China’s Communist Party at Universities Worldwide

China’s Communist Party is reportedly expanding activities aimed at Chinese university students in America and other nations.

Radio Free Asia, or RFA reports the expansion is an effort to keep the party’s ideology in the minds of Chinese citizens studying abroad. It also seeks to defend against “bad ideas” picked up in other countries that could influence the students.

The Communist Party is organizing at overseas universities in a similar way it operates in China, RFA reports. The efforts are part of an ideological campaign called United Front, which aims to bring specific groups of people into the party.

The foreign branches are reportedly used to spread the party’s ideological message worldwide. One such branch was set up last year by Chinese students in an exchange program at the University of California, Davis in northern California.

China’s University of Science and Technology, in the northeastern city of Dalian, reported on its website that seven Chinese students had set up the party branch at the U.S. university.

Hospitality staff members pose for a selfie near the portrait of Chinese leader Mao Zedong during the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) held in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (A

Hospitality staff members pose for a selfie near the portrait of Chinese leader Mao Zedong during the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) held in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (A

The group – made up of students from several different universities – held its first meeting in November 2017, the website reported. It added that the first meeting centered on teaching students ways to fight “various kinds of negative influences” on their thinking while overseas.

The group was expected to meet twice a month to study “the latest ideological thinking” of the Communist Party, Hong Kong’s Ming Pao newspaper reported. The organization also aimed to provide “care and warmth” to Chinese students abroad.

A recent report in the U.S.-based publication Foreign Policy said party branches have been set up by Chinese at universities in several states. These include Illinois, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, North Dakota and West Virginia.

A Communist Party branch was set up in July 2017 by a group of nine Chinese students and teachers from China’s Huazhong University of Science and Technology, the publication reported.

The students were taking part in a summer program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The group held meetings to discuss party teachings and provide “ideological guidance” to the Chinese students, Foreign Policy reported.

Chinese students wait outside the U.S. Embassy for their visa application interviews in Beijing, China.

Chinese students wait outside the U.S. Embassy for their visa application interviews in Beijing, China.

A photo of the group was posted on the Huazhong University website along with a report about its activities.

Last October, a newspaper in the eastern Chinese province of Zhejiang reported “temporary party branches” had been set up in Canada, Singapore and New Zealand.

The Zhejiang Daily News said the branches were created by Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College to serve its overseas students. The party’s goal was to provide services to educate and manage foreign students, the newspaper reported.

RFA reports many of those operating the party branches are Chinese teachers sent to overseas universities as part of educational exchange programs.

About 350,000 Chinese students are studying at U.S. universities, the Institute of International Education estimates. This makes up about 35 percent of the nearly 1 million foreigners studying in the U.S.

Chinese intelligence on American campuses

In February, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee the FBI has investigated possible Chinese intelligence operatives at American colleges and universities. He said the FBI had monitored visiting Chinese “professors, scientists and students” across the U.S.

The director described China as using many “nontraditional collectors” of intelligence and technology, both in the business community and at universities. He said he believes many U.S. university officials have been “naive” about these activities.

Wray noted that he thinks such intelligence gathering takes advantage of the openness in research and development found at U.S. universities.

Wray also expressed concerns about Chinese-run Confucius Institutes at many American universities. The institutes offer courses in language and culture for American students. China says the program is designed to inform about Chinese language and culture in educational settings around the world.

But Wray said the FBI is currently monitoring the development of the institutes and in some cases had taken “investigative steps.”

A 2017 report by the U.S.-based National Association of Scholars accused the Confucius Institutes of limiting educational freedom and teaching “a distorted view” of Chinese history and culture.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on a report from Radio Free Asia and other sources. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

branch n. a local group that is part of a larger organization

negative adj. harmful or bad

monitor v. watch something carefully and record the results

naive adj. having or showing a lack of experience or knowledge

take advantage of v. to use someone or something in a way that is helpful to you without regard to the needs or feelings of others

distort v. change information so that it is not true or realistic

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