China continues to exploit US universities to bolster military modernization, report finds

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China continues to rely on its connections with dozens of U.S. universities to collect what it deems is sensitive information in a collaborative effort to build up its military modernization, a report found this week. 

A report released Thursday by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank found that China is using its existing relationships with U.S. universities to collect information and technological know-how “to achieve Chinese military dominance.”

US President Joe Biden meets with China’s President Xi Jinping during a virtual summit from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, November 15, 2021. 
(Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

“China’s civilian university system play a major role in China’s military-industrial complex, including its nuclear and cyber-espionage programs,” the report found. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has “ordered” civilian universities and all students to comply with its military-civil fusion strategy to integrate military, civilian and commercial investments to “advance China’s interest.”

The report found that there are 34 U.S. universities that continue to work with Confucius Institutes (CI), which are CCP sponsored programs intended to promote educational and cultural ties worldwide.

The study found that four U.S. universities, including Stanford University, the University of California in Santa Barbara, the University of Utah and Pacific Lutheran University in Washington, have open partnerships with Chinese universities that have been flagged as allegedly supporting China’s nuclear program.

A spokesman for the University of Utah said it would be ending its partnership with the Confucius Institute in June 2023 when their contract is set to terminate. But added, “We haven’t had any concerns about the U’s institute being a hub for espionage or propaganda.”

“The institute has played an important role in increasing linguistic and cultural literacy about China among Utahns,” Chris Nelson, interim Chief Marketing & Communications Officer for the university told Fox News. 

Fox News could not immediately reach the other universities for comment. 

Students attend a ceremony to kick off the new semester in Wuhan High School in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province.
(Chinatopix Via AP)

The U.S. saw a drop in universities that permitted CI programs between 2018 and 2021, after Congress passed legislation that barred universities from receiving certain types of Department of Defense (DOD) funding if they hosted CCP sponsored institutes. The legislative change prompted the closure of 79 CI programs.

CI programs are not illegal and the universities that continue to work with their “sister” programs are able to do so because they were not impacted by the DOD funding cuts. But Craig Singleton, author of the report, argued there needs to be additional safeguards in place to protect information that the U.S. does not classify as sensitive.

“Not all academic collaboration with China carries risk, but Confucius Institutes do much more than simply provide language training,” Singleton told Fox News. 

Singleton said that Beijing collects knowledge on everything from basic education taught on U.S. college campuses to cutting edge research that is “not technically classified,” but has potential military benefits for the CCP. 

“China is keen to exploit cleavages in our defenses to acquire information it considers sensitive and treating this issue as a pure law enforcement matter only plays to China’s strategy,” Singleton said. “Because doing so does not account for China’s passive collection of information in support of its military aims.”

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TOPSHOT – A protester holds a US flag outside of the Chinese consulate in Houston on July 24, 2020, after the US State Department ordered China to close the consulate. 
(Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)

Singleton pointed to findings in his report that revealed professors and students under the CI program have been caught engaging in illicit activity once in the U.S.

“The threat is not theoretical,” Singleton told Fox News. “Chances are that we have only uncovered a small fraction of such criminal activity.”

Fox News could not immediately reach the Chinese foreign ministry for comment. 

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