Chinese government-backed student groups pose a clear and present danger to U.S. colleges, a report from The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal said Monday.
Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSA) — “campus organizations for Chinese students studying abroad” — have coordinated with the Chinese government to engage in intimidation, censorship and surveillance while maintaining “furtive financial practices,” the center’s report claims. Many of the approximately 150 CSSAs across the country “receive guidance” and funding from the Chinese government, according to a 2018 congressional commission.
Some CSSAs have been “active in carrying out overseas Chinese work consistent with Beijing’s United Front,” according to the congressional commission. The United Front Work Department (UFWD) is a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) agency whose members engage in propaganda, espionage and physical violence, according to the State Department.
“CSSAs pose what is arguably the greatest threat to American colleges,” the report states, citing multiple instances in which CSSA chapters have worked to advance Beijing’s agenda on U.S. campuses.
One instance involved members from the University of California San Diego’s CSSA chapter who condemned the Dalai Lama’s 2017 commencement speech by issuing a statement and publishing an op-ed in protest, Time reported. Along with Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, pro-democracy advocates and Taiwan independence activists, the CCP considers Tibetans one of the “Five Poisonous Groups” that supposedly threaten China, according to a 2005 congressional hearing.
Similarly, the University of Washington’s CSSA protested a screening of “Letter From Masanjia” — a film about Chinese slave labor — and “made a scene” in 2019, Leon Lee, a Peabody Award-winning director, told the Daily Caller News Foundation in February.
CSSA chapters have also reportedly engaged in surveillance activities against Chinese students, Politico reported. For example, a University of California Berkeley graduate student affiliated with the school’s CSSA was reportedly working with China’s secret police to report on other Chinese students, an anonymous former official told Politico.
Many CSSA chapters reportedly receive funding from the Chinese government, the report states, citing a Foreign Policy piece that determined chapters frequently take money from Chinese embassies and consulates. However, the funding provided to any given CSSA varies and “not all CSSA members are comfortable” with Beijing’s influence, according to the congressional commission.
The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal filed public records requests to six University of North Carolina (UNC) schools — University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, UNC Pembroke, UNC Charlotte, East Carolina University and North Carolina State University — concerning their CSSA chapters, yet reportedly received no “insightful information” regarding their finances or budgets.
Meanwhile, many of the nation’s Confucius Institutes — Chinese language and culture centers — recently rebranded and then reportedly rekindled relationships with U.S. colleges after the Department of State designated the Chinese government-backed organizations a “foreign mission” in August 2020, according to a National Association of Scholars report in June.
The Chinese Embassy, the State Department, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Pembroke, Charlotte, East Carolina University, North Carolina State University and their related CSSA chapters did not respond immediately to the DCNF’s request for comment.
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