China Exploits Students Abroad to Steal American Tech, New Report Says

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October 9, 2020

The Chinese Communist Party has developed a complex network to coerce students abroad into stealing American technology, according to a new congressional report.

For years, China has tried to strengthen its military by stealing American science and technology research, and "has built a sprawling ecosystem of structures, programs, and incentives to coopt and exploit Chinese students and scholars for the [science and technology] they acquire abroad," the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission reported Wednesday.

Since 2006, the number of Chinese students in America has increased by a factor of five, and a significant minority of these students, who primarily study in scientific and mathematical fields, pose a security threat to the United States for theft of American research. China often requires its students to engage in operations that benefit the Chinese Communist Party as a condition of their study abroad program, according to the report. Much of the technology stolen by these students is sent by backchannels to companies and institutions associated with the Chinese military, providing Chinese armed forces an innovative edge.

"In effect, U.S. universities are training scientists and engineers who will work in a range of organizations antithetical to U.S. national security interests, including the [People's Liberation Army]," the report reads.

The large number of Chinese students who enter the United States each year has presented a challenge for vetting purposes. Due to a backlog of cases and insufficient personnel, U.S. federal authorities have denied less than 5 percent of flagged visa applicants from China, according to the report.

China is currently the largest perpetrator of intellectual property theft globally and uses a complex network of Confucius Institutes on campus, consulates, and government initiatives like the Thousand Talents Program to commit unprecedented amounts of data and technology theft.

The Trump administration has made decoupling from Chinese influence in nearly all economic and academic areas a major priority. In an August letter, the State Department warned the governing boards of America's colleges and universities of China's threat to American higher education. 

"The CCP's actions pose an immense threat to academic freedom and to human dignity," the letter reads. "While Americans may differ on many issues, this is a threat that unites us all."