Princeton Took Millions From CCP-Linked School, Think Tank Head

Scholars at the Ivy League school decry DOJ initiative to root out Chinese influence

Tung Chee-Hw (L) and Chinese president Xi Jinping (R) / Getty Images
December 22, 2021

Princeton University has taken millions of dollars in donations from a Chinese state-sponsored university and the founder of a think tank aligned with the Chinese Communist Party, according to federal records.

The Ivy League school has received $4.6 million from CCP-controlled Peking University to fund research hubs for drug development and computer science. Tung Chee-hwa, the founder of the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, has given at least $1 million to fund Princeton's Center on Contemporary China. Tung and the exchange foundation are both central to the Communist Party's foreign influence network.

China has aggressively cultivated relationships with American universities and think tanks in recent years. While some of these partnerships aim to promote genuine student and research exchange, FBI director Christopher Wray has warned of China's increased use of "non-traditional collectors (of intelligence), especially in the academic setting." The Justice Department in 2018 formed the China Initiative to root out China's efforts to steal technology from American businesses and universities and to influence American policymakers.

Princeton and other elite schools have bristled at the China Initiative, saying it creates a "chilling effect" for academic research and stokes "anti-Asian bias." Nearly 200 faculty members at Princeton University urged Attorney General Merrick Garland in October to shutter the initiative. They asserted that investigations have not focused on economic espionage, but instead have targeted researchers who failed to disclose their work for the Chinese government.

While Princeton faculty fume, the school's donations from China are the sort of activity that the China Initiative is designed to monitor, according to one national security expert.

"The Chinese Communist Party's goal is to spread soft power influence while siphoning American research to use for its own nefarious agenda," says Will Coggin, managing director of the American Security Institute, which compiled the data on China's donations to Princeton from Department of Education databases. "That's why it's exceptionally concerning that Princeton accepted $4.6 million from the Chinese government to research drug development and computer science—two areas where China is outpacing the United States."

The Chinese government, through Peking University's satellite campus in Shenzhen, awarded Princeton a five-year, $4.6 million contract in June 2018 to establish research facilities that focused on drug discovery and computer science, according to Department of Education records.

Months after the donation, the Chinese Communist Party tightened control of student activities at Peking University. The school announced it was implementing "internal control and measures" in order to control student activist groups that criticized the government. According to a report this month from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Peking University's work in the fields of nuclear physics and nuclear weapons development supports China's national defense industry. Peking also conducts classified work on semiconductors, satellite communications, flight propulsion, and computer science. Princeton researchers have worked with Peking University Shenzhen scholars on semiconductor research.

Princeton received two anonymous donations from China for $1.3 million earlier this year to fund professorships in the school's computer science department, according to Department of Education records.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) says American colleges' relationships with the Chinese Communist Party create national security risks for the United States.

"The stranglehold that the Chinese Communist Party has over American universities poses acute risks to our national security," Cruz, who obtained his bachelor's degree from Princeton, told the Washington Free Beacon. "The CCP uses American research and relationships to push propaganda, conduct espionage, and coerce silence regarding their crimes and atrocities. The Democratic Party is beholden to their donors and sponsors in higher education and because of that the CCP has alarming access to American lawmakers."

Cruz and other American officials, including CIA director William Burns, have warned about affiliating with another prominent Princeton benefactor, Tung Chee-hwa.

Tung, the founder of the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation, is a major donor to Princeton's Center on Contemporary China, which sponsors research, hosts policy forums, and leads student visits to Beijing each year. Tung is an influential figure in the united front system, which carries out the Chinese Communist Party's overseas influence efforts. He also serves as vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body for the Chinese Communist Party. The China-U.S. Exchange Foundation has provided research that the center's director used for an article in the Journal of Contemporary China.

Tung has given at least $1 million since 2012, according to data compiled by the Clarion Project.

Burns told Congress this year that he cut ties with the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation when he served as president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the Chinese government uses the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation as part of its "whole-of-government approach … to try and influence political, economic, and cultural developments to benefit CCP interests."

Cruz played a major role in the University of Texas's 2018 decision to reject funding from the China-U.S. Exchange Foundation.

While the Center on Contemporary China does not offer a full-throated endorsement of China's policies, it has largely avoided the hot-button topics gripping China, such as its genocide against Muslims in Xinjiang and its crackdown of pro-democracy dissenters.

"Censorship, intellectual property theft, and human rights abuses are all key contemporary issues in China, yet Princeton's so-called Center on Contemporary China is ignoring these issues," Coggin told the Free Beacon.

Princeton did not respond to requests for comment.