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.
“TBSI is engaged in research on technologies that have major intelligence and military applications. This research bears a striking resemblance to the People’s Republic of China’s stated military goals. In addition, Berkeley received millions from Tsinghua University to set up TBSI but didn’t care to disclose this funding under section 117 of the Higher Education Act. This partnership wreaks of bad intentions from the CCP.”
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.”
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:
“UC Berkeley takes concerns about national security very seriously and we are committed to transparency, and comprehensive compliance with rules, laws, and regulations that govern international academic engagement. UC Berkeley has responded to the Department of Education’s inquiries with detailed information about gifts and contracts related to TBSI, as per Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965. The University is committed to full compliance with Section 117 and all other rules, laws and regulations.”
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:
“These types of influence peddling schemes in American postsecondary education have been happening for a long time, with bad actors and institutions facing little or no repercussions. In Congress, we are conducting vigorous oversight of the Department of Education’s enforcement of section 117. The Department has failed in its duty to enforce section 117 fully and shine light on the colleges and universities that are accepting undisclosed funds from foreign adversaries. By holding this administration and our institutions to a higher standard, we can curb research and education partnerships that weaken national security.”
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.
Texas A&M was also the home of Zhengdong Cheng — a former professor who provided false information to the university and to NASA. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, he gained ‘increased access to unique NASA resources, such as the International Space Station,’ which he used to gain better positioning at Guangdong and other Chinese universities.
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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