China’s long arm has reached into American campuses, according to an investigation by Foreign Policy, a magazine on international affairs. A recent report in the magazine has claimed that Chinese students in American campuses are paid by the embassy to attend state events.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Washington in 2015 on a state visit, hundreds of Chinese students gathered to welcome him. This display of patriotism was not spontaneous. The Chinese embassy paid the students to attend the event. Citing a Chinese student at George Washington University who attended the event, the report said each participant received about $20 distributed through the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSAs) a few months later.
“This wasn’t an isolated example of paid political mobilization. A similar arrangement had occurred in February 2012, when Xi visited Washington as vice chairman. In that case, it took almost a year for the embassy to transfer the promised funds to the George Washington CSSA.
In January 2013, the student group sent a message, recently reviewed by Foreign Policy, to its members saying the compensation from Xi’s welcome the previous year was finally available, and they could come pick up the cash at the campus community center if they brought a photo ID. The George Washington CSSA did not respond to a request for comment,” the report claims.
However, the Chinese embassy distributing $20 each to students to attend state events could be the tip of an iceberg. “The embassy-sponsored welcome parties, which lend an aura of power and popularity to the visiting leaders, are just one example of the close relationship that the Chinese government maintains with Chinese student groups across the United States.
That relationship often focuses on student safety and well-being. But in the past few years, as Xi has strengthened the party’s control over every aspect of Chinese society and sought to extend his power abroad, consular officials have markedly increased their efforts to exert ideological influence over students — leaving some CSSA members wary to speak out against what they see as unwanted government intrusion,” the report says.
The report says Chinese government funding and oversight of these organizations seems to be more significant than previously known — and growing. “FP spoke to more than a dozen members of the group across the country (including four current or former presidents), was given access to internal messages and documents, and reviewed the publicly available charters of dozens of these groups, in Chinese and English. All of the students who spoke to FP requested anonymity for fear of potential reprisals,” the report says.
The report claims that CSSAs regularly accept funds from local consulates and many officially describe themselves as under the “guidance” or “leadership” of the embassy. “But numerous CSSA members, including two current chapter presidents, say that they are uncomfortable with what they felt was growing ideological pressure from the embassy and consulates.
That pressure has become more apparent since 2016, when the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a directive ordering schools to instill greater patriotism and love for the party in students of every age — including Chinese students studying abroad,” the report claims.
However, many Chinese students in the US are also defying their government. Students had protested at many campuses when Xi Jinping abolished term limits on his presidency. Foreign Policy reported that posters started popping up in college campuses across the United States proclaiming “Not My President”, the words directed Xi Jinping.
According to another article in Foreign Policy, the dual posters — in both English and Chinese — are part of a grassroots movement of overseas Chinese who are expressing their discontent with Chinese government. “The students organizing this campaign have chosen to remain anonymous, worried about what sort of consequences would await them back home if the Chinese government discovered their identities,” wrote Foreign Policy.
FBI director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February that China was adopting several means to undermine the status of US as global power including infiltrating American academia. “ I would just say that the use of non-traditional collectors [individuals who collect intelligence for foreign governments]— especially in the academic setting, whether it’s professors, scientists, students — we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country.”
He said Chinese government was exploiting the very open research and development environment in the US. “It’s not just in major cities. It’s in small ones as well. It’s across basically every discipline. And I think the level of naivete on the part of the academic sector about this creates its own issues.”
Wray’s comments drew sharp criticism from civil rights activists who accused the US government of dangerous stereotyping of Chinese students and academics as spies. A group that works advocates for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders said, “His remarks only further insinuates that Chinese and Chinese Americans continue to be treated and racially profiled as perpetual foreigners in the intelligence community.”