The University of Texas at Austin has rejected funding from a Hong Kong-based foundation given concerns over its ties to an arm of the Chinese Communist Party tasked with garnering influence in foreign universities.
The university’s decision not to accept money from the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), headed by the former chief executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-hwa, came after a months-long investigation and intervention by Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), the Washington Post reported on Monday.
Cruz warned in a letter to UT-Austin president Gregory Fenves earlier this month that accepting funds from CUSEF, which he described as a "pseudo-philanthropic foundation," could compromise the credibility and independence of the university.
Cruz noted that Tung serves as the vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body that operates closely with the communist party’s "united front organization" on China’s international influence campaigns.
"CUSEF and the united front are the external face of the CCP’s internal authoritarianism, manifested in systematic human rights violations," Cruz wrote.
Fenves responded to Cruz’s concerns in a letter on Friday, writing that UT-Austin would prohibit all funding from CUSEF. Fenves said he too worried that accepting CUSEF money "could create potential conflicts of interest or place limits on academic freedom and the robust exchange of ideas."
A spokesman for CUSEF told the Post the foundation is not an agent of the Chinese government and noted its support comes from private donors.
Over the past decade, China has invested tens of billions of dollars in an expanding network of Confucius Institutes, which are embedded in universities overseas to teach Chinese language and culture while propagating communist viewpoints. The initiative is part of broader efforts by Beijing to project "sharp power" abroad.