FP: CCP Setting Up “Cells” at Foreign Universities

At Foreign Policy, Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian this week reported on efforts by the Communist Party of China to encourage students and visiting scholars to set up Party branches at their host universities. Allen-Ebrahimian’s report is based on her review of official university and state media articles celebrating and reporting on the establishment of political entities in overseas universities, situating this trend into the context of Xi Jinping’s ongoing campaigns to consolidate state power under the CCP, and to reinforce ideological orthodoxy in domestic universities, the Party, and society at large.

The group [of Chinese students and faculty from Huazhong University of Science and Technology who were participating in a summer program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)] held meetings to discuss party , taking a group photo in front of a red flag emblazoned with a hammer and sickle, according to a July 2017 article and photos posted to the Huazhong University website. The students’ home institution had sent four teachers on the trip, directing them to set up the party cell to strengthen “ideological guidance” while the students were in the United States.

[…] The exchange students at UIUC were also asked to report on any potentially subversive opinions their classmates may have evinced while abroad, according to the student.

[…] Illinois is not alone. Party cells have appeared in California, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, North Dakota, and West Virginia. The cells appear to be part of a strategy, now expanded under Chinese President Xi Jinping, to extend direct party control globally and to insulate students and scholars abroad from the influence of “harmful ideology,” sometimes by asking members to report on each other’s behaviors and beliefs.

[…] The party cells popping up on campuses across the United States aren’t the Communist Party’s only expansion abroad. The U.S.-based party branches are part of a growing network of cells located on campuses in Canada, Mexico, Chile, Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, South Korea, Thailand, and elsewhere. […] [Source]

Allen-Ebrahimian, whose recent coverage for FP has tightly focused on Chinese influence and propaganda campaigns abroad, last month reported on the Party’s use of Chinese Students and Scholars Associations at host universities to promote Party-sanctioned ideology on the ground, as occurred for example last year at the University of California San Diego when a group of Chinese students protested the Dalai Lama’s invite as commencement speaker. More recently, she reported on a U.S. House proposal to require Confucius Institutes—a state program funding Chinese language and cultural studies initiatives in schools around the world that has long raised concerns over government interference with academic freedom—to register as foreign agents.

On Twitter, Allen-Ebrahimian and FP’s Asia Editor James Palmer responded to suggestions that her latest report lacks nuance, or may encourage a conflation of all with the CCP:

Chinese state media has in the past been known to warn of an inverse problem: that of the potential threat that “sea turtles,” or returned overseas Chinese students, pose to China’s national security. Recent state propaganda campaigns have also warned young Chinese women that their handsome foreign boyfriends may actually be foreign agents.

For more on the topic of Chinese students abroad, listen to a recent Sinica podcast in which Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn, Siqi Tu, and Eric Fish discuss the diverse  experiences of overseas Chinese students.