By Jon Dougherty
(NationalSentinel) Top military, national security, and intelligence officials have repeatedly warned for years that America’s biggest challenger in the near- and long-term is China, so it should be no surprise that Beijing is targeting American academia for access to sensitive programs.
The Washington Times reported Friday that, in fact, China has launched an ambitious, wide-ranging program to flood American colleges and universities with students in as part of an “academic espionage” campaign:
Academic leaders, lawmakers, and military and intelligence officials say Washington needs to take a harder look at the number of Chinese who come to the U.S. to study engineering, aeronautics, astronautics, quantum mechanics and other fields that have direct connections to national security. The massive influx of Chinese students in recent years, they say, has led directly to Beijing’s advantage in the development of hypersonics and other cutting-edge technology — though U.S. officials say privately that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to track individual cases of students gaining specific insights in a given area and then taking that knowledge back home.
The issue of China’s “academic espionage” raises delicate questions about discrimination and academic freedom, and the education and military sectors have struggled to strike the right balance between protecting classified research and attracting the diverse, international student base prized by top universities.
China has long pursued American technology via espionage, beginning in the 1990s during the Clinton administration. Bill Clinton, in fact, pursued improved relations with China with the same callous disregard that Barack Obama pursued his “nuclear deal” with Iran, as noted below (see video).
But as the U.S. intelligence and national security communities tighten their control over access to sensitive data, China has been force to change its tactics as well, hence its infiltration of American academia, where much of our military and technology research and development takes place.
More focus needs to be placed on American academic leaders, but some believe the U.S. government should step up.
“You cannot rely on faculty doing the right thing,” Iain Boyd, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Michigan, said during a recent hypersonic weapons conference at Purdue University, the Times reported.
Hypersonics is one weapons development field where China has an advantage on the United States. Considered game-changers in terms of ballistic and nuclear weapons development, hypersonic missiles are believed to be much too maneuverable and fast for current American missile defense capabilities. In fact, only laser weapons would be fast enough to defeat incoming hypersonic missile threats, and U.S. laser weapons development isn’t there yet.
In order to maintain its advantage in the field of hypersonic development, Chinese intelligence has either targeted ethnic Chinese students already in the U.S. to conduct espionage work or is sending students from the mainland to enroll in American schools, full tuition paid, the Times reports:
Beijing has also explicitly targeted ethnic Chinese students, entrepreneurs and high-tech researchers working abroad to come home through its Thousand Talents Plan. The effort has become so sensitive that Chinese officials reportedly have been told not to identify the foreign scholars and figures whom they are trying to lure back home.
Hypersonics — weapons or aircraft that can travel at least five times the speed of sound — is one area where China is outpacing the U.S., partly by sending large numbers of its top students to American colleges. Those students often pay full tuition upfront, making them highly coveted in university admissions offices.
“Some faculty are going to think, ‘Yes, I should be careful about recruitment.’ But if there are no restrictions in place, other faculty will maybe not even be aware that it’s something to think about,” Boyd said.
“And maybe for their own selfish reasons, just looking at whether it is students from China, where everything is paid for, so it’s a free ride for the professor. If the community, if the government, wants the situation to change, they will have to change it.”
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