Chinese Propaganda on US Campuses; China Stealing Research—Rachelle Peterson on Confucius Institutes

China has been using a whole-of-government approach sometimes even a whole of society approach towards infiltrating the west towards trying to penetrate our institutions and work within them from inside to turn them in favor of China to turn them against our own values just how is the Chinese Communist Party infiltrated American universities how our Confucius Institutes involved while some Confucius Institutes are being shut down is it possible some are staying simply under a different guise and how does the Chinese regime use the thousand talents program in similar operations to steal American research in this episode we sit down with Rochelle Peterson director of policy at the National Association of scholars this is American thought leaders and I’m Janiak Alec Rochelle Peterson such a pleasure to have you on American thought-leaders this is my pleasure to join you thank you for having me well a couple of years have passed or almost a couple of years since I think we last saw each other it was at the Hudson Institute China’s global challenge to Freedom Forum we were we were panelists that they got different panels and you really caught my attention with your discussion of hanbeon or Confucius Institutes now this was right after the vice president gave a pretty landmark speech that kind of signaled a major policy shift with respect to China for the United States and frankly a lot has happened there and I’ve been wanting to catch up with you about Confucius Institutes because we keep hearing about all these different actions around China and Confucius Institute something really frankly you know important in the mix we don’t hear about as much so if you can tell me super quickly remind us what are these Confucius Institutes and then we’ll dive into what’s been happening with them since yeah well thank you for covering this very important topic vice president pence in that speech called for China to respond to the United States with fairness prosody and respect for our sovereignty and Confucius Institutes are a perfect example of how China has not done that Confucius Institutes our Chinese government funded centers that are on American college campuses as well as other college campuses around the world these are basically little nodes of the Chinese government on campus teaching Chinese Communist Party approved propaganda packaged in curriculum using teachers that are vetted and selected by the Chinese government and paid by the Chinese government and using materials that are being sent over by the Chinese government so they are little nodes of influence from the Chinese Communist Party and they are basically infecting American higher education and putting a quash on academic freedom and challenging the integrity of our schools so if I recall something to the tune of a hundred of these were established across all sorts of universities and then frankly I also remember there are these Confucius classrooms in the I guess in high schools and possibly grade schools as well you tell me you know at the height of this what are we looking at here how many how many how much influence a lot at the height there were 110 Confucius Institutes just in the United States there were more than a thousand across the world and 500 Confucius classrooms at the k-12 level mostly at high schools but also at elementary schools which is really alarming when you think of Chinese Communist Party selected teachers going into elementary schools I’m teaching our school-aged children so more than 100 Confucius Institutes that number is going down now that Confucius Institutes have come to the forefront they’re facing a backlash we’ve really woken up as a society to the risks that China is posing that Confucius Institutes in particular pose right now there are 75 Confucius Institutes in operation in the United States and all told since they launched in 2005 at the University of Maryland 45 Confucius students have closed in the US which is really a victory that I’m very happy to celebrate well so tell me a little bit about you know how you got interested quickly in this issue how you became aware of it and frankly what the National Association of scholars which you are the policy director of how is this how is it involved in all of this right I really got involved out of curiosity the National Association of scholars is a membership organization of college professors and other concerned

citizens across the country and one of our members alerted us to this they sent us an email and said hey my university is talking about establishing a Confucius Institute the faculty were never consulted it was a top-down thing by the administration I looked this up and it turns out there are lots of them around the country have you ever heard of this before we had never heard of it before we looked it up realized in fact there were a hundred no or more around the country all over the place including at some high-profile universities and started wondering what is going on at these Confucius Institutes why is the Chinese government investing millions of dollars into American colleges and universities what’s being taught there so we decided to do a full-scale research project in 2016 I did case studies at 12 universities looking at what gets taught who are the teachers who is paying them how did this get set up who made the decisions things like that and really did the first ethnography of what happens in a Confucius Institute and since then with others who have also been writing about Confucius Institutes and starting to sound the alarm we’ve seen the United States as a country and a lot of the rest of the world often also just wake up to the realization that China has been using a whole-of-government approach sometimes even a whole of society approach towards infiltrating the west towards trying to penetrate our institutions and work within them from inside to turn them in favor of China to turn them against our own values and that is exactly what’s been happening with our colleges and universities with Confucius Institutes but also with the Chinese students and scholars association with a thousand talents plan with a number of prongs and approaches that the Chinese government has taken towards our colleges and universities it’s very alarming well I definitely want to talk about the thousand talents program because that’s another thing I know that your organization is following very closely but let’s let’s talk a bit more about Confucius Institutes here you know you’re saying there’s still 75 in operation as we speak you know it’s that the trajectory is down but there’s still you know quite a few out there what exactly are they teaching what it maybe some examples and why why is it such a threat why are these you know islands of the CCP as you’re saying what some of like its taught is is just Chinese language and culture but the way the culture gets presented is the Chinese Communist Party’s version of of Chinese culture you won’t hear about the leaders you won’t hear about Falun Gong you won’t hear about the various acts of repression that the Chinese government has taken against its own people if you ask about Taiwan in – but you’ll hear that they’re part of China and they always have been nothing to talk about there if you look at a map they’ll be shown as part of China if you ask about Tiananmen Square he will not get a straight answer when I did my case studies I asked what would you say the student asked you about Tiananmen Square and the most telling answer was from the Chinese director of a Confucius Institute at New Jersey City University who said first she would try to change the subject and she couldn’t change the subject she would show a picture and point out the beautiful architecture so a student asking about Tiananmen Square would learn that it’s a tourist attraction here’s what the architecture looks like that’s all of significance that is Tiananmen Square just the architecture and that is that’s pretty revealing that at an American college campus you could get an answer like that from a teacher that your universe city is backing and inviting to your campus now that’s fascinating not even the information that it is the place where people will go to appeal when they’re not being heard but also nothing about the actual massacre in 89 and so forth no fascinating so Rachelle when schools universities in the country would get courted by these Confucius Institutes I’ll get you to tell me a bit about how the money works between these the schools and the and the Han Bond in a moment but would they be aware that they’re giving away their right to adjudicate the content of the classes it would because colleges and universities have to sign in a contract with the Han bond with this Chinese government agency in order to set up a Confucius Institute the Hongbin likes to keep those contracts pretty secret and hidden from the public I did get access to nine of them by filing Freedom of Information requests and they have some very troubling

clauses in there and again these are signed by college and university presidents and administrators things like the hon Vaughn is going to select the teachers or at minimum put forward a slate of candidates from which the university is required to choose the hon bond will send over thousands of textbooks that it has published and and prepared for these of Confucius Institutes things like the Han Bond was to itself the right to be the final evaluator on the performance of teachers at these universities in the Confucius Institutes and other clauses requiring that the University cannot quote tarnish the reputation of the Confucius Institute and this is one of those phrases that is very vague but that seems to be its purpose its purpose is to be this kind of catch-all that puts the university on guard to be sure that it doesn’t do anything that gets close to tarnishing the reputation of the Confucius Institute or tarnishing the reputation of the Han Bond by by wanting to pull out of the Confucius Institute or tinker with the structure things like that and these contracts also some of them had some very strange language about the way a contract could be severed there were very few opportunities for universities to back out of their Confucius Institute contracts but lots of opportunities for the Chinese government to back out and a requirement that any legal controversy would be settled in a Beijing Court so some of these you can imagine if challenged in the US Court would never hold up but their point really is not to set up legal restrictions but to use this as a signaling mechanism to colleges and universities just signal here’s what you need to do to stay in the good graces of the hon bond and in order to keep the money flowing you know that I mean that’s really incredible when you think about it it actually reminds me a bit of this national security law that’s been imposed on Hong Kong with a lot of vague language I mean to the point where you know our conversation right now that isn’t you know incredibly positive both the Chinese Communist Party could be considered a violation of Hong Kong’s national security law I mean that that’s the Lego that’s the level of vagueness that that we see so this isn’t this isn’t a new trick I guess that’s that that’s that’s what you’re telling me here okay so let’s talk about the money I mean how much money are we talking about and which way does it flow and you know presumably there’s some reason why all these Confucius Institutes popped up in the end right well the money flows from China to the University Han Bond will cover the operating costs usually it’s a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in grants per year just for operating costs the teachers are paid directly by the Han Bond that that money doesn’t even have to flow through the university they’re getting their salaries straight from the Chinese government the Han bond is sending over free textbooks and other supplies that the Confucius Institute might need the Han one likes to advertise that universities put in 50% of the the costs of a Confucius Institute but if you look at that really closely and breakdown where they’re getting that really what that means is the university is donating some office space and the use of some classrooms and is having a professor or administrator add on a few duties as the co-director of the Confucius Institute so universities really aren’t putting money into the Confucius Institute they’re just offering some some classroom space that they already have available things like that the from the Chinese government and that’s what makes this so attractive to colleges and universities they’re essentially getting Chinese classes provided at no cost to them there have the opportunity to offer credit to students who sign up for these classes charge students tuition for a class whose costs are being paid by the Chinese government it’s a big money-making initiative but additionally a Confucius Institute serve as the conduits for additional funding from the Chinese government once the university has a Confucius Institute it establishes a close relationship with the Chinese government by way of the Han Bond pretty soon you see the college president going on speaking tours in China getting faded at lavish dinners pretty soon you see other professors making trips to China additional Chinese students enrolling at that University the the lovers of money really start flowing once a university gets the Confucius Institute so it’s not just the money that the Institute itself brings in its these host of other benefits that come along once they

establish that relationship no I mean fascinating so you have this you know the influence which is basically teaching according to the Chinese Communist Party’s dictates and then you have this kind of growth of influence in this in the sense that there’s this much closer and warm relationship with the regime and you know back and forth now we’ve been hearing a lot about different realities of espionage is are these Han Bond or the Confucius Institutes involved in that in any way that you’re aware of well we know that FBI director Christopher Rea has warned colleges and universities about Confucius Institutes the FBI has set up espionage watch operations and has seen evidence of espionage coming out of Confucius Institutes we also know that Confucius Institutes just by being a center of the Chinese government on campus have an opportunity to watch a lot of activities to keep an eye on a lot of things to keep an eye on research and technology that’s being developed at that University also an opportunity to keep an eye on scholars of Chinese who may want to visa to go back to China and also Chinese students studying in the u.s. who are under you know pretty much constant surveillance of the Confucius Institute is one arm of of that and you know we’ve heard a lot about the United Front which are this which is the kind of the broad umbrella organization that’s you know put basically pushing Chinese Communist Party influence overseas into these overseas Chinese communities is there any relationship with Confucius Institutes yes the United Front work Department uses Confucius Institute as one of its tools one of the mottos of the United Front is to make the foreign serve and that really could be the motto of the Confucius Institute as well make these foreign universities these Western universities from the inside out desire to have a friendly relationship with China to cultivate their students to reflexively like China and to second-guess anything bad they hear about the Chinese regime that’s it’s really what Confucius and cities are doing they’re working on the next generation of American students and scholars and currying favor with China and teaching them grooming them really to have this favorable impression so what are we seeing in terms of response I mean I know I think it’s back in 2018 in the NDAA I think that the Pentagon was forbidden from funding schools that had Confucius Institutes please correct me if I’m if I’m wrong on some of the details but so they obviously that had a profound effect but there’s been more action taken and actually maybe tell me about that and in more detail and and what what else is happening basically since we last saw each other yes the NDA has been so far the single most effective thing at convincing colleges and universities to close their Confucius Institutes it did ban the Pentagon from funding Chinese language programs at a university that also had a Confucius Institute and originally universities were allowed to apply for a waiver from the Pentagon the Pentagon then announced it would not give you any waivers it had sufficient security concerns about Confucius Institutes so at least ten colleges and universities have cited that law as the reason that they have closed their Confucius Institute so again that’s 10 out of 45 it’s a pretty big number so that has been hugely important really the other the other thing is just growing national awareness we have warnings from the FBI warnings from the State Department to Confucius Institutes at the University of Missouri and the University of Pittsburgh closed down after the State Department revoked the visas of Confucius Institute teachers it had done some investigations and found that the teachers were not actually qualified for the visas that they were on some were on research visas but they were teaching others were base event student-teacher visas they were supposed to be under constant supervision of a Mandarin proficient teacher licensed in the United States that wasn’t happening so we have warnings from the State Department we also have a lot of warnings from members of Congress several additional bills have been introduced the Confucius Act has passed to the Senate it is over to the house now for consideration that would call for a lot of transparency from Confucius Institutes and basically forbid them from operating unless they can meet various academic freedom criteria we

also have the transparency for Confucius since you act introduced in the Senate as well so there’s a lot of interest on Capitol Hill in addressing this and colleges and universities I think are starting to heed those warnings and walk away at least from the Confucius Institute brand if not walk away from Chinese funding altogether well so that’s actually quite interesting because you know back in the day I can’t remember what you’re now you know China announced or the Chinese Communist Party announced that they were shutting down their labor camp system right but the reality of what happened is a whole bunch of people just could put into something called a prison or instead of a labor camp and which functioned in a lot in a lot of ways in pretty much the same way right and so this is this is kind of a standard standard approach but for the Chinese Communist Party I’m the question is okay when these things close does all the money dry up from the Chinese Communist Party what’s going on here well it is certainly the case that the money continues flowing from the Chinese Communist Party they have a lot of programs in place it’s not just Confucius Institutes so the spigots of funds are not being turned off in the case of Confucius Institutes in particular there are a lot of things that need to be looked at more closely colleges and universities are closing down their Confucius Institutes in large numbers but I am not totally convinced that they have actually closed the Institute’s I think there’s a lot of evidence that they are pretty much free branding their Institute’s all the more so now that the Han boughten the Chinese government agency that oversees Confucius Institutes is itself going through a rebranding process it’s being renamed the Ministry of Education Center for language exchange and cooperation and it’s actually spinning off the Confucius Institutes to a separate organization a new organization called the Chinese International Education Foundation that is supposed to be a non-profit and this is the Han funds attempt to stymie the criticism that these are being run by the Chinese government I don’t think the the line between this nonprofit and the Chinese government is going to be very distinct at all and I I i suspect Confucius Institutes will operate pretty much exactly the same as they have operated in the past but colleges and universities I think are are going to start rebranding their Confucius Institutes breaking up those programs and scattering them among newly created centers I think this is something that we’re going to have to watch very closely as Confucius Institutes continue to generate criticism well so this is very fascinating and I mean it again you remind me of another scenario which is when China basically announced that it would not source organ transplants from prisoners anymore right and we know there’s a almost no other source Oh since then again I can’t remember what year was that but the organ transplant industry continues strongly over there tell me how would one actually track this this strikes me as something potentially difficult to actually follow and frankly kind of scary because in theory you think you’ve dealt with a problem but you’re basically telling me we might not have dealt with it at all yeah it is scary territory it sort of feels like we’re starting a game of whack-a-mole where we we found the Confucius Institute and we we got that one but now it’s going to pop up under another name and who knows how many reincarnations it’s going to have a couple things to watch for though are when a university closes its Confucius Institute does it open up a new center that is substantially similar the University of Texas at Dallas in the same announcement where it said it was closing its Confucius Institute it announced a new Center for Asian Studies the director of which would be the exact same person who was the executive director the Confucius Institute that to me looks a little suspicious so I want to look into that one a little bit more the University of Michigan when it announced that it would close his Confucius Institute the Vice Provost said that he was exploring with the Han Bond other opportunities that they could partner together so that is a major red flag right there what other opportunities have they come up with that they’re going to partner on so those are some things to watch for another tool is the fact that colleges and universities are required to report foreign gifts and donations in excess of $250,000 per year I know this sounds very walkush but this is actually a pretty transparent tool

that anybody can use just Google Department of Education foreign gift and contract report it will take you right to the Department of Education website there’s a spreadsheet you download it you can sort it by by college by sources gift by year and you can track where the money is coming from where it’s going to so one of the things that I am going to be watching for in coming months is whether Han Bond money continues to flow to any of these universities that have shut down or ostensibly shut down their Confucius Institutes the tool is a little bit it lags a little bit these reports come out every six months so you have to wait a little while before you can get access to the information but I think that’s something that you any average American can do go look up where your alma mater is getting is money and I think it will probably astonish you well we learned recently that the vast majority of these donations even over two hundred and fifty Oz were not being reported there was this kind of a landslide of reporting all of a sudden you know I guess in the last six months right yeah really in the last year the Department of Education had been very lacs about enforcing this law and colleges and universities had been willfully negligent in complying with it so now under pressure from a couple of senators the Department of Education has launched ten civil compliance investigations against colleges and universities including Georgetown MIT Harvard Yale Texas A&M a lot of high-profile universities and those investigations have revealed some pretty alarming things a number of them have had research contracts with Huawei a number of them have had research contracts with other organizations that have been banned from doing business with the US government because they are national security risks and six and a half billion dollars in unreported unreported foreign funding has since been reported to the Department of Education so we’re seeing immense amounts of money that were never being reported before finally starting to get a little bit more of an accurate sense about the scale of foreign funding and and even still I’m not convinced that everything is being reported so a lot to watch were there how does it work is it from a single organization or from any any Chinese organization or how does that work I mean could you have you know 10 20 organizations provide 249,000 and it sort of skim under the radar how does that work yeah you could you could gain the system that way and that is one of the big flaws with our transparency laws right now so it’s $250,000 from a single source over the course of a single year so you could also spread it out you know December 31st and January 1st something like that so the laws need a lot of updating I’ve been pushing for that disclosure a threshold should be lowered at least to $50,000 I think for China and and probably Russia and Saudi Arabia and a few other nations it probably should be zero every single thing should be reported there should not be a threshold for disclosure and we also need more information to be included in those transparency reports the Department of Education has recently updated its guidance it’s gotten a lot tough really they’re asking colleges and universities for more information than they were before but there’s a lot of information that we still don’t have we don’t have the name of a foreign donor unless it’s a government so a non-profit is anonymous this new spin-off of the Han Bond that’s supposedly going to be a non-profit once it starts making donations to colleges and universities it’s going to be anonymous it’s just going to repeat as donations coming from China on those disclosure reports so those laws definitely need to be strengthened so let’s jump into this thousand talents program again people have kind of heard perhaps that it exists you know the very very high profile member of it was the chief investment officer current chief investment officer of CalPERS you know that that’s in currently investing large amounts of money into China people we’ve been asking questions about that but in general what is the thousand talents program why is it an issue for the u.s the thousand talents program is a way for China to recruit scholars and researchers into sharing their findings with China the Chinese Communist Party operates about 200 different talent recruitment programs the thousand talents is the best-known of those and it has about 7,000 members worldwide so that’s 7,000 we researchers and scholars

who are getting incentives from China to kind of spill the beans on what they’re working on and give early access to their findings and usually the way this works is that China will approach a scholar offer them research funding sometimes a prestigious position at a Chinese university for some they’ll offer the use of a lab in China and the scholar would look at a lot of perks and financial benefits but in exchange they have to share their their findings with China so just to give you a couple of examples Charles Lieber is is one of the the names that probably a lot of people have heard he is the top nanoscience expert in the world Thomson Reuters named him the top chemist in the world at one point he’s was the chair of the chemistry department at Harvard University he was a member of the thousand talents plan he was receiving monthly $50,000 payments from China a living stipend of one hundred and fifty eight thousand dollars per year and 1.5 million dollars to set up a lab in China in exchange he was supposed to share his research findings and trained three to for graduate students of China’s choice per year you can see how that has major national security implications a couple other examples Case Western Reserve University a professor there has been charged with three point six million dollars in wire fraud he had gotten a grant from the federal government to do some research and then simultaneously gotten another grant from the National Natural Science Foundation in China to do the exact same research so he’s double dipping and sending the findings to both sources similar thing at the University of Florida where a professor actually rose to become the vice president of a university in China he had this secret dual career going on and and there’s one kind of funny anecdote I mean not really funny but humorous West Virginia University where eight your physics professor I signed up for the thousand talents plan went to his University and requested parental leave saying he needed to become the primary caretaker for his child but really he was going off to China because his contract obliged him to spend three years working in China so his way around this was asking for parental leave but this is affecting hundreds of scholars not just in the United States but around the world is a very very big problem that we’re only just starting to grasp so I know that your organization tracks this and has some kind of numbers a sense of you you mentioned I did you mention 7,000 in the u.s. you just tell us the the extent of this how many universities how big is this whole operation it’s very large there are 7,000 and estimated 7,000 members of a thousand talents plan that’s around the world in the US we’re tracking cases that have gone public most cases still haven’t gotten public the National Institutes for health for example has said that it’s investigating 185 scholars at 65 different American colleges and universities that’s just the National Institutes of Health doing an investigation the National Science Foundation all these federal grant-making agencies are doing their own investigations to see whether scholars that they have funded have been also funded by China in an appropriate way so the numbers are very large we’re tracking the number of public cases it’s at this point in the dozens most of those investigations are still ongoing and haven’t gotten public yet but I think we’re going to see waves upon waves of additional cases starting to go public as those investigations start closing and the Justice Department starts pressing charges and just maybe give us an overview because it might not be obvious to everybody how you know a Chinese University with respect to let’s say the Chinese Communist Party or the government functions differently than you know certainly private universities in the US and even public universities in the u.s. well the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government are seeking to use all of these things to enhance their own power it’s not for the sake of the prospering of society or the freedom of its citizens it’s a very different research atmosphere than we have in the United States we’re very open or very free China has exploited that they’ve exploited the freedom and openness that we really prize here another angle to really capture this is to think about forced technology transfer the United States is very open to to collaboration among among corporations among businesses among

researchers in China and when a corporation wants to have access to a Chinese market and do business there they’re forced to hand over technology they’re forced to give over trade secrets and inventions and things that they’ve put together as the price of doing business in China this is just one example of the way that China is really seeking to exploit American systems for their own advantage so this is fascinating you’re just struck me you know with with the Confucius Institutes we have these you know open partnerships so to speak and you know clear somewhat clear flows of money that may be changing then we have this these various funding regimes and then and then with this thousand talents program we have something where it’s everything is completely undisclosed and frankly I don’t what what are the are you you’ve allowed to be a part of this program if you’re a you know US University researcher I mean how does this work well currently membership in the thousand talents plan is not illegal that conceivably could change but right now it’s not illegal what is illegal is to not disclose it or to double dip for the same research or to take research that the federal government funded and then share the results with an unauthorized party namely the Chinese government so that’s what these scholars are being charged with they’re being charged with fraud of the United States government and a failure to disclose their ties this is unbelievable and what about these other 199 programs I think you said there were 200 right they what can you give me some examples or what is known about this this is you know you’re talking about a scale that frankly I hadn’t really considered yeah please it’s very daunting yeah there are an estimated 200 talent recruitment plans of the Chinese Communist Party funds the thousand talents is the best-known the others are a little bit murky at this point we don’t know exactly how they work whether people are part multiple recruitment operations or if they’re all totally distinct there it’s really a black hole at this point but it’s it’s something that we need to get on ASAP because the implications for our country and our security and our research environment are mammoth so Rochelle we’re gonna finish up in a moment but maybe you know you’ve given us a lot of really I would say intense information here and frankly some things that I wasn’t aware of at all can you kind of give me a a picture of where we are today with academia visa vie the Chinese Communist Party and where you would hope things to go in the future I think where we are today is in the process of waking up we are just starting to realize what the Chinese government has put in place already on our colleges and universities by way of Confucius Institutes 1000 times plan programs geared at Chinese students studying in the u.s. programs geared at American students we’re just really starting to get a handle on this I think we’re going to continue to see new programs pop popping up new programs that we weren’t aware of being unearthed I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg and we need to brace ourselves for a long haul for a long battle to really reclaim the integrity of our colleges and universities you know one thing that struck me is that this is actually quite a bipartisan issue I remember there was actually the I think it was the college Republicans and the College Democrats together you know coming together around the issue of Confucius Institutes I believe and you know what how is that looking I’m always looking for examples of bipartisanship in our you know crazy reality right now well Confucius Institutes are a great example of bipartisanship but there is bipartisan concern about this you’re right the College Republicans and College Democrats didn’t issue a joint statement calling for the closure of Confucius Institutes the Confucius Act passed the Senate and it was co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats and and we’re seeing statements coming out from Republicans and from Democrats writing to universities in their districts saying hey you have a Confucius Institute I’m very concerned about this I think you should consider closing that down and any idea of how many of these Confucius Institutes are in the process of being

closed at this point of the 75 that are still in operation four of them have announced that they will close by the end of the year Middle Tennessee State University is a possible fifth they say they’re winding down but it’s a kind of vague statement so I’m not gonna call it I’m not gonna put it on the closed list until it actually closes but that leaves you know still at least 70 that are in full swing oh it seems like a lot of work left to go Rochelle Peter sends such a pleasure to have you on my pleasure thank you young