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Rubio Calls for End to U.S-China University Partnerships that Support the Development of Chinese Military Technologies
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent letters to 22 U.S. universities urging them to terminate their academic and research partnerships with universities located in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that support Beijing’s military-civil fusion (MCF) strategy. Through MCF, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) aims to increase the capabilities and lethality of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) by acquiring and developing the world’s cutting-edge technology, including through theft. A key part of this strategy is the recruitment of intelligent and innovative professionals around the world whose expertise is often unwittingly exploited through seemingly harmless academic collaboration and exchange.
“For decades, Beijing has openly exploited the expertise of Chinese students and scholars studying or conducting research in the United States to accelerate the PRC’s economic and military development,” Rubio wrote. “For example, according to one study conducted between 2007 and 2017, the PLA reportedly sent more than 2,500 of its own scientists abroad to study and work at foreign universities. Some of these scientists traveled abroad under civilian cover so as to obfuscate their military affiliations.”
“I remain deeply concerned by the PLA’s aggressive campaign to infiltrate America’s research enterprise,” Rubio concluded. “I respectfully urge you to terminate the above outlined partnership agreement, and to take steps to thoroughly vet your other academic partners in the PRC for similar risks involving the misappropriation of academic research.”
Using information available through open sources, Rubio uncovered partnerships that contribute to the PRC’s MCF strategy at the following U.S. universities:
1. Rutgers University
2. The University of Texas at Dallas
3. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville
4. The University of Washington
5. Texas A&M University
6. Arizona State University
7. Pacific Lutheran University
8. The University of Utah
9. Portland State University
10. The University of Delaware
11. San Diego Global Knowledge University
12. Stanford University
13. Emory University
14. The College of William and Mary
15. Tufts University
16. San Francisco State University
17. The University of Toledo
18. The University of Oregon
19. The University of Central Arkansas
20. Xavier University of Louisiana
21. Bryant University
22. Alfred University
Rubio is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a senior member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The full text of one of the letters is below. Each individual letter is hyperlinked above.
Dear President Assanis:
I write to urge you to terminate your existing academic and research partnerships with universities located in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that have been overtly tasked by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to support Beijing’s military-industrial complex.
In a speech last year in Beijing, CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping said that the PRC would “exhaust all means” to recruit intelligent and innovative professionals from around the world to support the technological development of the CCP’s military, known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Such efforts, which include the PRC’s Thousand Talents Program and its Double First-Class University Plan, are unambiguously geared towards advancing military-civil fusion (MCF), a national strategy of the CCP aimed at acquiring and developing the world’s cutting-edge technology, including through theft, to achieve economic and military dominance.
In recent months, the PRC’s increasingly aggressive tactics have also ensnared several notable U.S. academics and jeopardized the standing of their university patrons. This includes once-acclaimed Harvard University professor Charles Lieber, who in December 2021 was convicted in federal court on charges stemming from his illicit relationship with the PRC government. Lieber’s case, and other similar convictions, raise important questions about how the United States assesses risk to its national security within its broader research enterprise. The PRC is fully integrating Chinese private industry and the PRC’s civilian universities into their MCF strategy. To that end, nearly 70 Chinese civilian universities have been officially designated as part of the PRC’s defense enterprise by the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), the civilian agency responsible for funding commercial and academic research in support of the PLA’s requirements. That list of 70 PLA-linked civilian universities includes at least one of your current academic partners in the PRC.
For decades, Beijing has openly exploited the expertise of Chinese students and scholars studying or conducting research in the United States to accelerate the PRC’s economic and military development. For example, according to one study conducted between 2007 and 2017, the PLA reportedly sent more than 2,500 of its own scientists abroad to study and work at foreign universities. Some of these scientists travelled abroad under civilian cover so as to obfuscate their military affiliations. After completing their studies, these scientists returned to the PRC to support the country’s military-industrial complex, including its nuclear weapons program and cyber-espionage platforms. Increasingly, Beijing has also come to rely on its civilian students and researchers to enable such nefarious work. This includes formal sponsorship of promising Chinese scholars in science, technology, engineering, and math to study at American and other foreign universities, after which time they are expected to return to the PRC to provide the technological know-how and talent needed to support its defense industry.
Information available in open sources indicates that the University of Delaware currently maintains at least one partnership agreement with Xiamen University, with whom it previously jointly operated a Confucius Institute.6 Even though the University of Delaware shuttered its Confucius Institute, the university elected to maintain its partnership with Xiamen, which, according to public records, actively supports Beijing’s military-industrial complex. An unclassified sample of such work is detailed below. More specifically, in 2018, Xiamen entered into a joint supervision agreement between the Chinese Ministry of Education, the Fujian Provincial Government, and SASTIND to engage in classified Chinese defense research. The arrangement was designed to “upgrade the university’s ability to innovate defense science and technology and actively integrate itself with the development of military-civil fusion.” Xiamen is also involved in the development of military-use heavy- duty coatings. Resistant to corrosive chemicals and able to withstand extreme heat and cold, these water-repellent, non-stick coatings are designed to ensure that military vehicles, aircraft, and communications equipment can operate in harsh conditions. For example, in 2017, Xiamen University, Fujian Normal University, Fujian Liheng Paint Co. Ltd, and PLA Unit 63983 jointly established the defense focused Haixi Liheng New Materials Research Institute.
Xiamen is also involved in economic espionage. In 2020, for instance, a Brooklyn jury concluded that a visiting Chinese professor from Xiamen University conspired with Huawei Technologies to steal trade secrets from U.S. semiconductor company, CNEX Labs. This professor, Bo Mao, also surreptitiously downloaded gigabytes of sensitive data from the University of Texas at Arlington’s private server while serving as a visitor professor.
I remain deeply concerned by the PLA’s aggressive campaign to infiltrate America’s research enterprise. I respectfully urge you to terminate the above outlined partnership agreement, and to take steps to thoroughly vet your other academic partners in the PRC for similar risks involving the misappropriation of academic research. Thank you for your time and attention to this important matter.