A pair of new reports are sounding an alarm about American universities’ research collaborations with China.
The reports, by the Hoover Institution and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, warn that working with some Chinese researchers and institutions could leave the U.S. vulnerable while helping to advance China’s national-security interests.
The Hoover Institution paper
looked at the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Automation, which carries out research on artificial intelligence, biometrics, and neuroscience but also works with state security on mass-surveillance technologies, such as those associated with human-rights violations against Uighurs, the Muslim minority group.
Over five years, 224 American universities or research institutes co-published papers with CASIA, the Hoover researchers found. They argue that current standards for reviewing overseas collaborations fail to address how Chinese research institutions “have obfuscated their activities and associations, incentivized unauthorized transfers of intellectual property or know-how, and engaged in other questionable practices that undermine human rights and the integrity of scientific research.”
The authors call for revising research-compliance standards to better account for political, security, and human-rights contexts as well as for the creation of an independent entity to help assess risks in academic collaborations in authoritarian states.
Meanwhile, FDD examined
American colleges that have, or had, Confucius Institutes, the language and cultural centers sponsored by the Chinese government. Of those that recently ended their agreements, the conservative think tank found that at least 28 universities, or a third of those that closed their CIs, continued to work with their Chinese partner institutions, or even expanded their relationships.
Some of those Chinese universities have ties to that country’s military, the report said.
Chris Singleton, a FDD adjunct fellow and author of the report, called Confucius Institutes “modern-day Trojan horses” and said they should be shut down.
(Many have already closed because of restrictions on defense funds
to colleges that host them.)
“The Chinese government managed to build an intricate web of academic and research partnerships between America’s top universities and Chinese schools that directly enable China’s military-industrial complex,” Singleton said. Still, he notes that the majority of Chinese universities do not have relationships with the military and said federal officials should approach possible restrictions on Sino-American academic collaboration “with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.”
Confucius Institutes are a popular political target
, and it’s far from clear how integral they are as gateways to research and educational partnerships with China — most U.S. colleges, after all, have the latter while, even at their height, only a few hosted CIs.
But I think it’s worth taking note of these reports as the latest cautions about academic ties with China, in an environment in which such collaborations are regarded with growing suspicion.
Earlier this year, the Senate passed a sweeping “China competition
” bill that included a host of new disclosure requirements for international research collaborations and for gifts and contracts to universities from China and other foreign governments. One of the provisions of the bill could even give the U.S. government veto power
over some foreign academic partnerships. (It would also increase research spending.)
The House approved more modest legislation, and staffers have begun to work on drafting a final bill. On dotEDU
, the American Council on Education’s podcast on higher-ed policy, Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs, called the imposition of tougher foreign-disclosure rules on universities in the new year a “very real possibility.”
“Concern about China and its intentions toward the United States is very high on Capitol Hill,” Hartle said. “Concern is bipartisan and bicameral — this is not just one party or the other.”