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Report warns China using scholarship programs to plant spies, quash dissent

May 13

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Academics and Researchers in the United Kingdom assert that a Chinese scholarship program is being leveraged by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to steal technology, gather intelligence, and monitor and intimidate critics of the communist regime. The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation organized a panel discussion in the Scottish Parliament, expressing concerns over the influence of Chinese government-sponsored scholarship programs in Scottish universities.

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The panel discussions centered on a 2023 report describing funding from the China Scholarship Council as forwarding Chinese “propaganda and statecraft.”

Fiona Quimbre, a defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, emphasizes that the problem of technology transfer with China extends beyond the stereotypical image of hackers in hoodies.

“We tend to think of a student who comes into the lab, steals information, and transfers it,” Quimbre said. “It’s much broader than this. The problem is larger, and the guidance needs to reflect this concretely.”

Robert Clark, the author of the report, revealed that at least 46 U.K. universities received between $151 million-$194 million from Chinese sources between 2017 and 2023.

Up to $30 million of this funding came from sources that were under U.S. sanctions. Clark’s findings suggest that these scholarships are used to plant spies, suppress criticism of the Chinese regime within academic settings, and steal intellectual property.

The U.K. Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee describes British universities as a “rich feeding ground” for China’s efforts. Notably, three U.K. universities received 100% of their Chinese funding from sources tied to military defense agencies or the People’s Liberation Army.

The issue of foreign interference in Scottish academia has prompted calls for a thorough investigation into university funding. Alicia Kearns, member of U.K. Parliament, questions the partnership between Edinburgh University and Chinese missile manufacturer, the Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, whose drones have been used in Xinjiang. She highlights the ethical considerations and human rights implications of such collaborations.

Alyssa Fong, a former neuroscience student and staff member at Edinburgh University, shares her experiences of surveillance and pressure from CCP associates during her time in Scotland. Fong said scholarship recipients regularly report to Chinese handlers who continuously monitor dissent at events focusing on sensitive topics like Tibet, Xinjiang, or Hong Kong. In some cases, students are sent back to China to face punishment.

Panel members urge universities to ensure their actions align with “academic freedoms and institutional autonomy.” According to Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK, universities have both a moral and legal responsibility to protect academic freedom. Ethical considerations and freedom of speech are woven through the guidance provided by institutions.

However, Clark’s report clarifies that none of the UK Universities, institutes, or funding bodies mentioned are accused of knowingly contributing to the development of China’s military or its military industries.

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[KARAH RUCKER]

A NEW WARNING ABOUT CHINESE SPIES AND THREATS TO THE WEST — THIS TIME ON UNIVERSITY CAMPUSES.

ACADEMICS AND RESEARCHERS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM SAY THAT A CHINESE SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM IS BEING LEVERAGED BY THE C-C-P TO STEAL TECHNOLOGY, GATHER INTELLIGENCE AND MONITOR AND INTIMIDATE CRITICS OF THE COMMUNIST REGIME.

LAST WEEK, THE “COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM IN HONG KONG FOUNDATION” ORGANIZED A PANEL DISCUSSION IN THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT, EXPRESSING CONCERNS OVER THE INFLUENCE OF CHINESE GOVERNMENT-SPONSORED SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAMS IN SCOTTISH UNIVERSITIES.

THE PANEL DISCUSSIONS CENTERED ON A 2023 REPORT DESCRIBING FUNDING FROM THE “CHINA SCHOLARSHIP COUNCIL” AS TO FORWARDING CHINESE “PROPAGANDA AND STATECRAFT.”

FIONA QUIMBRE
DEFENSE ANALYST | RAND CORPORATION
“We tend to think of hackers in cyber security as men in a basement with hoodies. Currently, the way we think about the problem in terms of technology transfer with China is very similar. We think of a student who comes into the lab, will steal information and transfer it. It’s much more broader than this. The problem is much larger, and the guidance needs to reflect this concretely.”

[KARAH RUCKER]

ROBERT CLARK, THE AUTHOR OF THE REPORT, REVEALED THAT at least 46 UK UNIVERSITIES RECEIVED BETWEEN $151 MILLION AND $194 MILLION DOLLARS FROM CHINESE SOURCES BETWEEN 2017 AND 2023 — UP TO $30 MILLION OF THIS FUNDING CAME FROM SOURCES THAT WERE UNDER U-S SANCTIONS.

CLARK’S FINDINGS SUGGEST THAT THESE SCHOLARSHIPS ARE USED TO PLANT SPIES, SUPPRESS CRITICISM OF THE CHINESE REGIME WITHIN ACADEMIC SETTINGS AND STEAL INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY.

THE UK PARLIAMENT’S INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY COMMITTEE DESCRIBED BRITISH UNIVERSITIES AS A “RICH FEEDING GROUND” FOR CHINA’S EFFORTS.

THREE UK UNIVERSITIES RECEIVED 100 PER CENT OF THEIR CHINESE FUNDING CAME FROM SOURCES TIED TO MILITARY DEFENSE AGENCIES OR THE PEOPLE’S LIBERATION ARMY.

THE ISSUE OF FOREIGN INTERFERENCE IN SCOTTISH ACADEMIA HAS PROMPTED CALLS FOR A THOROUGH INVESTIGATION INTO UNIVERSITY FUNDING.

ALICIA KEARNS
MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT OF THE UNITED KINGDOM
“At Edinburgh University, they partnered with a missile, a Chinese missile manufacturer, the Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, whose drones have been used in Xinjiang. So again, it seems odd that A: They think that partnering with a military organization of a country that we cannot say is always in line with us in terms of our thinking. But secondly, a country that without question has committed human rights violations, specifically with a company that is committing those.”

[KARAH RUCKER]

ALYSSA FONG OF THE COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM IN HONG KONG FOUNDATION AND A FORMER NEUROSCIENCE STUDENT AND STAFF MEMBER AT EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY, SHARED HER OWN EXPERIENCES, TELLING OF SURVEILLANCE AND PRESSURE FROM C-C-P ASSOCIATES DURING HER TIME IN SCOTLAND.

SHE SAYS SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENTS REGULARLY REPORT TO CHINESE HANDLERS WHO CONTINUOUSLY MONITOR DISSENT AT EVENTS FOCUSING ON SENSITIVE TOPICS LIKE TIBET, XINJIANG, OR HONG KONG — IN SOME CASES STUDENTS ARE SENT BACK HOME TO CHINA TO FACE PUNISHMENT.

PANEL MEMBERS URGED UNIVERSITIES TO ENSURE THEIR ACTIONS ARE CONSISTENT WITH “ACADEMIC FREEDOMS AND INSTITUTIONAL AUTONOMY.”

VIVIENNE STERN
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF UNIVERSITIES UK
“Universities have not only a moral responsibility to protect academic freedom, they’ve got a legal responsibility to do that. And, you know, referring back to the guidance which we produced, academic freedom, ethical considerations, considerations around freedom of speech are woven through that guidance, and they’re woven through every case study that we have gathered on the way that that is, being enacted within institutions.”

HOWEVER — CLARK REPORTS THAT NONE OF THE UK UNIVERSITIES, INSTITUTES, OR FUNDING BODIES MENTIONED IN HIS REPORT ARE ACCUSED OF KNOWINGLY CONTRIBUTING TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF CHINA’S MILITARY OR ITS MILITARY INDUSTRIES.

TO READ THE REPORT AND FIND A MORE IN-DEPTH ANALYSIS OF CHINA’S INFLUENCE IN ACADEMIA DOWNLOAD THE STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS APP OR VISIT US AT SAN DOT COM.