What Does This Biden Decision Mean for Rooting Out China's Techno Spies?

What Does This Biden Decision Mean for Rooting Out China's Techno Spies?
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

According to a little-read 2019 Senate report, China is actively engaged in a very well-funded and widespread espionage campaign across the United States and the West. Called the “Thousand Talents Plan,” China’s trillion-dollar effort sought to recruit about 2,000 top notch researchers to feed the best of their work to institutions connected to and controlled by the Chinese government — the Chinese Communist Party.

We’ve followed this story here as the Trump administration sought to determine the scope of the problem and mount prosecutions of scientists and researchers found to be illegally working with the Chinese government or its agencies. The mainstream media has yet to comprehensively cover China’s techno spy programs at all.

It has also failed to adequately cover another massive, widespread influence operation originating in Beijing: Confucius Institutes.

The innocuous, historic-sounding name masks a network of cultural influence operations on American university campuses across the country. According to a 2019 Senate subcommittee report:

 [T]he investigation, which was earlier reported by The Times, found that the Chinese government had provided about $158 million over the last 13 years to establish and run more than 100 Confucius Institutes in the United States, including seven in California, to promote the study of Mandarin and Chinese culture at universities and K-12 schools.

The subcommittee also turned up lapses in U.S. government agencies’ oversight of the programs. Its 92-page report detailed instances in which the State Department improperly issued U.S. visas to Confucius Institute teachers from China, while the Education Department failed both to establish clear guidelines and to ensure that universities complied with requirements to report grants from foreign governments of $250,000 or more in any year.

Investigators said that the United States had attempted to set up similar programs at Chinese campuses. But U.S. funding for those American Cultural Centers ended last fall, the report said, after at least 80 episodes of “active interference by the Chinese government” that prevented the opening or functioning of some of the 29 centers planned by the State Department.

The Confucius Institutes represent a “soft power” approach to spreading communist China’s influence across America, and at the same time tying our universities to Beijing’s influence through one of the oldest tools in the influence box: money. The fact that China does not allow reciprocal U.S. institutes gives the game away that they are primarily influence, as opposed to merely cultural, institutes.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) raised the alarm that Confucius Institutes may be true centers of spy recruiting operations and student indoctrination. The National Association of Scholars also raised the alarm:

“The key risk is that the American public and the students hear a one-sided view of what’s going on in China,” said Rachelle Peterson, policy director of the National Association of Scholars, who authored the study. She said the Institutes should all be shut down.

“At these Confucius Institutes, the teachers are hand selected and paid by the Chinese government, the textbooks are being sent over and paid for by the Chinese government, and funding is being provided by the Chinese government,” she notes.

“The only way to protect from these type of incursions from the Chinese government is to close down the Institute. There really is no safe way to operate a Confucius Institute that protects academic freedom.”

The Trump administration began pushing universities to sever ties with Confucius Institutes after the Senate report emerged, and was somewhat successful. It designated the Confucius Institutes “foreign missions.” In August 2020, the Daily Caller reported that dozens of Confucius Institutes were being closed across the country. But many remain.

Days after his inauguration, Joe Biden deliberately and quietly reversed the official American stance with regard to the Confucius Institutes. His executive action is drawing criticism, but only from Republicans so far.

Immigration Customs and Enforcement confirmed to Fox News that the rule ‒ first reported by Axios as a last-minute effort by the Trump administration ‒ was withdrawn on Jan. 26. The rule would have required schools to report whether they have relationships with Confucius Institutes.

“Confucius Institutes are front groups for the Chinese Communist Party on American campuses,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said of the rule’s withdrawal. “The federal government ought to shut down these regime-run institutes or, at a minimum, require colleges to disclose their secret agreements with them. Instead, the Biden administration is allowing a foreign influence operation to continue in the shadows.”

“The Biden Administration’s decision to withdraw this rule is deeply disappointing and surprising considering the serious nature of China’s efforts to expand its influence operations inside the United States,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “I urge them to reconsider.”

Meanwhile, what happens to the effort to root out Thousand Talents Plan spies still active within American university and research institutions? The answer is no one knows. But if Biden holds true to form, prosecutions already in the pipeline may go forward but Biden will, through executive action or reprioritizing law enforcement agencies, simply stop looking for the rest of the many Thousand Talents spies still out there.

How many are there? Originally, Thousand Talents sought to recruit about 2,000. It has been far more successful than that. It has recruited an estimated 7,000 scientists and researchers who funnel their cutting edge research to Chinese research institutions, which ultimately funnel that research to the People’s Liberation Army.

This is a deeply serious threat, allowing China’s military to modernize and perhaps even leapfrog U.S. capabilities on the cheap, using our academic freedom and openness against us.

Joe Biden may be compromised — I’d suspect he is deeply compromised — by his son’s documented multi-million dollar financial deals with Chinese interests. Most of Biden’s voters never learned of these connections thanks to social media censorship of valid New York Post stories documenting and detailing them through Hunter Biden’s own emails, and eyewitness testimony from his business partner, Tony Bobulinski.

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