On Alleged Chinese Scholar-Spies

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/29/2007 02:27:00 AM
I usually roll my eyes when I see these sorts of stories concerning Chinese nationals studying and working abroad ferreting trade secrets at the behest of the Communist Party. Too much James Bond cloak-and-dagger stuff I say, the spy who loved me, etc. Not that I deny that this sort of thing goes on--I'm sure it does--but I disavow the more hysterical claims that Chinese scholars and workers should be expelled en masse for this very reason in act of "offensive realism" a la John Mearsheimer to protect national security interests. However, this recent episode has hit pretty close to home. A research fellow at the Chemical Engineering department here at the University of Birmingham, Dr. Wei Liu, has made waves in claiming that an international Chinese student association is a front for Communist Party espionage according to our school paper, the Redbrick.

More suspiciously, a page on the Communist Party-bashing Epoch Times which contains an excerpt of the interview has disappeared since I first visited it and attempted to link to it here (above is a snapshot of it). Hmm...things are getting interesting. Maybe there's something more to this story after all. Still, I am wary of believing these claims. If Chinese scholars were indeed spying on an appreciable scale, the US and UK would have taken serious action to curtail the influx of Chinese scholars by now. At the moment, neither has. Moreover, I think it would be natural for funders of Chinese scholars to emphasize to their student beneficiaries that they are interested in learning more about Area X or Area Y. There is nothing so underhanded about using scholarship money strategically as a quid pro quo, methinks. It looks like a fair deal all around to me: the US and UK gain talented researchers in science and engineering fields where interest from homegrown students is lacking, while China eventually reaps the benefits from improvements in its stock of human capital.

I'll send the Epoch Times a note asking why this page has disappeared. It's a bit strange, I think. You can still access the accompanying video of the interview, though, and a whole section on the Epoch Times website devoted to alleged student spying. In any event, here are excerpts from the now-gone article, wherever it's gone to. [UPDATE: The Epoch Times has now reposted the article. Note the corrections to Dr. Liu's current status and the de-emphasis on "spying"]:

Chinese Student and Scholar Associations (CSSA) worldwide claim to be neutral non-for-profit organizations dedicated to helping Chinese students overseas. But a close look at their websites reveal strong links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Many Chinese students travel overseas to study hoping for better opportunities beyond the notoriously competitive Chinese educational system. However, Chinese students who join CSSA are faced with a less safe and more sinister environment than their peers - one that prepares them for a life of part-time spying for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). They are wooed with promises of money and better jobs at home.

Dr Wei Liu decided to reveal his identity, come forward and openly speak about his experience of spying for the Chinese Communist Party. Dr Liu served as the CSSA Chairman from 1998 to 1999 in Manchester. Dr Wei Liu currently works as a University Science Professor at the prestigious Birmingham University in England [this is erroneous; he is a research fellow there].

NTDTV: "So do they do this out in the open, or is it kind of an unspoken secret that the Chinese Communist Party runs these organizations?"
Dr. Liu: "It's a secret because only a few key members of the Association know this fact. The majority of the students and scholars, they don't know."

NTDTV: "Can you tell me where this direction is coming from? Is it coming from Beijing?"
Dr. Liu: "Yes, the Chinese Consulate or Embassy...they carry out the political agenda and policies from the Chinese Communist Party".

NTDTV: "So what sort of damage do you think this sort of spying does to Western society and universities? Do you think it's dangerous for the students?"
Dr. Liu: "I don't think most of them would like to do this, but it seems they are only fooled by the Chinese Consulate."

NTDTV: "So this has actually been going on for years? Has it being going on for a long period of time?"
Dr. Liu: "Yes. Until now the CSSA still does the same as they did 10 years ago".

We also meet up with Dr Gui Hua Li who was a part of the CSSA organization until her email got cut from the mailing list after sending information about China's live organ harvesting trade [of Falun Gong members]. At that point she began to wonder.

NTDTV: "So, Dr Li can you tell me a bit about you're experience of being a part of the CSSA organization?"
Guihua Li, Former Cambridge CSSA Member: "The CSSA is supposed to be loosely coordinated, but really it's tightly controlled. Some of the students haven't got a clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. They just feel...well, we will just do what the Chinese Communist Party asks us to do. Yeah, they just do it, because they get used to that kind of control. They don't realize the Party has no right to control them. They live outside in another country but they feel...oh, the Party is still looking after them."

NTDTV: "Do you think they get incentives or do they benefit financially?"
Guihua Li: "Oh, everybody knows, of course they do, and the Chinese Embassy always gives money to the CSSA from the very beginning."

But what will students, parents and professors do when they discover that the Chinese Communist party has long infiltrated their university campuses? The MI5 or the FBI are looking deeper into this issue.