Research for Sale

May 31, 2024 / Written by: Gary Isbell

Easy Chinese Money Acquires Sensitive Technology Under the Guise of Research

China’s inability to produce cutting-edge technological advancements has resulted in using American universities for R&D to compete with the U.S. in the marketplace. This unethical and aggressive behavior has not endeared the Chinese to American politicians or businessmen. Unfair trade practices, espionage and the stealing of sensitive data are all alleged as the Chinese pretend to work with American universities for global academic achievement.

In a world where Chinese companies face a frigid reception in the U.S., American universities continue to extend welcoming arms for easy Chinese money. Contracts valued at $2.32 billion between 2012 and 2024 reveal a unique dynamic, raising concerns in Congress about potential national security risks posed by pseudo-academic ties.

Across nearly 200 U.S. colleges and universities, a web of agreements with Chinese businesses thrives while Chinese communism continues to influence American students through research and training. Amidst escalating U.S.-China tensions, one important question goes unanswered: How do these collaborations balance national security and academic pursuits with ideological realities?

The allure of American expertise presents a moral dilemma for universities and policymakers. It underscores the one-sided strategic advantage China gains through these partnerships and sparks debates on the boundaries of collaboration with our declared adversaries.

Endowments, often provided by individuals in exchange for naming rights for new buildings, often attract more attention due to their substantial amounts. However, research contracts involve significantly more money, and the outcome serves our competitors and enemies.

Research has revealed that the total value of university contracts linked to China over the past decade surpassed reported Chinese donations by 250 percent, aligning with similar trends from other nations. A concerning stat shows that China is the primary source of foreign students in American universities, with their expenditures, including tuition, constituting a significant portion of university budgets compared to contracts and gifts.

Universities must disclose to the Education Department any foreign gift or contract exceeding $250,000. Despite this requirement, enforcement has historically been lax, leading to allegations that billions remain unreported, including instances of reporting inaccuracies.

There is a growing demand on Capitol Hill to scrutinize Chinese contracts with U.S. educational institutions for the undeniable potential of national security threats.

Disclosures of contracts by major public universities shed light on how they span various industries subsidized by the communist party in Beijing. These include but are not limited to medicine, agriculture, manufacturing and the arts.

Meanwhile, liberal beneficiaries at universities argue that easy Chinese money, coupled with American expertise, benefits society as a whole. Critics of this one-sided alliance raise concerns about the communist party’s influence over America’s academic and business sectors and the theft of sensitive data.

American universities that have contracted with the Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company WuXi AppTec face a dilemma similar to those dealing with Huawei Technologies in telecommunications. Despite AppTec’s global recognition for medical innovations approved by the FDA, questions linger in Washington about Beijing’s potential misuse of its advancements, akin to the concerns surrounding Huawei, which has deep ties to the Chinese communist party and the military.

A ten-count indictment has been unsealed in the Western District of Washington State, charging Huawei Device Co., Ltd. and Huawei Device Co. USA with conspiracy to steal trade secrets, attempted theft of trade secrets, seven counts of wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice. Charges against Huawei include aiding North Korea and assisting Iran’s government in domestic surveillance.

Both AppTec and Huawei have partnered with U.S. universities, asserting their status as “private” entities and denying any influence from the Chinese government or posing risks to U.S. national security. However, no business functions successfully in China without Beijing sanctioning or controlling an industry essential to its infrastructure.

Amid concerns that Beijing may use biological discoveries for military purposes, Congress aims to label AppTec as an “adversary biotech company of concern,” hindering partnerships with U.S. organizations receiving federal funding. While AppTec defends against this classification, the concern in Congress is a logical reaction to dealing with any company under the auspices of a communist regime.

The University of Washington once established a pioneering academic center for virtual reality funded by Facebook, Google and Huawei. However, after U.S. restrictions on dealings with Huawei, the university cut ties after Huawei’s funding history and involvement in the Reality Lab were disclosed.

Huawei’s silence on contracts with U.S. universities, like the University of Washington, has drawn attention. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (CFIUS) noted a growing concern over contracts with U.S. universities. The commission is now advising Congress to push for legislation treating Chinese contracts as foreign acquisitions under CFIUS for national security, with growing concerns that contracts serve as gateways to proprietary American R&D.

Notably, the examination of Chinese contracts highlights China’s quest for specialized training that it is incapable of providing through its universities and R&D. China’s lack of small planes and public airstrips led to major airlines, including Air China, paying millions to the University of North Dakota for pilot licenses. From 2018 to 2022, the University of North Dakota reportedly signed over $37 million in deals with Chinese carriers.

At North Dakota’s aerospace academy, student pilots clocked training hours near the Grand Forks Air Force Base, a hub for military drones. Despite the significant financial boost from Chinese airlines, North Dakota remains tight-lipped about its involvement with Chinese carriers and the potential security risks they pose.

China’s involvement in U.S. school funding poses complex challenges. However, universities should prioritize principles and research over financial gains from China, considering the potential risks associated with military involvement with our adversaries.

One common university partnership, Confucius Institutes, provided Chinese-language training on U.S. campuses. However, due to concerns about ties to China’s diplomatic missions, many institutes, including the one at the University of Oklahoma, have been shut down.

Noteworthy collaborations with China include franchise-like agreements for satellite campuses abroad. For instance, New York University received substantial Chinese funding, with reported contracts exceeding $46.5 million solely for its Shanghai branch in 2021.

The Juilliard School has disclosed over $133 million in funding for its Tianjin Juilliard School near Beijing.

Various American administrations have accused the Chinese communist party of exploiting U.S. campuses to advance its interests through unethical means. Law enforcement agencies have warned about China stealing technological secrets, spreading propaganda, suppressing free speech and intimidating students on university grounds. These activities mirror Beijing’s treatment of Chinese citizens subject to authoritarian communism.

The University of Michigan, situated near Detroit’s auto industry, has received approximately $1 million in contracts from DiDi Global, a Chinese ride-sharing company backed by communist government funding that challenged Uber’s presence in the market. Unfortunately, DiDi committed “serious violations of the law in collecting and using personal information,” which caused its stock prices to plummet along with confidence in its business ethics.

The University of Minnesota revealed that small Chinese equipment manufacturers pay $50,000 annually for membership in the Center for Filtration Research, standing alongside industry giants like 3M and Boeing to benefit from cutting-edge American R&D.

Admitting to the one-sided benefit to China, Guangxi Watyuan Filtration Systems, one of the Chinese members, highlighted how its association with The University of Minnesota allowed it to acquire otherwise unavailable technology to state-of-the-art achievements in the filter industry during its initial public offering (IPO).

China’s desire to steal American R&D is not exclusive to technology. The citrus industry is now feeling the pressure of giving our enemies a competitive edge through easy access to American research. Florida Oranges, based in Orlando Florida, faces challenges in the Chinese market due to local Chinese growers’ aggressive competition and import tariffs and China’s interest in Florida’s citrus expertise is quite evident.

A stark example is that of citrus greening, a bacterial infection affecting fruit taste. This prompted Chinese scientists to seek expertise from the University of Florida, renowned for its century-long research on citrus diseases. Contracts valued at approximately $1.8 million with China’s Institute of Navel Orange at Gannan Normal University supported the work of a Florida expert in tree genetics.

Governor Ron DeSantis has moved to hinder this unethical behavior by signing a law that could impede future collaborations between Florida and countries like China. The move aims to limit foreign influence in the state’s education system, raising questions about the university’s ongoing projects. As the drama unfolds, the future of Florida-China partnerships hangs in the balance, echoing tensions and uncertainties in the realm of agricultural research fruit of China’s unethical behavior.

To counter foreign adversaries aiming to undermine the U.S., Congress must implement bans and collaborate with states to block ties between schools and adversarial governments. Severing military connections with schools owned or controlled by such entities is also crucial.

There is no solution to the problem of communist China pilfering valuable information from American universities without cutting ties immediately and permanently. Otherwise, China will continue to steal invaluable information from American universities while they enjoy easy money. There cannot be a beneficial contract between two parties when one does not recognize moral law.