by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The CCP views freedom of expression as a weakness to be suppressed at home and exploited abroad. The free exchange of information and ideas, however, may be the greatest competitive advantage of our societies. We have to defend against Chinese agencies that coordinate influence operations abroad — such as the Ministry of State Security, the United Front Work Department, and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association — but we should also try to maximize positive interactions and experiences with the Chinese people. Those who visit and interact with citizens of free countries are most likely to go home and question the party’s policies, especially those that stifle freedom of expression. So, the people who direct academic exchanges or are responsible for Chinese student experiences should ensure that those students enjoy the same freedom of thought and expression as other students. That means adopting a zero-tolerance attitude for CCP agents who monitor and intimidate students and their families back home.
Foreign students at universities abroad, regardless of their country of origin, should gain an appreciation for the host nation’s history and form of governance. When universities and other hosting bodies protect the freedoms that these students should enjoy, it serves to counter the propaganda and censorship to which the students are subjected in their home country. Perhaps most important, Chinese and other foreign students should be fully integrated into student bodies, to ensure they have the most positive academic and social experience.
The protection of students’ ability to express themselves freely should extend to expatriate communities. The U.S. and other free nations should view their Chinese expatriate communities as a strength. Chinese abroad, if protected from the meddling and espionage of the CCP, are capable of making their own judgments about the party’s activities.