Chinese Spies on Campus

Chinese Communist Party Uses Graduate Students, Professors as Spies

Chinese national Ji Chaoqun was an engineering student at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The FBI discovered he had been recruited by Chinese spies in Chicago who were determined to steal US Aerotech secrets. On a trip back to China, Ji Chaoqun met with his handler, a high-ranking officer in a Chinese government intelligence agency. The handler has since been extradited to the US, where he is in custody.

In a separate incident, a naturalized U.S. citizen, Xudong “William” Yao, a software engineer, stole trade secrets from a Caterpillar subsidiary in suburban Chicago. In 2011, Chunlai Yang, another Chinese national and software engineer, downloaded more than 10,000 files of CME Group’s proprietary computer code with plans to take the data back to China. The idea was to increase the trading volume at a Chinese government controlled electronic trading exchange.

University of Texas professor Bo Mao stole proprietary technology from an American Silicon Valley start-up and handed it over to a subsidiary of Huawei. A Chinese Harvard-affiliated cancer researcher was arrested attempting to smuggle 21 vials of cells stolen from a laboratory at a Boston hospital. A Chinese professor at the University of Kansas was charged with concealing his ties to a Chinese university. A Chinese scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles was caught trying to ship banned missile technology back to China.

These are just a few of the countless arrests and investigations by the FBI, which center around Chinese infiltration of US academia. Nearly a third of all international students at U.S. colleges and universities come from China. In the 2017-2018 academic year, not counting high school students, there were roughly 360,000 Chinese students at US universities and colleges. Beijing uses Chinese students, professors and Confucius Institutes (Chinese language centers sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party) to further their intelligence gathering activities.

Chinese Spies: It’s All About the Money

While many American universities have discontinued their Confucius Institutes, others have chosen not to. This is because they do not wish to lose the accompanying grants from the Chinese Communist Party. Additionally, they have become dependent on Chinese students, who pay double tuition at public institutions and generally pay full price at private ones.

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John Demers, assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, who heads up the China Initiative, said “China is the number one intelligence threat to the U.S. right now…On the economic side … it’s far and away the number one threat to the U.S. in terms of theft of intellectual property.” For this reason, the FBI has asked universities to implement mechanisms which monitor Chinese students, professors, and researchers.

According to Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner: “The overwhelming number of counterintelligence cases in our country now involve Chinese nationals…The Chinese spy services are literally threatening Chinese families…If your son or daughter does not come back [from the US] and come back with intellectual property, you the family will be put in jeopardy.”

China Exploits Loopholes

The case of accused Chinese spy Ji Chaoqun has become an investigation into visa fraud. This is a crime involving a federal program which allows Chinese students to remain in the US and work for one year before returning to their country. An investigation determined that an estimated 2,600 Chinese nationals claim to work in the US for companies that do not exist. The FBI has determined that Chinese government intelligence services establish fake companies in the US.

Once this is accomplished, they hire spy recruits so they can have an income and obtain a work permit to remain in the US longer. According to US authorities, Chinese intelligence officers focus their recruitment efforts on Chinese students, particularly graduate students. Their efforts are not focused exclusively on college students however; high school students can also be groomed.

About 60,000 Chinese students are attending US high schools, many of which are Christian high schools. It seems like a contradiction to have Communist Chinese parents sending their children to Christian schools in the US, but the reason they do it is to exploit a loophole in the visa rules. In the US, international exchange students are only permitted to attend one year of public high school, but they can attend private schools for as long as they wish. And about 80% of private schools in US are religious schools.

Like so many of China’s other infiltrations in the US, this one is also assisted by Americans motivated by greed. The US has no national high school curriculum. The same US private high schools who will receive an average of $50,000 for tuition and dorm from Chinese students are permitted to evaluate the transfer credits of those Chinese students. Consequently, the evaluations are so liberal as to raise questions about academic integrity.

Schools in Charge of Testing

The US requires a certain level of English proficiency before granting a student visa. And, while the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a guideline, the rules are written in such a fashion that schools can administer their own exams or have their own evaluations. Students can even enter with a low score, as long as they are admitted into ESL classes while studying for a high school diploma. In some cases, by high school graduation, students may not have reached the English proficiency level required to begin high school studies.

Private schools in the US have been known to grant Chinese students a foreign language credit, because they speak Chinese. They count English as a Second Language (ESL) in lieu of American literature. And some grant American history credit for a world history course taught in China which, it was claimed, included American history. Criteria Chinese parents use when choosing which US high school to send their children to is often predicated on which one will grant them the most transfer credit.

By helping Chinese students fudge their credentials, US private schools are not only skirting visa fraud, but potentially endangering national security. FBI Director Christopher Wray “warned Chinese intelligence was using a ‘societal approach’ to stealing research and technological advancements – a plan that included leveraging Chinese students in the U.S.” If we accept that only a small percentage of Chinese students are spies, then reducing the number of Chinese students should reduce the number of spies.

Motivated by Money

Or perhaps, reducing the number of Chinese students will increase the percentage of Chinese spies, making them easier to screen and to catch. Private schools, even non-profits, are effectively private US companies who are motivated by money. By allowing US private companies to aid Chinese students, parents, and the communist government to bend and skirt the rules, they are increasing the intelligence threat to the United States.

China plays a long game with everything, including spying. There have been cases in which China was grooming US students to become receptive to the Chinese regime and then guiding them into careers in US intelligence agencies. How much easier would it be then for the communist party to groom a Chinese high school student to graduate a US high school, attend a US university, major in a STEM field, and then steal intellectual property on behalf of the Chinese government?

Someone asked if religious lessons in Christian schools would change the way Chinese students thought. Chinese communist kids are raised in a system where you always parrot what you are told, and where you are graded on how well you repeat slogans. But you are also trained to not believe any of it. They will attend chapel or whatever religious requirements exist in American Christian schools, but will see it as just one more requirement which they have to pay lip-service to in order to please the authorities.

China’s Strategy

Boston’s top FBI agent, Joseph Bonavolonta said, “No country poses a greater, more severe or long-term threat to our national security and economic prosperity than China…China’s communist government’s goal, simply put, is to replace the U.S. as the world superpower, and they are breaking the law to get there.” 

The FBI published a report titled, China: The Risk to Academia, in which they explained that the Chinese government has a history of state-sponsored economic espionage. According to this report, China is also the world leader in intellectual property theft. Annually, it is estimated that the US loses between $225 billion and $600 billion to Chinese IP Theft, intellectual property violations, and industrial espionage.  

The Chinse government publishes medium- and long-term plans which it utilizes to verbalize and further the country’s strategic objectives. Two of the most important ones are the 13th Five-Year Plan and Made in China 2025, both of which call for China to become the preeminent technological power on Earth. The 13th Five Year plan explicitly calls for Chinese firms to eliminate competition in 10 specific fields:

“Information technology, Computer numerical control machine tools and robotics, Aerospace equipment, Marine engineering equipment and high-tech ships, Advanced rail transportation equipment, Energy-efficient and new-energy automobiles, Electric power equipment, Agricultural equipment, New materials, Biomedicine and high-performance medical instruments.”

Additionally, by 2030, the CCP wish to become the dominant military power. To achieve these aims, they recruit students (largely graduate students in STEM fields). They use them to collect “economic, scientific, and technological intelligence from U.S. institutions to ultimately benefit Chinese academic institutions and businesses.”

GOP Senator Says Don’t Let Chinese Students Study STEM in U.S.” This headline reveals that many US lawmakers are becoming aware of the threat China poses to US national interests. The FBI knows and is now telling universities and law makers alike that the CCP uses Chinese students for espionage in the US. They are used for IP theft, economic espionage, stealing technological and biological data and on and on. The FBI has opened countless investigations into students stealing bio samples from labs and robotics technology.

Chinese Spies: A New World Order

The CCP utilize their economic rise, as well as state sponsored espionage, hacking, and IP theft to modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In international organizations from the United Nations (UN), to the World Health Organization (WHO), to the World Trade Organization (WTO), China is known to skirt the rules if not outright break them. Their ultimate goal would be to create a new world order, where China would replace the US and where Chinese values would drive these world organizations.

As the coronavirus drove most of the world into lockdown, schools were forced to close around the globe. Under the guise of helping, China offered US schools a free E-learning-platform called Lingo Bus, an affiliate of VIPKID. This program is known to censor anti-Chinese Communist Party content. Apparently, the lessons included a patriotic speech by Xi Jinping and a grand parade of PLA soldiers, in addition to teaching Chinese Communist ‘Morality and Values.”

While it may seem unfair to hold all Chinese students under suspicion, there are some economic and geopolitical realities which need to be considered. It costs an average of $60,000 per year for a Chinese student to study in the US. The average income in China is about $10,000 per year. Unemployment is about to hit 10%, and some experts believe it may go as high as 20%. This is not counting hundreds of millions of migrant workers who are outside of the counting.

The Chinese government has banned class trips to America. It has banned many AP courses from being taught at schools in China and banned schools from having foreign principals and headmasters. They have severely restricted recruitment of Chinese students by American universities while severely restricting agencies in China which place Chinese students in US schools and universities. The Communist party has also been running a propaganda campaign against the US, causing many Chinese people to hate America.

On a Mission

All of these factors should result in a tremendous decrease in the number of Chinese students coming to the US, except for those funded by or on a mission from the Communist party. The percentage of Chinese students who are spies will increase dramatically as the number of legitimate students decreases. In addition to spying through Chinese students, another means of spying or of recruiting spies is offering leading American academics or engineers all-expense-paid trips to China.

In China, they may be lavished with money and gifts and then offered lucrative consulting positions at Chinese research institutions. This is effectively how Harvard Professor Dr. Charles Lieber was recruited into China’s Thousand Talents Program. This is the program which paid him as much per month as the average US professor earns per year in exchange for building a secure research lab in Wuhan, China. Dr. Lieber is now facing a lengthy prison sentence. But the question remains, how many more Dr. Liebers are out there? And how many more Chinese students at US universities have been recruited as spies?


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