House Ed Committee raises security concerns over UC Berkeley's China ties

'We are deeply concerned that TBSI is being used by the Chinese Communist Party as a conduit for intellectual theft, espionage, and coercion.'

The House Committee on Education and the Workforce and the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party expressed serious concerns about collaboration between the University of California Berkeley and Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute in China.

Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute (TBSI) is a joint research and educational collaboration between two universities: Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and UC Berkeley in California. TBSI is located in Shenzhen, a major city in southern China known for its rapid development and strong focus on science and technology.

Chairwoman of the committee, Rep. Dr. Virginia Foxx, and Chairman of the Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, Rep. Mike Gallagher, took the lead in addressing the issue by sending a letter to University of California President Dr. Michael V. Drake and UC Berkeley Chancellor Dr. Carol T. Christ. 

“We write to you to express our grave concern about the University of California, Berkeley’s...joint institute with state-controlled Tsinghua University and the Shenzhen government,” the letter begins. 

The primary concern raised by the lawmakers was the possibility of the PRC gaining easy access to Berkeley’s research and expertise through TBSI, which could be exploited for economic, technological, and even military advantages.

“We are deeply concerned that TBSI is being used by the Chinese Communist Party as a conduit for intellectual theft, espionage, and coercion,” Rep. Dr. Foxx told Campus Reform

The joint research institute’s activities were found to align closely with the PRC’s science and technology priorities, raising questions about whether U.S. taxpayer dollars were inadvertently contributing to the PRC’s military and technological goals, according to the committee.

Of particular concern was the fact that TBSI engaged in research related to dual-use technologies (“global positioning satellites, missiles, nuclear technology, chemical and biological tools,” and more) that could be leveraged for intelligence and military purposes. In fact, the institute’s research priorities, according to the committee, mirrored the PRC’s 13th Five-Year Plan, which includes military expansion

TBSI was also found to have collaborated with PRC universities and companies that were placed on the Commerce Department’s Entity List, which restricts the export of certain technologies and items to entities threatening U.S. national security interests. 

According to the committee, some TBSI students went on to work for entities linked to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). But even more concerning to the committee, is that “Berkeley faculty who also serve as TBSI faculty have received hundreds of thousands of dollars for research projects from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the U.S. Navy, among other entities—raising further concern about PRC access to these experts.”

[RELATED: Former employee of university-connected lab sentenced over ties to China]

Further, while TBSI was presented as an academic partnership, the committee argues that the evidence suggested that the primary function of the joint venture was to facilitate PRC funding for Berkeley research, noting that Berkeley seemingly failed to disclose funding from the city of Shenzhen and Tsinghua University as required by Section 117 of the Higher Education Act, which mandates disclosure of financial transactions with foreign entities above a specified threshold.

Assistant Vice Chancellor of UC Berkeley Dan Mogulof provided Campus Reform the university’s prepared statement on this matter: 

Roqua Montez with the UC’s Office of the President also shared this prepared statement: “We take concerns about national security very seriously and, as such, will fully and transparently cooperate with any federal inquiries.”

But Rep. Dr. Foxx is concerned about transparency, telling Campus Reform that security concerns relating to Chinese partnerships are not new:

Former reports lend credence to Rep. Dr. Foxx’s concerns about national security by investigating ties between the CCP and U.S. higher education institutions. 

[RELATED: Confucius Institutes a ‘smoke screen’ for Chinese Communist Party ‘propaganda,’ Cabot Phillips says]

A 2020 analysis of Department of Education (DOEd) data by Campus Reform revealed that several hundred American universities have accepted gifts from private Chinese entities, dozens of which were specifically connected to the CCP.  

Texas A&M University received $10 million from the CCP-controlled Qingdao National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology. 

Additionally, a former researcher at the University of Kansas, which accepted a $175,967 contract from an undisclosed Chinese government source, was charged for alleged involvement in transferring intellectual property from American universities to Chinese counterparts.

Emory University and West Virginia University also accepted funds for Confucius Institute programs, which, as previously reported, have been identified as propaganda arms of the CPP, marketed as Chinese culture and language education centers on American campuses.

As ties between U.S. universities and China continue to be investigated, additional details and developments are expected. 

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