But those [Chinese] students often bring to campus something else from home: the watchful eyes and occasionally heavy hand of the Chinese government, manifested through its ties to many of the 150-odd chapters of the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations.
The groups have worked in tandem with Beijing to promote a pro-Chinese agenda and tamp down anti-Chinese speech on Western campuses. At Columbia a decade ago, the club mobilized students to protest a presentation about human rights violations in China, urging them to “resolutely defend the honor and dignity of the Motherland.” At Duke, the group was accused of inciting a harassment campaign in 2008 against a Chinese student who tried to mediate between sides in a Tibet protest. More recently in Durham, England, the group acted at the behest of the Chinese government to censor comments at a forum on China-Hong Kong relations.
Also reminds me of this recent news, of Mercedes Benz made to apologize to China for posting a quote (in English) by the Dalai Lama on Instagram, a platform banned in China:
EDIT: damn, downvotes are coming fast for this one. I wonder why :^)
On the one hand, I do think people should be aware of it. On the other hand, I don't see the fuss. What you describe is the norm for many groups - not just the Chinese.
>At Columbia a decade ago, the club mobilized students to protest a presentation about human rights violations in China, urging them to “resolutely defend the honor and dignity of the Motherland.”
This is normal for many groups and many issues. On my campus, any issue involving the Palestinians or Israelis would have lots of groups protesting and putting a fair amount of pressure to get the university to intercede and cancel the speaker. There was once suspicion that the Turkish government was trying to influence the views on their conflict with the Kurds. Many/most Turkish students in my time were on government scholarships, and I do know for a fact that they did ask students to spy on one another - and risk losing funding for their education if they did not get in line. For many international student organizations, it was considered normal to request for funding from their embassy to host events promoting their culture (including informational materials, videos, etc).
So yes, the Chinese are doing it, just as everyone else is. This is not even considered controversial on campuses. Religious groups do likewise. As do political groups. What's so special about the Chinese?
The article does a fairly poor job of describing of giving details/examples. What have these groups done that makes them stand out compared to the norm?
That said, all the countries you mention have strong track records of human rights violations. So really China's not surrounded by good company on that issue, and maybe the takeaway should be more that we should be cautious regarding these countries and how they might try to influence discourse on US campuses rather than saying "well a bunch of corrupt governments are all doing it, what's the big deal?".
As far as "what's so special about China"- the sheer volume of its population (and thus of its population studying abroad) as well as the fact that it is (or is close to being, depending on how you want to draw your lines) the world's leading economy are good starting points.
I'm French, went to grad school in the US, and did not see any of my countrymen protest on campus because the history department was teaching about the war of Algeria and they weren't happy about it (nor did I see Catalonian students protest that the geography department treated Spain as a single country... you get the point).
Which I agree with, which is why I said I do think people should be aware of it. But beyond merely being aware of it, I'm not sure there's much else to do. When you say "we should be cautious", what do you mean? How can we be any more cautious?
Ultimately, the situation exists because the US has strong laws on free speech and freedom. It should be a given that various groups will exploit these laws. If they are using students for propaganda purposes, the only useful response I can think of is likely counter-propaganda. Personally, I am wary of just saying "Beware of Chinese propaganda". I've seen that tactic used in various times in my life and the result has always been the equivalent of "Let's not trust what this person is saying because he is Chinese and we should beware of the Chinese" (i.e. many people heed the warnings and then blanket distrust the whole group of people).
Which is why I complained about the article: It's mostly "Beware of the Chinese on campuses" and not "Look at all these (specific) problems that have arisen because of the Chinese on campuses".
The China Internet Defense Force strikes again. My impression is that the PRC doesn't even have to pay for shills (as opposed to the ROC) as nationalistic fervor is strong enough among the general population for this sort of activity to occur organically but I could be wrong about either or both.
Again, I could be wrong about this as I am not an expert in internet shills but only a casual observer of them.
It was obvious that there was a certain propaganda aspect to this outreach effort; the reading materials provided of course didn't go into any potential negatives of the Beijing government, etc. Very much in line with the CCTV news network. My Mandarin teacher was Taiwanese and so I think that was good for me in that I wasn't getting all my exposure to Chinese from a single source.
I would not be surprised at all to learn that Chinese government operatives were using these various state-funded educational agencies for gaining intelligence and promoting their ideology. I assume the US is doing the same thing. It's a long game, with assets being put into place sometimes decades in advance. A healthy dose of cynicism is always important when dealing with state-funded groups; it's rare that countries invest such resources just out of the goodness of their altruistic hearts.
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I always forget about VOA because the government doesn't promote it inside the United States. BBC and even NHK have a much higher profile than Voice of America does in America.
Openness and fairness are also political weapons. You know your side has lost, if it reaches a state of "evaporative cooling" such that it's incapable of using such weapons.
I think my point is just: we might be asking for a lot from something as straightforward as a Chinese cultural agency.
¹ It seemed like nearly every course had a dialogue on the theme "Was machen Sie für die Umwelt?" ('What do you do for the environment?').
> the reading materials provided of course didn't go into any potential negatives of the Beijing government
I do agree it is a little more nefarious to have a foreign government fund these efforts, but how different is it from wealthy business owners funding think-tanks and academics who align with them politically? It's probably not as nefarious but it's just a matter of degree.
It's an example of China gathering soft power, similar to how the Peace Corps does good things with the backing of the US government.
Not saying that there isn't necessarily any attempt at propaganda there, but it sounds like you're just saying that these resources didn't directly criticize the CCP. Seems to me like it would be a bigger deal if learning materials did start going into the negatives of a ruling government. It would be a little odd if French materials for learning English included a denunciation of the actions of the British Empire or the Bush Administration for example (even if the denunciation was deserved).
What kind of negative things would you expect a more even-handed textbook for learning Chinese to go into?
If the US starts clamping down on this sort of thing, expect China to accuse the US government of xenophobia, since of course "we'd like to stop so many Chinese agents and toadies from infiltrating our governmental and educational systems" translates to "we hate Chinese people" in Mandarin.
EDIT: To be clear to any Chinese agents reading this, my issue is not so much with the spying and soft power campaigns so much as it is the unfair accusations of racism.
Alas, they cannot make such accusations. At most they can use "xenophobia".
I assume this is why everyone turns a blind eye to the elephant in the room when it comes to foreign influence of American affairs - Israel.
> Alas, they cannot make such accusations.
Why not? Can you prove that Russians are "another race"?
Is there such thing as a scientific definition that states unambiguously where any one race ends and another begins? I don't doubt that populations of humans commonly share family lineage, phenotypes, and genotypes, but the concept of "race" escapes any sufficient definition or real world testability.
US state laws and culture had for a long time considered the "one-drop" (of blood of a different race) a disqualifier for being considered a White American. The implication is that if you can't prove your pedigree back infinitely far, you are more likely that not to not be white.
In fact, using some inductive logic, it's almost perfectly likely that every person is "mixed-race" if you search back far enough.
This is all to say that "racism" is a description of how people see (and treat) other people. It's rarely been about actual pedigrees and almost entirely been about mental classification of others.
No, that's why it's in scare quotes.
I think DJT has already desensitized me to details like capitalization and quoting.
I was under the impression they are,
And from reading left-leaning discussion forums (HN included) you'd think they have a point. Try mentioning anything about Russia and see how long it takes until someone suggests it's probably Putin's friends doing it (Telegram is a great recurring example here on HN ).
 E.g. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16327159
Did you know that a commercial once aired in China for Qiaobi detergent, where a black man is shoved into a washing machine, and when the cycle finishes, he comes out Chinese? It aired for months, and didn't get pulled until an English-language website made it go viral internationally. The US will always have its 1970s Calgon "ancient Chinese secret" advertisement, of course.
I don't think it's intentionally racist as far as disparaging black people, but it does imply that black skin is "dirty" and wouldn't fly in, shall we say, less homogeneous cultures.
See also Darkie/Darlie toothpaste: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darlie
Even the Chinese have a word for these people who naively defend and turn a blind eye to this sort of thing: "Baizou".
"The word baizuo is, according to political scientist Zhang Chenchen, a Chinese word that ridicules Western "liberal elites". He further defined the word "baizuo" with the definition "People who only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment" and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”. The term has also been used to refer to perceived double standards of the Western media, such as the alleged bias on reporting about Islamist attacks in Xinjiang."
It's interesting that as an American, I can't tell if you are talking about the Chinese or the "liberal elite Americans" when you state this. That's a common talking point of the American right wing and could equally describe the position of any person who uses that Chinese term in seriousness.
Also, the hypocrisy of a Chinese word criticizing westerners for enforcing political correctness is humorous.
Also not sure what this word has to do with FBI anti-intelligence efforts.
(Leaving aside question of whether the Chinese “Communist” regime is on the left in any substantive sense, rather than merely as a historical rhetorical affectation.)
China is State Capitalist, not Communist. The government doesn't tell people what jobs to do and provide them with their home, food, and consumer goods
(This is structurally similar to the right-wing capitalist criticism of welfare states, which is basically the same but substitutes an amorphousus government elite in place of the capitalist one.)
And to answer your question -- yes it's a real word, and is used on Internet a lot. Literally it means white ("bai") liberals ("zuo" -- left).
And of course we have operatives in all those countries as well.
"Airbus wants answers from Germany over U.S. spying claim"
One way to summarize: colleges accept Chinese-sponsored Confucius Institutes as a way of bolstering Chinese language programs, which are valuable in the marketplace. But if you let China fund your Chinese language programs, the instructors you end up with will to some extent suppress discussion of politically-sensitive topics. And, of course, college staff probably also see this as a labor dispute: colleges that accept CI-sponsorship are in a sense outsourcing the work of professors.
What's another $50k when you're spending half a million dollars to educate your kid?
It is absurdly more expensive for int'l students but not $100k/yr.
For example UC Berkeley costs $45k/year for international students .
It's perfectly normal to have loyalties to your own (or original) country, US and China aren't exactly like USA and England, relationship wise. Most US citizens would probably do the same in China.
Add the fact that China has a lot more leverage than a "normal" country when it comes to blackmailing families /friends.
Thus, for wealthy international families sending a student to North America, this is a two-birds-one-stone situation. The child gets a nice way to get around and the parents get a discount on their nice car when they bring it back. The car even doubles as a reasonably stable way to stash cash abroad in a stable asset.
When I was at university, I remember there was an organization called "Horizons" which would show up to a number of social events and invite people to their building located near campus for free dinner. Of course, they were a Christian organization and were keen to sell their religion in this way.
I remember thinking it was a bit disingenuous but mostly just saw it as being silly. Students would go to get free dinner but seemed mostly capable of avoiding being indoctrinated. I think people such as those from the Confucius Institute should be regarded similarly. That is, they should not be seen as a real threat.
What concerns me is that giving attention to these things in the wrong way will only encourage people to develop a xenophobic attitude towards foreign students. I don't think there's legitimate cause for concern here. The overall culture and message of academia -- that one should investigate for one's self and see -- still seems intact and should be capable of standing up on its own, even if some seek to infiltrate it with their own agendas.
I assume at this point most universities realize any work they feel should be closed is not so if they have Chinese students involved.
I wonder if it might be possible to start requiring study of decentralization and free speech topics as general requirements for graduation.
You make Mandarin mandatory in the US, and you'll just end up with a bunch of people who wasted their time learning a language they will never use. And maybe some who will try using it at a Chinese-American restaurant only to learn that everyone there speaks Cantonese, or a lesser-used Chinese dialect.
There are 100k Americans living in China (2/5 of them in Hong Kong), and a trace quantity of naturalized American-Chinese, because the only practical way for a white immigrant to gain Chinese citizenship is to marry a native. Applicants without obvious Asian ancestry aren't likely to ever get accepted, even if they do manage to get legally naturalized.
So which culture should be expending greater efforts?
The concern is that these groups report to the Chinese government, which would give the Chinese government the ability to control and suppress discussion of its policies abroad-- which is a bad thing.
The closest thing to a legitimate concern they can manage to cough up is that China might be stealing American research — but if that’s the case, why aren’t we more worried about other countries (say, ones that have less in the way of their own research resources than China)?
Edit: thanks for adding the link about CI — but I thought that seemed like kind of a sidebar in the article. They sound more generally concerned about the very presence of Chinese students.
China, for example, has acquired proprietary technology and early-stage ideas through cyberenabled means. At the same time, some actors use largely legitimate, legal transfers and relationships to gain access to research fields, experts, and key enabling industrial processes that could, over time, erode America’s long-term competitive advantages
China is our geopolitical competitor. Other countries aren’t.
The OPM problem was not about students, and in one case it was about people physically located in China, unlike students who are visiting the US. If you're giving unrestricted access to a database of personal info on Americans to grad students, you have bigger problems regardless of their nationality. Find people where you have a documented history of them being trustworthy. And if necessary, require them to get clearance, that's what clearance is for.
>What if these were Russians and the title was "FBI Says Russian Operatives..." would you have said it's straight up racist fear-mongering?
Yes, I would call it fear mongering. What exactly have these operatives done? What can these operatives do?
International students are required to be registered full time, or they'll be in violation of their visa, and since 2001, universities are proactive in flagging these people down. They are only allowed to work 20 hours a week, and only on campus. Internships are allowed if part of their degree program. So it's not as if they are coming in and then running around doing heavy subversive stuff.
As foreign students, they do not have accessive to anything any other student has access to. If a professor is doing anything classified, they need to get clearance for their students, and likely are not allowed Chinese/Russian students at all.
In terms of their promoting their values/culture aggressively: Well join the club! They're doing exactly what every other group on campus is doing (many with support from their embassies).
But to get to the original statement: Yes, it is fear mongering because the article failed to indicate any kind of damage being caused that is beyond the norm for groups on campus. Industrial espionage? Show me some proof or examples. This is pretty much the same as saying "Beware! Commies on campus!" Or "Beware! Muslims on campus!" or "Beware! Abortionists on campus!"
I'll ask my original question.
Have these "operatives" done anything that is not particularly unusual compared to other student groups? Until they have, this fits the very description of fear mongering.
You don't magically have access to anything just by entering the US.
One one hand they have to be suspicious, because counterintelligence it's one of their duties. Especially after the OPM breach.
On the other hand, there is a danger of them going overboard. This is a great example of that:
They send an undercover informant to a mosque in Irvine, CA. Undercover informant instead of listening and observing, starts spewing radical crap and recruiting people. The mosque reports him to the FBI. That was an awkward Monday morning meeting I bet. Or maybe business as usual, who knows...
I'm thinking, for instance, in the freedom fighters against the Russian invasion in Afghanistan, Noriega, weaponization of Iraq against Iran... we could keep going.
Here, they have access to learn and potentially influence our culture from within. Most importantly, if the FBI is correct and they exist, they most likely do not have your interests in mind.
That said, I don't know how one would deal with this without causing McCarthy style hysteria and sweeping up innocent students along with operatives.
What is the distinction here?
I do not generally expect international students on a student visa, with no intention of becoming citizens, to forget about the interests of their home country and prioritize the interests of the country they're visiting. They're here because the school is good, that's it.
Such sentiment would be naive. Particularly in an authoritarian nation swarming with propaganda. There are plenty of children potentially willing to dedicate themselves to the interests of the party, whether for perceived virtue, or fear of retribution.
Well, no, I'm not sure what "espionage" would mean here? Does it mean stealing information? Doubtful. Unionizing graduate students? Hard to believe. Thwarting the education of others? Haven't seen it. While the Chinese may be placing people into positions at American universities with the idea that they might one day be useful, I'm not sure what would could as espionage. If anything I'd guess the "operatives" would mostly be keeping track of the activities of other Chinese students, and possibly serving as conduits for more covert operatives, but I'm doubtful they are doing anything that would legally qualify as espionage.
You dont think the U.S. is doing at least as much elsewhere?
You'd have to be clearer about what the "as much" is, but I'm doubtful the US is putting much effort into putting operatives into academic positions abroad. Probably they want to open channels of communication with people who are already there, but I'm doubtful we're doing anything particularly effective involving "fake" students. And again, what would the goal of this be?
All this talk of collusion with Russia recently doesn't bother you
Seems worth investigating, but no, nothing I've heard so far bothers me. There are lots of countries that have great interest in affecting/effecting US policies, and I'd presume that Russia would be one of them. I'm doubtful they were particularly effective in influencing an election, though, or even that they were the country with the greatest influence. This is the place where I assume the US is doing much more with regard to other country's elections, possibly with greater impact.
Particularly in an authoritarian nation swarming with propaganda.
I don't know your politics well enough to know if you mean China, Russia, or the US here? If you point is that there likely exist Chinese students who are willing to do what the Chinese government asks them in return for being allowed to study abroad, then sure. But I'd guess that most of what is being asked is "Learn everything they will teach you and then come home and build a better China", and I think that's a good thing?
After all, these students are future leaders. Understanding how to manipulate them or weaken them and their futures, or how to sow divisiveness amongst them or other Americans...
Wouldn't such information make it easier to at least, say, pose plausibly as influential "trolls" with relevant cultural content on the internet?
Just as in software, one doesn't necessarily need to anticipate a specific threat to recognize attack surface.
Having foreign students attend our colleges is something that we have long recognized is good for our country and for the world. Obviously it's an attack surface too, in the same way that Wikipedia's "edit" button is an attack surface. But if we want to actually maintain the policies and goals that led us to deciding that we want foreign students to attend our colleges, we need to be clear about why these particular foreign students are different.
Using the software analogy, it's like the observation that the only computer that's "safe" from internet hackers is one that not connected to the the internet (and ideally turned off). While (mostly) true, it's not a particularly useful observation unless one is willing to forgo all the positive aspects of connectivity.
one doesn't necessarily need to anticipate a specific threat to recognize attack surface.
I'd agree that it's worth identifying the vulnerability, but I think that to be useful the emphasis would need to be on the differential of the potential threat versus expected benefit. I guess I believe enough in the general positives of education that in the absence of specifics I'm willing to bet that educating Chinese students is a net gain for the world.
(Personally, the fact that foreign students can and do enroll in US universities is part of our culture.)
You say that as if it is some nefarious goal, when it is almost always the goal for all international student groups: Promoting their culture. It's not a hidden agenda - it is usually explicit.
As others have pointed out, for all the warnings, the article doesn't point out anything particularly bad that these groups on campus do.
Guess its a form of voting with your feet.
From the article:
> warned U.S. universities about Chinese intelligence operatives active on their campuses
The strange parts guy explained it some in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdKV6x13cz8
"Historically, "shanzhai" is sometimes used as a metaphor to describe bandits who oppose and evade the corrupted authority to perform deeds they see as justified."
Seems to be a bit like the Robin Hood mythos in western culture.
You need to balance reasonable skepticism and dislike of three-letter agencies with the fact that they also do real work in addressing threats from other state actors.
EDIT: If you want a take on this from a less law enforcement-y source, try https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/01/16/how-china.... Politico can hardly be described as paranoid war-hawks.
Edit: That article describes educational institutions run by the Chinese government, rather than the infiltration of US institutions. These strike me as very different topics, especially since one is overt and the other covert.
You're presenting a curious case here. You want the intelligence community to respond to threats from state actors, but without ever telling the public that's what they're doing? There are two problems with this:
1. Government transparency - I want to know what the FBI is up to. You are advocating more opacity in their operations, for uncertain gain.
2. What if "doing something about it" requires cooperation from the public? The specific issues under discussion is the Confucius Institutes being established at various universities, but these are not illegal and the FBI has no power to get rid of them, nor do I want them to have that power. All they can do is point out the threat and leave the ultimate decision to the university administrators.
2. The issue of infiltrating US institutions seems separate from overtly running ChiCom schools on US soil.
1 A federal police force (with reduced surveillance powers) which would take over the BATF and the currency and uniformed part of the secret service.
2 A separate contra espionage organisation similar to MI5
Is it just the elites trying to put pressure on china or are we at the beginning stages of a fundamental shift in our relations with china?
Have the elites decided on a more antagonistic position against china?
while I recognize there may be impacts to such a decision, I feel apathetic about the decisions of "the elite". I sometimes imagine that we would all benefit from taking this view.
In recent years, and especially since Xi became president in 2012, the Chinese government has sought various ways to increase its influence over China’s 40 million-strong diaspora. The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, a ministry specifically dedicated to the task, works to extend the party’s reach, and the push has seen increasing success in New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, where local ethnic Chinese organizations have begun to vocally push for pro-Beijing policies.
For years The Washington Post ran a paid supplement from the China Daily supplement, which was basically propaganda aimed at English speakers (https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/of...):
For instance, the item above: "Stop Telling Us What We Should Do," with "we" being China and the object of the imperative sentence being the nagging United States. Or this one and this, clarifying how unfair it was for foreigners to criticize China's "rare earths" exports policy. As a matter of fact, China's "actions taken in the past few months, and those to be taken in the months to come, are totally legitimate."
In Canada, the CCP pushed Canadian officials to ban English-language reporters from certain events featuring a Chinese official, and kick out a reporter from a local Chinese newspaper that criticized China's human rights record (https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/wynne-agrees-t...).
In Hong Kong, the situation for media companies is much worse - agents kidnapped book publishers and booksellers off the street in Hong Kong and Thailand and shipped them to China for trial. Their crimes? Publishing or selling unauthorized books about government officials (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/17/china-behaving... ).
Lam, the 61-year-old manager of the Causeway Bay bookstore, claimed he had spent months in solitary confinement in a cramped cell after being snatched by a group of men as he entered mainland China in October 2015.
“They blindfolded me and put a cap on my head and basically bundled me up,” Lam told reporters.
Lam claimed Chinese agents had forced him to confess to crimes he had not committed during his detention. He said he had decided to speak out after thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest the booksellers’ disappearances.
Either way, I find it hard to believe. If its the former, its not shocking. If its the latter, it's disappointing but not at all surprising.
Not sure I follow. So say, talking about Chinese hackers exfiltrating the OPM database, and exposing the most intimate secrets of pretty much every 3 letter agency employee (maybe except CIA) is now racist bullshit?
Isn't talking about Russian hackers also racist then?
> They have a long-term strategic objective to become a world power.
> Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats
O RLY? Funny, last I checked, China was a world power. Shit, China rivals the US as a world power.
> Most Americans have not heard of all of these companies.
> Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat
Surprise surprise! Well, most American's haven't heard of Acxiom either. It's always surprising how much other people don't know, isn't it?
And, FWIW, I bet more people have heard about ZTE than half the organizations that contribute to Mark Warner's campaigns. New companies entering our markets from China have to play by the same rules our own companies do, how is this any different. If it is different, why? How does this matter in the discussion of Chinese intelligence gathering. More importantly, who cares?
The fear-mongerers care, that's who.