chinese officials will now say, “well, that’s racist for you to do so, this is about racism.” I think it’s important for us to maintain and remember the fact that you can call out atrocities committed by a communist regime, without calling out all the people. In America, you can call out the atrocities of a Chinese regime on a college campus without calling out Chinese American people or Chinese students on campus. And sadly, that distinction is lost too many times, and people’s fear of being labeled things often keeps them from speaking up. Again, I think it’s important to touch in this conversation on the element that political correctness plays in all this.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s very interesting that you say that, because of course, it was originally called Wuhan coronavirus in China until they decided to change the narrative. There is strong evidence that hoists that narrative onto the WHO. Our solution at The Epoch Times, which was actually founded by Chinese Americans back in the day 20 years ago, is to call it the CCP virus, because we feel that’s the most accurate. There’s certainly no issue around racism there. So something you mentioned earlier, I was just thinking about, you said that students are beginning to really see through this stuff. You guys actually have an article about this, and we have at least one article about the College Republicans and the College Democrats getting together to basically call out Chinese Communist Party influence on campus. I think that’s incredible news. Tell me about that.
Mr. Phillips: So the executive committees of the College Republicans and College Democrats signed a joint statement together with chapter leaders from different states around the entire country, people from the top to the bottom of the leadership of both groups coming together and saying, “as political leaders on our college campuses, we’re concerned by what’s going on, and we want universities to shut down Confucius Institutes if they’re operating.” The letter went on to point out the human rights violations of the Chinese government and how it’s antithetical to have a university based on free speech and based on academic freedom, and allow a center like this, whose clear stated goal is to quash those kinds of things on campus. Leaders and executive directors of both committees came out, and I think this is a positive step in times where there’s so little bipartisanship, especially on college campuses, it’s very difficult to get people on the political left and right to agree on things because dissenting opinions are not always welcomed. But this has been a positive step. Like you said, we published it on Leadership Institute’s Campus Reform.
We encourage students on both sides to find common ground here. And one reason that I think that there is a window here for us to get bipartisan, is by looking at the motivations for both sides. So, many of the more conservative students see this, and they hear much of the strong rhetoric against China from President Trump, and so it’s something they’re predisposed to view favorably. It’s something where they’re big on free speech on college campuses, they understand the danger in not defending free speech. Also from a capitalism versus communist standpoint, a lot of the College Republicans and students on the right oppose these kinds of things because of [China’s] intention to come down hard on capitalism, spread lies about capitalism and in exchange for favorable coverage and teaching and curriculum on socialism and communism, which the Confucius Institutes are pushing. So that’s the motivation for the students on the right.
On the left, I think there’s a separate motivation. It’s also altruistic in a good way where a lot of these students are saying, “our main issue is tolerance and open-mindedness, and our main issue is human rights and defending minority communities, and all things that at the root are noble causes. Sometimes they might go a little overboard on a college campus, as we report Campus Reform. But at the root, they are good causes that are noble. And when those students are exposed to what the Chinese government is doing, when those students hear about what’s going on with the Uyghurs in China, when they hear about essentially concentration camps for people based on their religious views, when they hear about the exploitation of people in third world countries by the Chinese government, when they hear about those things, it’s very obvious. Those are human rights violations. Those are minority communities that are being crushed under an oppressive regime.
I think that’s a powerful way to motivate people on the political left on a college campus to come together. And I think that’s why we’ve seen a bipartisan push lately. It hasn’t always been that way. But lately on this issue, we have been encouraged by signs of people coming out. And so that is something that hopefully continues and hopefully as more information gets out, people are going to be more supportive of it.
Again, I think a lot of students in the past thought this was a joke. They thought it wasn’t actually a serious problem. About a year ago, I went to the University of Maryland, where the first Confucius Institute of America was actually put in 2004. I went there and I asked students if they were concerned about it. I asked students if they were nervous because the Department of Defense had raised flags about this and what was going on and all of them said, “no, that’s crazy. You sound like a crazy person.” I had people laugh in my face for bringing this up to them about a year ago. And now, as we’ve seen leaders like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and people in the FBI, intelligence communities, Department of Defense and the actual Pentagon issuing statements on this, it’s no longer a conspiracy, and I think if people pay attention to it, they realize that it is a serious threat and not one that should be politicized, not one that should be made left verse right but one that should just be wrong or right.
Mr. Jekielek: Do you think this, I don’t know if unprecedented is the right word, but perhaps a College Republican and Democrat bipartisanship could trickle up a bit?
Mr. Phillips: Hopefully. In a lot of talk of things trickling down, this will be a positive trickle up. I think that there would be potential for bipartisan support in Congress, because of the fact that again, if you actually analyze the information here, it’s very difficult. So if you were to vote against shutting these centers down, or if you were to vote in favor of the Chinese influence on college campuses, what you’re voting in favor of is less academic freedom, less free speech and more Communist Party control of American soil. And so it’s very difficult to justify a vote in support of that. So I think if you can get it on the record, that hopefully there would be more bipartisan support for it.
Mr. Jekielek: Another thing that you guys have written on extensively at Campus Reform is the co-opting of university professors. And there’s some incredibly high-profile examples. I’m wondering if you could give me one that you have fresh in your mind that you’re aware of.
Mr. Phillips: So the one that has garnered the most coverage this year was at Harvard, where Charles Lieber, who was the Head of the entire Chemistry Department at Harvard, was indicted and charged with working secretly with the Chinese government to hand over to them research that had been conducted with federal grants here in America, to get them that information, and then actually working with the Chinese government to help them set up medical labs. So the one that got the most coverage in this. He actually was paid 1.5 million dollars to help set up a top-notch medical research facility in Wuhan. So he actually had helped set up a medical research center in Wuhan. Yes, that Wuhan China, paid 1.5 million dollars to do so. He was paid up to $50,000 a month by the Chinese government to help them up their research capabilities, and tell them, “here’s what we’ve been doing in America, here’s what we’ve been doing at the Harvard research centers. So let me give you some of that knowledge to help you craft the best possible research centers.” And then, he had gone back to America, and when he had spoken with authorities, he denied ever working with the Chinese government. He said, “no, there’s nothing going on. You don’t need to do anything there.” Didn’t report any of the money that he’d been paid, over a million and a half dollars, didn’t report any of it, tried to keep it a secret. And it’s fair to wonder why he tried to keep it a secret. If there’s no problem with it, if he didn’t think there was anything nefarious going on, why did he not report it? So he faces pretty serious criminal charges and federal sentencing right now. So that case is ongoing. And again, there’s another Harvard medical student that was caught smuggling out 21 vials. We’ve had multiple stories just this week.
There is a medical professor affiliated with Case Western Reserve University, who was arrested after failing to disclose his ties with Chinese officials and the Chinese government. There have been professors at Kansas University, down in Arkansas, and out at UCLA, who have all failed to disclose their research that they’ve done with the Chinese government. Oftentimes what they’ll do is they will apply for federal research grants on a certain topic. Two of the professors that I just mentioned from Arkansas and Kansas actually applied for grants from NASA. They’ll get money from NASA or from whatever the grant is, they’ll conduct their research, they’ll turn around and give all that research to the Chinese government for a price and then they will fail to disclose any of that. They’ll try and keep it a secret.
One more instance that I think might be the most egregious was out at UCLA. A professor there was caught trying to smuggle missile technology from the Air Force and Navy, missile technology to the Chinese government. Now he says, “there was nothing wrong. I wasn’t doing anything crazy. I was just trying to help spread science around the world,” which I’m sure it’s a common thing for people just to want to send over missile secrets from the US military to the communist regime of China. I’m sure it had nothing wrong going on there. And he was actually paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to do that. Thankfully, he was caught and I believe his prison sentence is now over 50 years, if charged. So there has been a huge number of these cases. All those cases are just in the past year, and there have actually been three such arrests and indictments from the past month alone.
Mr. Jekielek: And it makes you think about how you only catch a fraction of what’s really going on. Right?
Mr. Phillips: Yeah. And for every case that we are getting, who knows how many more are operating? Because the Chinese government washed their hands of all of it. They say, “it’s just about research. It’s about science, and it’s about the scientific community.” And many times, they actually aren’t even trying to buy it. They’re just stealing it. And this is a way for them to go around the actual hacking and the actual intellectual property theft, and trying to buy it, which is another form of stealing, but it’s kind of having a middleman so they can just say, “look, this guy was selling it to the highest bidder. We were just the highest bidder in this case, even though our intelligence communities have said that these professors are commissioned by the military. This is another instance too where many of these professors are either coming from China themselves, or they’re Chinese citizens coming to the US, or Chinese Americans that they’re kind of taking advantage of. And so there’s another element too where many of these professors still have family members back in China. So some of them have said that there was a compulsory element involved where they were pressured into it. So it’s going to be interesting to see from a legal standpoint if that plays a role in any of the sentencing, if they can try and claim that they were forced into it or pressured into it. But it is clear that many of the professors are doing it from a standpoint of trying to benefit themselves financially. And that again, I think, should have the full force of the law brought down upon them to try and incentivize against this in the future.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I’m just thinking about Dr. Charles Lieber, one of the world’s foremost experts on nanotechnology. It’s astounding to put this whole picture together, as you described it and as we know it. What are students thinking about this? What are students telling you about this general situation? Are they aware and if they are aware, what are they thinking?
Mr. Phillips: They’re not aware. On a broad scale, if you talk to 100 students about this issue, which I’ve done. I’ve spoken to thousands of students on different college campuses over the last few years, interviewing them, gauging their response to topics similar to this. Many of them are simply not aware of what’s going on. And if you do bring up what’s going on, many of them just assume the best when it comes to their college campus and assume the best when it comes to the Chinese effort. So they don’t think there’s anything nefarious going on. If you walk them through bullet point by bullet point, which I have done before on campus, a lot of times the students will say, “is this real?” They’re blown away, they can’t believe it’s happening. And so that does start to concern them. But by and large, they’re simply not aware. I’ve actually seen a lot of students who are openly sympathetic to the Chinese government compared to their own. And so recently, I did a video where I went out and I asked students, “who do you trust more? The American government and President Trump or the Chinese government and President Xi?” And many of them were quick to say, “well, China of course. I don’t trust President Trump. He’s a liar. I don’t trust our government. The Chinese government though, I trust them from what I know about them.” And so I think students are very hesitant to look at the facts, do their own research about who China is on a global stage, what they do to their own people as well. That’s been very disappointing for me to see as well.
I do think that part of that is because they’re predisposed to view more favorably some of these more communist, socialist countries because they’re told that that’s a positive thing for good in the world, they’re told that that’s a good system in the classroom. And so that’s not to say that professors are out there endorsing human rights violations within China. However, many professors in the classroom are coming out and saying all sorts of positive things about socialism and communism. Their teaching revisionist form of history, downplaying all of the people that have died because of authoritarian regimes like that in China and the atrocities and horror brought about by the implementation of communism throughout history. Many times they gloss over those things and students are left with an unrealistic idea of what communism is and what communist countries actually are about. And because of that, those students are more likely to fail to see the problems in Chinese interference on their campus.
People might say, “if there was any Chinese propaganda coming to me, I would recognize it. I wouldn’t fall for it.” But keep in mind that a lot of the older generations in America, they were old enough to remember the Soviet Union, they were old enough to remember the Cold War. They remember countries crumbling under communist and socialist regimes. But a lot of young people don’t really remember any of that. They’re not super aware of what’s going on there, and because of that, they’re more likely to fall for the propaganda efforts than maybe older generations are. That’s why they are viewed as soft targets for the Chinese government, and that’s why it’s important to remain vigilant on that.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, and it’s a testament to the, I guess you would have to say, the success of these propaganda efforts on the side of what’s called the United Front of the Chinese Communist Party. It’s really amazing. It’s amazing how many people like yourself and others I’m speaking with are realizing it. I just read an amazing editorial in Newsweek by [Former] Senator Jim DeMint basically saying, “back in the day I believed China, but now I’ve changed my mind”. But, a lot of people are asking, is it too little too late?
Mr. Phillips: Well, I think it could be too late if we don’t start to try and change. We could lose a generation to people thinking that what the Chinese have done, there’s nothing wrong with it. We could lose a generation to embracing free market principles that have made America so great in the first place and helped us to get to where we are. So if no action is taken, it certainly could be too late. Thankfully, people are starting to wake up, and I can count myself in that boat as well. Even as recently as a year or two ago, I knew of these Confucius Institutes, I knew about the blatant Chinese efforts, but it wasn’t until I really dug in and started to research them that I became more concerned. And so I think light is the best disinfectant. If we can just shine the light on what’s going on, things will start to clean up, people will start to become aware and become concerned and want to take action. But it’s that inaction that I think has hurt us for so long.
We’ve actually seen calls from legislators so far in the past month or so to deny federal funding to schools that operate Confucius Institutes. The Pentagon came out and said, “we’re not going to offer federal grants from the Pentagon to a university if they have a Confucius Institute.” That’s all good and well, but I think that if our intelligence communities and the DOD and the Pentagon are admitting openly, “we know they’re bad, so we’re not going to give you money,” but then stepping back and saying, “but you can still operate them if you want.” Does that make any sense? That’s like saying, “we know this is wrong. We know it’s a threat to national security, but you can do it as long as you don’t take any of our money.” I think that it is time. I’m very hesitant to say that the federal government should have a role in legislating what’s going on in a place like a college campus or anywhere in society, for that matter. I think it should be a last resort. But if we know that these are efforts from a government that wants to do us harm, why would we allow them to operate?
I do think that it would be a positive thing for leaders in Washington to pass some sort of bipartisan measure shutting these Confucius Institutes down. Furthermore, going even beyond that, to make sure that universities are disclosing any foreign donations they’re getting, and that professors using federal grants to conduct research here in America are not allowed to turn around and use the information they were able to garner from taxpayer-funded research and then selling that to the highest bidder abroad. I think all of those things are practices that need to be shut down and legislated out of existence.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating perspective. Before we finish up, I want to talk a little bit about this most recent round of propaganda that is most in our faces, which is around the CCP virus as we call it, COVID-19, coronavirus. Of course, we discussed how the Chinese Communist Party is kind of trying to avoid responsibility here. It’s very clear. There’s considerable responsibility at least in the sense of not sharing information early on, and these kinds of things are possibly much worse. We just don’t know. What is the word on college campuses? Are students, teachers, professors and administrators aware of this reality? What’s the word at campuses right now?
Mr. Phillips: Well, I think you have to look at how young people are consuming their information. It’s widely from traditional media sources on social media especially. They’re viewing their perception of what’s going on in the world based on what they see on Twitter, on YouTube, and Snapchat, and Instagram and Facebook. And so much of what’s coming onto those platforms is falling for the Chinese propaganda. So the average college student’s going to read a news story that says, “wow, success. China has reported a 14th straight day without any new cases of coronavirus.” And they’re going to see that and take it for what it’s worth. They’re gonna say, “that must be true. I’m reading it online. It’s on Twitter here. It’s trending. NBC News went out and tweeted that. That must be true.” And so many of these students are falling for it, but ultimately, I think the blame lies just as much with the actual American media outlets that are parroting this information.
I think American media outlets today should be ashamed of themselves for repeating Chinese propaganda as fact. We know that the Chinese government is lying about the number of deaths, we know without a shadow of a doubt that they are lying about the number of new cases still going on in the country, and for American media to take those propaganda statements, to repeat them as fact, to deceive the American people into believing those propaganda efforts at its core, anti-American, and from a journalistic standpoint, it’s unethical for them to not do their own research into making sure that the claims they’re repeating are accurate. And sadly, if you’re asking what college students think and what young people in the next generation think, many of them simply are ignorant to the fact that this information is not truthful. It’s a lie. Shame on the media for repeating these accusations because you’ve got an entire generation of Americans coming up that believe them and that think the Chinese government did a great job at buying the world time and were able to get the virus under control when we know that is not the case.
Mr. Jekielek: Cabot, this is actually really interesting. Is Campus Reform making a point of exposing this fact that the statistics coming out of China are inaccurate? The reason I’m asking is this is one of the most disturbing things I find, because a lot of folks who really should know better have made that mistake.
Mr. Phillips: So from a journalistic standpoint, Campus Reform’s sole purpose is to expose bias on campus and to expose the symptoms of what’s going into campus, the information that’s coming onto campus. So we’re trying to expose the symptoms and the result of all those things. So our main goal is not necessarily to call out the media, it’s more to call out how universities are responding and what universities are doing. Now, from a personal standpoint, I’ve absolutely been trying to use my platform as much as possible to draw attention to this fact. Our reporters have done a great job in their own official or personal capacities as well as on social media. Going on different programs, as well, like yours and and trying to shine a light on this. But it is ultimately going to take more programs like yours to make the American people aware of what’s going on. Because the mainstream media as a whole, not all of them, there are good actors, but as a whole, for the most part is doing a very poor job of reporting accurately on the situation.
Kind of the way the World Health Organization has come out and tried to curry favor with the Chinese government by parroting their claims, the media has done the same thing. I think a lot of it is having a detrimental impact on the way this is going on. We are watching a real time effort to rewrite history. The Chinese government knows that right now, the blame lies on them for the global spread of this virus and they do not want that to be the case. They want history to remember that it was a problem of the rest of the world and not them or their regime. We’re watching them try to rewrite history because they have a clear incentive to do so. And we’re watching our own media help them in that revisionist history, and that should be an outrage to all of us. So I’m absolutely trying to call it out as much as possible, and I appreciate your program doing that as well and giving facts to the American people because that’s what we need.
Mr. Jekielek: Thank you for those words. We’ll do our best and hopefully, you will do your best. There’s a lot yet to be talked about when it comes to this incomplete or disinformation coming out of communist China. Any final words before we finish up?
Mr. Phillips: Well, I think it’s on the American people to make sure that they’re holding universities accountable. Ultimately, if they continue to patronize these universities and send their students each year to schools that aren’t doing their part to protect academic integrity and protect the next generation against propaganda efforts from a foreign hostile government, then nothing’s going to change. So schools need to feel a pinch. They need to realize that students and parents are waking up to what’s going on. And average Americans need to use their voice to pressure legislators to pass legislation to make sure they’re protecting national defense interests, as well as our next generation and what they’re hearing. So that means shutting down Confucius Institutes, calling on legislators to do that right now, to call and demand action. And also, I think there’s a role for the American people to hold the media accountable. If the media continues to make millions of dollars every year off of pushing these dubious claims from the Chinese Communist Party, and they don’t feel any pushback, if their ratings continue to be strong, if they continue to make money and sell subscription services, then they’re not going to change. There needs to be an incentive for them to change.
It’s on the American people to make sure that they are only patronizing media services that are reporting the facts, and only going to media outlets that are actually going to have an interest in reporting what’s really going on. And that means not repeating false claims from the Chinese government. So if you’re someone fed up with the media, stop giving your money and stop giving your viewing to those outlets. For us at Campus Reform, we’re going to continue shining a light on this. Like I said, our motto was “light is the best disinfectant”, and we’re going to continue to be committed to exposing what’s going on. You can go to our website at campusreform.org/china to stay up to date on all of this, but we’re gonna continue to make the American people aware, because it is a travesty what’s going on. I think the media should be ashamed of themselves. Universities that are allowing this to go on should be ashamed of themselves. The American people need to voice their concern over this or it’s going to continue.
Mr. Jekielek: Cabot Phillips, a powerful place to end. Wonderful to have you on.
Mr. Phillips: Thank you so much.