We are all familiar with the legend of the Trojan horse, used famously by the Greeks against the people of Troy to smuggle soldiers past the wall and swiftly conquer the city. Modern readers may read the story and scoff. Surely, we would never be so naïve and ignorant as to let the enemy simply roll into our communities undetected and uncontested.
The enemies of the United States, however, have come a long way from wood and nails in the quest to conquer democracy. Today, Communist China has invested millions of dollars into the establishment of Confucius Institutes at universities across the U.S., claiming to promote Chinese language and culture.
Instead, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has leveraged this opportunity to infiltrate U.S. academia and use these institutes as a front for foreign interference in America’s higher education. Through Confucius Institutes, the CCP spreads communist propaganda, censors the truth about the CCP’s history, their human rights atrocities, and their continual aggression and uses their access to conduct espionage and steal sensitive information.
Through these programs, the CCP is not only able to stifle criticism of the CCP on the college campus, but inadvertently pressure the university to self-censor in order to preserve funding.
The CCP is well known for implementing espionage schemes that run years or even decades. In 2007, the CCP outright advertised their plans in a report by a Chinese state-run newspaper when the chairman of the Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization under the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the CCP said that Confucius Institutes were an “important part of the CCP’s external propaganda structure.”
We have known about the threat of Confucius Institutes for many years. In February 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Institutes were used by the CCP as “nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting,” across the U.S.
In 2019, more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities hosted Confucius Institutes, which were funded and staffed by the CCP. After the State Department labeled the programs as foreign missions in 2019, a large number of Confucius Institutes shut their doors, but many were replaced by the same program under a different name.
To be clear, the CCP is the greatest threat to democracy and should be blocked from influencing our universities through these devious Confucius Institutes, but so should any foreign actors. It is vital that any nation attempting to dig their claws into our college students be immediately and forcibly barred from doing so.
Our bill, the Stop Higher Education Espionage and Theft (SHEET) Act, will give the law enforcement community tools they need to combat bad actors’ influence by directing the federal government to designate foreign intelligence threats to higher education and empower the secretary of Homeland Security to remove these threats.
We cannot allow the CCP, or any foreign power, to infiltrate our higher education under the guise of innocent international cooperation. Our children’s education is our most precious commodity. Those who mold the minds of our students, molds our nation’s future. College should be a place of freedom to learn and explore, without any fear of undue influence.
We must remain vigilant in protecting our academic freedom, intellectual property, and national security. We are proud to lead the introduction of the SHEET Act and we urge our colleagues to join us in protecting our college campuses.
Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik represents New York’s 21st Congressional District. She is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.