Chinese firms with ties to the Chinese Communist Party have in recent years purchased American military academies that operate military officer training programs.
In 2015, a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which serves as the Chinese Communist Party's political advisory board, purchased Donald Trump's alma mater, the New York Military Academy, for $16 million dollars. Conference member Mo Tianquan secured the purchase after a bidding war with another Chinese conglomerate.
Two years later, a Chinese education conglomerate purchased the Florida Preparatory Academy as part of its plan to create "a global educational alliance system." The organization partnered with a CCP-controlled regional government agency on the initiative. Both the New York Military Academy and Florida Preparatory Academy operate Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) programs, which train future military officers.
Rep. Michael Waltz (R., Fla.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, says Chinese ownership of these schools could pose a national security threat.
"To the extent that those private schools have junior ROTC programs that are forming the backbone of our future leaders of our military, this is something I would hope and would expect the Defense Department would work with me to better understand," Waltz told the Washington Free Beacon.
Waltz on Tuesday sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, urging the Pentagon to survey JROTC programs at private schools across the country to see if they are foreign-owned.
"With the ongoing military recruitment crisis, I am concerned that any students we recruit into the service from these CCP-influenced schools will have a sympathetic view of China's political and strategic aims," Waltz, who chairs the House subcommittee on military readiness, wrote to Austin.
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The interest in American private schools has led to speculation about China's motives, as Beijing has ramped up its infiltration of American universities, think tanks, and other spheres of influence.
According to Chinese state media, the Chinese firms have entered the private school market "in the hopes of cashing in on Chinese students' quest for admission into a U.S. college." The Center for Immigration Studies has noted that foreign students have an easier time obtaining F-1 immigration visas to attend private schools compared with public institutions. When Fang Holdings, Mo's company, purchased the New York Military Academy, the first superintendent said the school expected a surge of Chinese students to enroll in the historic academy.
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Waltz says he is concerned that Pentagon resources "are inadvertently helping promote and support these schools."
According to a federal spending database, the Department of Defense has awarded over $475,000 in contracts for various cadet programs to New York Military Academy since its Chinese takeover.
Mo, Fang's founder and majority shareholder, has openly discussed his allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party. In 2018, Mo said he was "very honored" to be a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which he affirmed operates "under the leadership of the Communist Party of China." He said a qualification for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference role was to be "a good serviceman in government." At the New York Military Academy, Mo has installed many of his Chinese business partners on the historic school's board of trustees.
The owner of the Florida Preparatory Academy, formerly known as the Florida Air Academy, has in recent years built up an international network of private schools as part of a "global educational alliance system." China's Newopen Group, which in 2017 purchased the school for an unknown sum, a year before the purchase signed a strategic partnership with Chongqing Environmental Investment Group, a CCP-linked municipal agency, to build the network across China, North America, Europe, and Australia.
Neither school returned requests for comment.
For Waltz, China's interest in America's private schools is "a wake-up call."
"We've never faced an adversary that has their tentacles in so many aspects of American society—whether it's the sports industry, Hollywood, Wall Street."