US Universities Maintain Ties With Chinese Institutions That Support Beijing’s Military Development, Report Says

By Frank Dong
Frank Dong
Frank Dong
Frank Dong is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience.
December 23, 2021 Updated: December 29, 2021

Dozens of American universities continue to collaborate with Chinese sister universities, many of which are involved in research that aids the communist regime’s military, according to a recent report.

These academic relationships are used by the Chinese regime to acquire American technology and know-how to further its military development, said a Dec. 9 report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington-based think tank.

China’s civilian university system play a major role in China’s military-industrial complex, including its nuclear and cyber-espionage programs,” it said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party’s “civil-military fusion” strategy which calls for all civilian sector developments to be harnessed for Beijing’s military advancement.

The report found at least 28 U.S. universities that hold sister relationships with Chinese universities, including 10 that “maintain active sister-school relationships with Chinese universities conducting classified research in support of China’s defense establishment.”

While it is not illegal for American universities to enter into such partnerships, the report said that some may give rise to security concerns.

For instance, it identified three universities, Arizona State University, the University of Utah, and Pacific Lutheran University in Washington states, that have partnerships with Sichuan University, which was put on a U.S. trade blacklist in 2019 for supporting the regime’s nuclear weapons program.

The Commerce Department’s “entity list” identifies Sichuan University as an “alias” of the China Academy of Engineering Physics (CAEP), a center situated in the university overseeing the country’s nuclear weapons research—a facility akin to Los Alamos, the U.S. nuclear facility in New Mexico. CAEP has been on the entity list since the late 1990s.

No laws require American universities to sever ties with Chinese institutions that appear on a U.S. blacklist, though inclusion on the entity list would require U.S. universities to seek permission from the Commerce Department for certain research collaborations.

The University of Utah said that it “doesn’t have any relationship with Sichuan University outside of our Confucius Institute.” The university will also sunset its Confucius Insitute, a Beijing-backed center, in June 2023, when the current contract expires, university spokesperson Christopher Nelson said.

Arizona State University and Pacific Lutheran University did not return an inquiry from The Epoch Times.

Confucius Institutes

The report noted that Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes have served as a gateway for American universities to expand their relationships with Chinese partners.

Billed as Chinese language and culture centers, Confucius Institutes have drawn mounting scrutiny in the United States over their role in spreading CCP propaganda and suppressing academic expression.

In 2020, the Trump administration designated the headquarters of the Confucius Institute in America as a foreign mission of China, recognizing its role as an arm of the CCP.

While this scrutiny in recent years has brought down the number of institutes to 34 from 113 in 2018, the report noted that almost 30 of the universities that closed their Confucius Institutes maintained or expanded ties with Chinese sister universities.

“A U.S. university’s decision to establish a Confucius Institute program usually leads to other forms of academic and research collaboration with CCP-affiliated entities,” and such collaboration extends far beyond the relationship between the U.S. university and the Institute, the report said. Many of the collaborations, according to its findings, involve advanced U.S. research and development and will boost the leapfrogging of the Chinese regime’s military capabilities.

When the CCP selects a U.S. university to host a Confucius Institute, they are not indiscriminate. Instead, it focuses on the top research universities rather than the 4,000 non-research-focused ones across the country. In 2018, 71 of the 113 Confucius Institutes, or 63 percent were at America’s top research universities, the report found.

Most Chinese sister universities are chosen by the CCP to support Confucius Institutes also are China’s top research universities that are involved in the Party’s various military-civil fusion projects, the report said.

And it observed that American universities often have separate, mandatory contractual agreements with their Chinese sister universities, which are assigned by the CCP according to its purpose. “Over time, U.S. universities frequently establish separate collaborative agreements with additional Chinese universities, including ones supporting China’s defense establishment.”

Recommendations 

Therefore, the closing of the institute does not tell the whole story. Craig Singleton, the author of the report, advised policymakers not to only focus on shutting down the institutes, but also to scrutinize other agreements that U.S. universities maintain with Chinese universities.

Since U.S. universities are not required by federal law to disclose details about their cooperation with foreign universities, the report recommended that Congress pass legislation mandating U.S. universities to disclose any academic partnership agreements with any Chinese university.

The report also urged for greater enforcement of a 1986 law that requires U.S. higher education institutions to submit biannual reports on foreign gifts and contracts valued at $250,000 or more.

An October 2020 report by the Department of Education concluded that American universities had “massively underreported while also anonymizing much of the money it did disclose, all to hide foreign sources (and, correspondingly, their influence on campus) from the Department and the public.”

Based on investigations it opened at a dozen higher educations, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford universities, the department found American top universities had “aggressively pursued and accepted foreign money.”

Since being scrutinized, the 12 universities disclosed a combined $6.5 billion of foreign funding they had not reported before, the department’s report said. And when it listed the largest sources of their foreign donations, China was in first place, followed by Russia.

According to another report from the U.S Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released in 2019, China had provided over $158 million of funding to place and operate Confucius Institutes on U.S. campuses.

“Despite Beijing’s heavy spending, institutions’ reporting was lax,” the Senate report said. Nearly 70 percent of “schools required to file reports with the Department of Education failed to report Hanban gifts, contracts, or contributions in excess of $250,000.” Hanban was the former name of the CCP agency in charge of the Confucius Institute program.

After examining the announced reasons for closing Confucius Institutes between 2018 and 2021, the FDD report found that only four closures were attributed to national security concerns, whereas four times as many closures were prompted by federal legislation that blocked the Department of Defense from funding universities that housed Confucius Institutes.

The report also found that after shutting the Institutes, some U.S. universities incorporated part of its program into their existing programs. These programs typically feature Chinese language training but often retain CCP-dictated curricula about Chinese history and culture. Some other universities established new institutes devoted to China or related international issues with their former Chinese sister universities.

The FDD thus recommended that departments of State and Education set up more Taiwan Centers for Mandarin Learning on American campuses. The Taiwan Center project, initiated in September and funded by the Taiwan government, offers an alternative environment for learning the Chinese language that also aims to raise awareness of the island’s democracy and respect for human rights, according to the Taiwanese agency overseeing the program.

In October, Harvard University relocated its Chinese language program from Beijing to Taipei. So far, 15 Taiwan Centers have been approved by the U.S. government. According to Taiwan’s plan, dozens more Taiwan Centers will be established across U.S. campuses within three to five years.

Frank Dong
Frank Dong is a journalist with more than 20 years of experience.