Pompeo Promises Trump Will ‘Take On’ Chinese Academic Espionage

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks on human rights in Iran at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that President Donald Trump will “take on” the threat of espionage activities by Chinese students and researchers with ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and its intelligence apparatus.

In an interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News, Pompeo stressed the Trump administration’s determination to “protect the American people from the threats that the Chinese Communist Party presents to the United States,” a determination he found unfortunately lacking “during the Obama-Biden years.”

When Ingraham asked about a New York Times report that said the administration is “planning to expel Chinese grad students with ties to China’s military schools” — a plan that the left-wing newspaper unflatteringly compared to the “Red Scare” of the Cold War era — Pompeo said he was not surprised to see the Times putting the worst possible spin on the situation.

“We’re taking seriously the threat that students that come here who have connections deeply to the Chinese state, they shouldn’t be here in our schools spying,” he said.

Pompeo responded to charges that the initiative was an overreaction or a racist offense against Chinese people:

As a former CIA director, I take seriously the threat of espionage inside of our country.  We know we have this challenge.  President Trump, I am confident, is going to take that on.  I don’t want to get in front of what he’s going to say tomorrow, but the American people should know that the Chinese Communist Party has worked to have enormous influence here in the United States.

This isn’t a “Red scare” and this isn’t racist. The Chinese people are great people.  This is like the days of the Soviet Union; this is a communist, tyrannical regime that poses real risks to the United States.  And we have an obligation – a duty – to make sure that students who are coming here to study, to take the benefits of coming to America to learn and to benefit from what we can provide to them, aren’t acting on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Senate published a report in November 2019 detailing the extent of Chinese academic espionage, with a particularly close look at the Thousand Talents Plan (TTP), the Chinese Communist Party’s recruitment program for “high-end professionals” overseas.

TTP has long been recognized as a troubling source of academic espionage activities. The most recent case involving the program was the May 14 arrest of a former Cleveland Clinic researcher who fraudulently took National Institutes of Health grant money without disclosing that he was also working for a university in the People’s Republic of China.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued an order in June 2019 blocking its scientists from participating in foreign recruitment programs, citing the risks of technology theft and damage to national security. While the order did not single out the Thousand Talents Plan, DOE officials made no secret that TTP was one of their paramount concerns.

“While international cooperation is essential to accelerate research and development, some governments, like the Chinese Communist Party, are aggressively pursuing access to foreign science and technology advancements and intellectual property to the detriment of our economic prosperity and security,” a DOE official said at the time.

On Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the SECURE CAMPUS Act, a bill that would sharply restrict foreign recruitment programs like TTP, as well as blocking Chinese nationals from obtaining U.S. visas for graduate or post-graduate studies in STEM fields. A companion bill is set to be introduced in the House by Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN).

“The Chinese Communist Party has long used American universities to conduct espionage on the United States. What’s worse is that their efforts exploit gaps in current law. It’s time for that to end. The SECURE CAMPUS Act will protect our national security and maintain the integrity of the American research enterprise,” said Cotton.

“Beijing exploits student and research visas to steal science, technology, engineering and manufacturing secrets from U.S. academic and research institutions. We’ve fed China’s innovation drought with American ingenuity and taxpayer dollars for too long; it’s time to secure the U.S. research enterprise against the CCP’s economic espionage,” added Blackburn.

According to the New York Times article referenced by Ingraham and Pompeo, the Trump administration is considering the annulment of visas for grad students linked to the People’s Liberation Army, much as the SECURE CAMPUS Act would do. 

As Hong Kong’s RTHK pointed out, such action would not be welcomed by university administrations, “which rely increasingly on tuition from foreign students — of which China and India are the largest sources — and have already been hit hard by the Covid-19 shutdown.”

RTHK speculated the administration might have been spurred to quicker action by the crisis in Hong Kong, where Communist China is poised to impose a national security law that would crack down hard on political dissent and effectively end the island’s autonomy. Pompeo announced the United States official no longer considers Hong Kong to be autonomous on Wednesday.

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