China is not a “friendly” competitor. It is truly a strategic threat, one that actively works to undermine American and Western values of freedom and freedom. Yet too many universities and policy makers fail to recognize the danger.
Many universities have been blindsided by dollar signs. They pay agents to recruit international students, mainly because they will pay full tuition. China is more than happy to pay the price. Before the pandemic, 35% of all foreign students in the United States were Chinese nationals. That number has since more than halved, but Chinese students still hold a disproportionate share of seats, especially in postgraduate STEM classes.
The innovations and technical advancements generated by academic research (as well as private sector research and development) have been a boon to US security as well as our economy. But in its quest to become a global power, Beijing uses a variety of tactics, both illegal and legal, to glean cutting-edge technologies and intellectual property from university research systems, international labs and corporate R&D facilities.
As a result, China is rapidly catching up. Last fall, officials from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center warned that universities, business leaders, and state and local authorities needed to better protect their intellectual property. Failure to do so, the Associated Press reported, “could eventually give Beijing a decisive military advantage and possible dominance over health care and other critical sectors in America.”
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The FBI estimates that the US economy loses between $225 billion and $600 billion a year due to pirated software, theft of trade secrets and counterfeit products. Cybereason, a cybersecurity technology company, estimates that a Chinese state cyber operation stole “hundreds of gigabytes of intellectual property and sensitive data”, worth billions of dollars, from 30 multinational corporations.
But too many legislators are not paying attention. Congress recently passed the CHIPS Act, funneling hundreds of billions of dollars into technology research and workforce development. Yet the bill contains only limited provisions to protect the work it funds from foreign predators. Tougher provisions, designed to curb Chinese influence and campus espionage campaigns through Confucius Institutes and undisclosed Chinese funding, were blocked by Senate Democrats.
While CIA Director William Burns has acknowledged that China poses the greatest threat to US national security and the greatest geopolitical challenge of our generation, the White House is not acting like it. The Biden administration has abandoned the Justice Department’s “China Initiative.” And just weeks ago, White House spokeswoman Karine Jean Pierre declined to call China more than a competitor, even as the FBI opens a new counterintelligence probe into the efforts. of Chinese espionage and intelligence, including efforts to influence American and local leaders every 10-12 hours.
Our leaders must treat the Chinese challenge with the seriousness it deserves. And our universities too. They should focus less on recruiting “highest bidder” students from China and more on teaching and research efforts that can produce STEM and technological advances to build a safer, more prosperous and free society here. and abroad. Their doors should be open to international students who seek to receive the best advanced education. But those doors need to be opened in a research environment that takes safety and accountability seriously.
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The neighboring Texas A&M University shows how delicate this balance can be. As of May 2020, the university has won several federal awards and over $400 million in federal grants to conduct sensitive research in various fields. The A&M System was one of five entities to receive the prestigious Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency Award for Excellence in Counterintelligence for the previous year. It is the highest honor bestowed by the US government in this category. More than 10,000 businesses and university organizations were in the running, according to a university press release.
Three months later, a professor there, also a NASA researcher, has been arrested on charges of conspiracy, misrepresentation and wire fraud. He reportedly hid his affiliations with a Chinese government program designed to advance that country’s high-tech development.
Universities should focus on improving the quality of education and outcomes for all students, while simultaneously working with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to protect the fruit of their research. Failure to prevent intellectual property theft and illicit technology transfers could weaken U.S. economic and national security interests.