by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Nicholas Romanow writes for the Martin Center about security concerns surrounding higher education partnerships with China.
The college campus has become a battleground between the United States and China. Donations, research funding, and international students give colleges a much-needed financial and enrollment boost, but the connection to the Chinese government can also threaten academic freedom and, on some occasions, national security.
Fundamentally, universities exist to serve students and the public interest, and tension between the U.S. and China makes it harder for universities to train future leaders and inform the public through research.
Nearly every facet of China Studies has become fraught with security concerns. Confucius Institutes—state-run Chinese language and cultural centers on campuses across the U.S.—have been shut down in response to concerns that they act as vehicles for Chinese influence. After the 2019 Hong Kong National Security Law began to target people beyond the borders of China, professors now warn students that discussing sensitive issues in an online class can expose them to legal jeopardy—especially Chinese-Americans and visiting Chinese students.
The Chinese Communist Party also leverages organizations like the Chinese Students and Scholars Association to conduct espionage and lash out against whatever contradicts the Party line. The long reach of the Chinese state pushes students with family in China to self-censor out of fear of retaliation.
The problem is that it will be harder for students to understand China beyond news headlines and develop the subject expertise that is badly needed in academia and government agencies.
Students aren’t the only ones with problems, either. Faculty are involved in 10 out of 23 cases tied to the Department of Justice’s China Initiative, according to DOJ press releases. In addition to outright cases of espionage, several academics have been indicted for failing to disclose Chinese grants that could become a point of leverage.