Group proposes limiting visas for Chinese media and scholars unless Americans can operate more freely in China.
WASHINGTON—An influential group of China experts
called for Americans to acknowledge what it described as a growing threat of
Beijing-sponsored influence operations in the U.S. The cohort also proposed
restricting visas for Chinese media and scholars unless their American
counterparts are allowed to operate more freely in China.
In a new report, 32 longtime China watchers warned
that the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to influence U.S. universities,
media, think tanks and companies—but haven't included attempted
election-meddling—have become so pervasive that they are undermining democratic
processes, all while many Americans remain unaware.
“The ambition of Chinese activity in terms of the
breadth, depth of investment of financial resources, and intensity requires far
greater scrutiny than it has been getting, because China is intervening more
resourcefully and forcefully across a wider range of sectors than Russia,” the
report found. In a lone dissent, one of its authors said the report exaggerated
The group that produced the report was led by Larry
Diamond of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and Orville Schell of the
Asia Society in New York, and received financial support from the Annenberg
Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, an independent nonprofit.
Many of the people who contributed to the report are
prominent scholars with a deep affection for China who held out hope that its
government would liberalize. Their disillusionment represents a shift in the
debate over the trajectory of U.S.-China relations. More hawkish administration
officials and advisers said they saw the report as evidence the U.S.
China-policy establishment is coming around to their thinking.
According to the report, China hasn’t sought to
interfere in a national election the way that U.S. intelligence and
law-enforcement say Russia has and that Moscow has denied. Both President Trump
and Vice President Pence have said, without providing evidence, that China tried to interfere in the U.S. midterm
elections earlier this month to hurt their administration and the Republican
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen
Nielsen said there was no indication of any foreign attempts to disrupt
election infrastructure specifically, and describedBeijing’s efforts to affect U.S. politics as “the more
traditional, holistic state-influence campaigns.”
The Chinese government has long denied interfering in
other countries’ affairs.
The goal of the Chinese Communist Party’s influence
operations, the report says, is to promote views sympathetic to China’s
authoritarian government while suppressing alternative perspectives. Beijing is
also preventing U.S. organizations from engaging with Chinese society, it adds.
For example, the scholars found that China has
increased its state-owned media companies’ English-language presence in the
U.S. while all but eliminating the many independent Chinese-language outlets
that once catered to Chinese Americans, by allegedly co-opting existing outlets
and creating its own—ranging from print and digital publications to television
and radio programming. The Chinese government has also severely restricted
Western media outlets from operating in China, including The Wall Street
Additionally, Beijing has retaliated against U.S.
universities that hosted events the Chinese Communist Party didn’t like;
threatened companies that didn’t conform to its views on Taiwan and Tibet; and
restricted U.S. think tanks’ operations in China, all while expanding its own
network of think tanks in the U.S., the researchers found.
In response, the report’s authors recommend creating a
federal government office that state and local governments as well as
nongovernmental groups could consult on how to respond to Chinese requests for
partnerships. The office could provide information on the affiliations of the
Chinese organizations approaching U.S. groups.
The report also says the U.S. government should restrict
visas for Chinese journalists as well as think-tank and university scholars
unless reciprocal access is given to their American counterparts.
Beijing targets the Chinese-American community in
particular, the report says, viewing them as members of a Chinese diaspora with
an “allegiance to the so-called Motherland.” Not only does this impede Chinese
Americans’ freedom of speech, it also creates the risk that they will be viewed
suspiciously within the U.S. even though few may accept Beijing’s directives,
the report says. The report urges against demonizing any group of Americans or
visitors to the country.
Susan Shirk, a professor at the University of
California, San Diego, and one of the report’s 32 authors, said she took no
issue with the evidence gathered but felt the report’s conclusions overstated
“Especially during this moment in American political
history, overstating the threat of subversion from China risks causing
overreactions reminiscent of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, including an
anti-Chinese version of the Red Scare that would put all ethnic Chinese under a
cloud of suspicion,” she said.
The report adds to a body of studies on Chinese
influence operations, including those by the U.S.-China Economic and Security
Review Commission and the Hudson Institute, both known for advocating a harder
line against Beijing.
***Bob Davis contributed to
**Kate O’Keeffe at firstname.lastname@example.org