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China's political influence and Interference activities in US universities


A Preliminary Study of PRC Political Influence and Interference Activities in American Higher Education

WILSON CENTER

Over the past two decades, PRC diplomats stationed in the United States have infringed on the academic freedom of American university faculty, students, administrators, and staff by:

● Complaining to universities about invited speakers and events;
● Pressuring and/or offering inducements to faculty whose work
involves content deemed sensitive by the PRC authorities (hereafter,“sensitive content”); and
● Retaliating against American universities’ cooperative initiatives with
PRC partner institutions
PRC diplomats have also infringed on the personal safety of people at
American universities by:
● Probing faculty and staff for information in a manner consistent with
intelligence collection; and
Employing intimidating modes of conversation A small number of PRC students have infringed on the academic free-dom of American university faculty, students, administrators, and staff in
recent years by:
● Demanding the removal of research, promotional and decorative materials involving sensitive content from university spaces;
● Demanding faculty alter their language or teaching materials involving sensitive content on political rather than evidence-based grounds;
● Interrupting and heckling other members of the university community
who engage in critical discussion of China; and
● Pressuring universities to cancel academic activities involving sensitive content

PRC students have also acted in ways that concerned or intimidated faculty, staff, and other students at American universities by:

● Monitoring people and activities on campus involving sensitive content;
● Probing faculty for information in a suspicious manner; and
● Engaging in intimidation, abusive conduct, or harassment of other
members of the university community

By documenting numerous cases in which PRC diplomats and a small number of students have infringed on university community members’aca-demic freedom and personal safety, the study offers several insights, among them that:

● PRC diplomats engage in a range of activities to monitor, influence and
induce the cessation of academic activities involving sensitive content
on American campuses

● PRC students are not a homogeneous group; they can be both perpetrators and victims of politically-motivated attempts to infringe on the academic freedom and personal safety of university community members
● PRC students have employed language typically associated with progressive campus activist movements to oppose academic activities involving sensitive content
● There is great diversity among China Studies faculty and university
administrators in terms of exposure to and concern about PRC influence and interference activities

The PRC students documented in this study likely represent a tiny propor-tion of the more than 350,000 PRC nationals currently studying in the United States*

🔴 Recommendations

American universities should adopt practices to make the campus environment less hospitable to PRC influence and interference activities, including:

● Experience-sharing among universities to develop a collective awareness
of challenges arising from engagement with the PRC
● Collaboration with federal law enforcement to report instances of PRC
diplomatic pressure and retaliation
● Procedures for rebuffing pressure tactics from PRC diplomats
● Reaffirming universities’ traditional commitment to academic freedom
and resisting attempts to limit campus speech or activity on the basis of
whether that speech or activity gives someone offense
● A school-wide orientation about appropriate behavior in the American
university at the beginning of the academic year for students from
every country
● New faculty practices to turn moments when PRC students articulate the party line into learning opportunities, and to intervene when students from any country interrupt or heckle others
● Channels for faculty to report troubling incidents to higher administration
● Education for university police departments so that officers are better-
equipped to handle disruptive students and un-enrolled visitors
● Creating a reporting system for universities that experience PRC influence and interference incidents
● Declaring persona non grata PRC diplomats who pressure universities that extend invitations to figures like the Dalai Lama or threaten faculty pursuing sensitive research topics
● Putting issues of influence and interference in academia on the agenda
when meeting with PRC interlocutors
● Imposing a cost on the PRC when it punishes American institutions for
upholding academic freedom on their own campuses
● Clarifying the circumstances under which a group is considered a “scholastic” or “academic” entity exempt from the Foreign Agent Registration Act, with an eye toward regulating the activities of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association

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