The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) recently issued a pivotal 2023 report to Congress, spotlighting the urgent issue of foreign influence in American higher education, particularly from China. This report, which garnered unanimous support from bipartisan commissioners, comes at a critical juncture, just as President Biden met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. The USCC’s findings and recommendations are a clarion call to safeguard the integrity of America’s academic institutions.
Central to the USCC’s recommendations is a legislative overhaul of the Higher Education Act of 1965. This reform aims to heighten transparency concerning foreign gifts and contracts in universities, stretching back a decade. These disclosures, crucial for FBI and intelligence oversight, are not merely bureaucratic steps; they are shields against covert influence and intellectual property theft.
The urgency of this issue is underscored by recent unsettling revelations. Stanford University’s settlement with the Department of Justice over undisclosed foreign finances in research programs and Yale University’s failure to report nearly $375 million in foreign funding from 2014 to 2017 are just the tips of an iceberg. These lapses in transparency are not anomalies but symptomatic of a broader, more disturbing trend.
China’s strategy of infiltrating American universities is multifaceted. It ranges from influencing curricula to appropriating cutting-edge research and intellectual property. FBI Director Christopher Wray’s description of China’s activities as the “greatest long-term threat” to America’s information and economic vitality is a stark reminder of the gravity of this situation.
The University of Pennsylvania serves as a case study in the complexities of foreign funding. The Biden Center for Foreign Policy at this university, home to mishandled classified documents, has received over $50 million in foreign funds since President Biden’s inauguration, including substantial amounts from China and Hong Kong. The extent and impact of these donations remain shrouded in mystery, raising concerns about foreign leverage in shaping U.S. policy and research priorities.
These concerns are not unfounded. The termination of the Trump administration’s “China Initiative,” aimed at countering national-security threats from China, and the rollback of enforcement of foreign funding disclosure laws under the Biden administration, signal a troubling trend. The need for transparency and accountability in university funding is not just a matter of compliance with existing laws; it’s a matter of national security.
The CHIPS and Science Act, recently passed by Congress, takes a step in the right direction by demanding more stringent disclosures from foreign-funded researchers. However, much more needs to be done. Universities, especially those conducting major research and holding Department of Defense contracts, must be transparent about foreign funding. This transparency is not just about revealing the sources of funding but understanding the potential strings attached to these financial inflows.
President Biden and Congress face a pivotal moment. They must act decisively to implement the USCC’s recommendations and ensure that American universities do not become pawns in a larger geopolitical game. The integrity of American higher education and the security of our nation’s intellectual property and research are at stake. It’s time for a robust response to safeguard these national treasures from foreign encroachment and influence.
The danger is not only the stealing of research and intellectual property, it is also the influence and control that comes with funding. China has shown a propensity to threaten to withdraw funds if certain anti-China activities are not reigned in. Universities are often the pointy end of the stick when it comes to protests and emerging outrage against China’s totalitarian and inhumane actions. The Chinese Communist Party seeks to exert control in every corner. And they are not above payoffs and blackmail to get ther.