New evidence indicates that China requires at least some of its students studying abroad to serve the nation’s political and ideological goals, or get sent home.
China is now under the control of a totalitarian and genocidal power—the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—so educating Chinese nationals in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) arguably serves totalitarian purposes.
The newly discovered CCP strictures on China’s students were found in documents applying to those who take China Scholarship Council (CSC) funding. In the United Kingdom, CSC scholarships are partly funded by the UK government. Many of these students from China attend top UK research universities, including Cambridge and Oxford.
In advance of their travel to the United Kingdom, a new report found that students from China are trained in political, ideological, and nationalist subjects, including "Xi Jinping Thought."
Robert Clark, a researcher at Civitas, a British institute focused on civil society, unearthed the evidence, which he published in the report. He is the report’s author.
The CCP regime vets the students, and those with “problems” are not allowed to go. This is “raising security fears,” according to Louisa Clarence-Smith at The Telegraph, which first covered the report. The CSC “was established in the mid-1990s by China’s ministry of education to support Chinese students studying overseas,” she wrote.
Mr. Clark found that over 600 students have taken CSC scholarships, mostly for China’s doctoral students in science and technology. The CSC documents discovered by Mr. Clark said that academic selection units in China are required to oversee students, provide pre-departure “ideological and political education and patriotism education,” and “keep abreast of their ideological trends.”
Students must “serve the national strategy” and “thoroughly implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” China’s selection units should not send those students “with problems,” according to one of the documents.
Mr. Clark found that as much as a third of China’s approximately $62 million funding to UK universities over the last five years came from sources linked to the People’s Liberation Army or those under U.S. bans, including those associated with hypersonic missiles, jet fighters, and satellites.
He wrote to The Epoch Times that “Absolutely central to a robust strategy going forwards is to better align UK sanctions with those of the US, including proscribing high-risk Chinese entities as military companies and [subjecting them] to trade and investment restrictions.”
He argues that the number of Chinese students in the UK should be reduced “to lower the financial overreliance on Chinese money should we need to act against malign Chinese behaviour down the line.”
“Increasing student visa opportunities for both Hong Kong and Taiwanese students is important, as too are protecting their freedoms on campuses, which currently most universities are failing to do adequately enough with the United Front campaign successfully penetrating UK higher education," Mr. Clark said.
Rejecting China’s funding of academia has already started through the cancellation of Confucius Institutes and at least one cancellation of CSC funding. Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, suspended collaboration with CSC scholarship students “to reduce the risk of industrial espionage,” according to The Telegraph.
China’s paramount leader in the 1970s, Deng Xiaoping, bargained hard with President Jimmy Carter over the opening to China in 1979 that extracted a switch of U.S. recognition from Taiwan to China. Deng, in particular, bargained for admittance of China’s STEM students to U.S. universities. A lack of STEM knowledge, Deng rightly believed at the time, was China’s greatest weakness.
In exchange for greater access to U.S. technology and markets, Deng opened China’s own markets. Given that most of the subsequent technology flow went from the United States to China, most of the exports went the other way, and Beijing’s political influence in Washington is greater than vice versa, it now appears that the CCP got the better deal.
Today, there are strong academic and business lobbies in Washington for keeping these China trade flows going, upon which American and British special interests depend.
Mr. Clark’s report indicates this dependency in its very title, “The Strategic Dependence of UK Universities on China—and where should they turn next?”
In pursuing my own admittedly anecdotal knowledge of the topic, a Chinese graduate student at Oxford University told me in 2018 that "all" Oxford graduate students who are Chinese nationals are members of the CCP, implying that not being a member would have made it impossible to rise to that level. One Oxford doctoral student in the material sciences department (who was not himself Chinese) told me that Chinese doctoral students there do not do groundbreaking work—raising the question of whether they conceal their best work for private use in China. None of this is close to definitive, and all require more research for confirmation.
What is clear, however, is that China is currently under the control of a genocidal and totalitarian political party. Therefore, strengthening China’s access to science and technology is inherently illiberal, despite academia’s perhaps wilfully blind claim that it is in support of “open” research. No research is truly open if it is politically constrained before students even arrive on foreign shores.
Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany, which value their sovereignty and democratic freedoms, should decrease China’s access to the sensitive STEM knowledge that fuels the economic and military power upon which the CCP and other adversaries of democracy depend. That means replacing STEM students from adversary countries like China and Russia with those from more friendly countries like Taiwan and Ukraine. Strengthening our friends—rather than our adversaries—just makes sense.