While not in a military conflict, the United States and China are tangling in a version of the cold war.
This spring, as university graduates across the United States prepare to walk the stage, more than degrees will be handed out. Among the students and faculty of American universities sit spies—agents of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) —who have spent their years in college funneling research and stolen intellectual property (IP) back to the CCP.
For years, the CCP has executed propaganda and espionage campaigns across the globe. In the United States, one of their methods of impacting the decisions of academic institutions and spying on activities inside the U.S. is through Confucius Institutes.
These institutes are Chinese state-sponsored entities first established in America in 2005 under the guise of promoting Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitating cultural exchanges.
In reality, Confucius Institutes are used by the CCP to exploit the open, collaborative nature of American academia and conduct widespread industrial and military espionage inside the United States. Students and employees of these institutes infiltrate university campuses to steal intellectual property, intimidate Chinese dissidents, promote communist propaganda, and funnel information back to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
In May 2020, Zhihao Kong, a Chinese student at Purdue University, posted a letter online commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. What followed was a catastrophe. Officers of the Ministry of State Security (MSS), the primary Chinese civilian spy agency, visited his parents in China to pressure him to stop his activist activity in America. Other Chinese students at Purdue began to harass Kong, threatening to report him to the embassy. After his parents were repeatedly visited by MSS officers, Kong was silenced, rescinding his commitment to speak at a forum on the Tiananmen massacre.
The fact that the CCP was able to suppress free speech and debate on U.S. campuses is gravely concerning. Purdue University is a school that receives DHS Science and Technology funding, hosted a Confucius Institute until 2018, and had extensive ties with Chinese schools promoting Military-Civil Fusion as recently as 2021.
It is past time we take a strong stance against the CCPs violation of U.S. academia, and it starts with ensuring DHS funding only goes to institution that are free of China’s foreign influence.
The United States government has taken some successful action against this encroachment in the last several years. The FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act prohibited DOD funding from funding institutions of higher education that host Confucius Institutes. The time is now for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take similar action. Under no circumstances should a school in the United States be allowed to receive DHS funding while tacitly accepting money from the CCP.
My bill, H.R. 7779, the “DHS Restrictions on Confucius Institutes Act”, ensures that schools prioritize the security of their scientific research and technological development efforts above a paycheck from the CCP. It restricts institutions of higher education from receiving DHS funding while hosting Confucius Institutes or continuing lucrative relationships with Chinese universities that promote Military-Civil Fusion—the CCP’s aggressive national strategy to help the People’s Republic of China develop the most technologically advanced military in the world, often through the theft of American intellectual property.
This bill ensures taxpayer dollars are appropriately used and encourages universities to end relationships with partners who do not have America’s best interest in mind. More importantly, this bill ensures U.S. institution are free of foreign influence and safe from the theft of their research and development work.
I am pleased that Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Ranking Member John Katko (R-N.Y.) brought the bill before the Homeland Security Committee, and that my colleagues supported the initiative. Under no circumstances should American taxpayer dollars be used to enrich the CCP or the PLA. My bill is a critical first step in confronting the national security challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China. Congress must ensure taxpayer dollars are cut off from these programs for good.
August Pfluger represents the 11th Distict of Texas and is ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism.