December 9, 2021 | Press Release

New FDD Study Identifies 28 American Universities and Schools That Maintain Research Partnerships with Chinese Institutions That Power Beijing’s Defense Establishment

“The Middle Kingdom Meets Higher Education” details linkages to China’s intelligence apparatus, nuclear weapons sector, and cyberespionage platforms 
December 9, 2021 | Press Release

New FDD Study Identifies 28 American Universities and Schools That Maintain Research Partnerships with Chinese Institutions That Power Beijing’s Defense Establishment

“The Middle Kingdom Meets Higher Education” details linkages to China’s intelligence apparatus, nuclear weapons sector, and cyberespionage platforms 

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 9, 2021 – America’s top research universities –including Stanford, Tufts, and Texas A&M – have entered into academic and research relationships with Chinese universities that directly support China’s military-industrial complex, including its intelligence apparatus, nuclear weapons sector, and cyberespionage platforms, according to a new report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). 

The report, “The Middle Kingdom Meets Higher Education: How U.S. Universities Support China’s Military-Industrial Complex” identifies 28 American universities and schools in 19 states that maintain academic and research partnerships with Chinese institutions that power Beijing’s defense establishment. China is seeking to leverage these U.S. university relationships to acquire the technology and talent Beijing needs to win its strategic competition with the United States. 

Other U.S. universities identified in the report include the University of Washington, Arizona State University, the University of Utah, Rutgers University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the College of William and Mary, and Emory University. The lone school district mentioned in the report is the Chicago Public School District. 

“What these schools’ disconcerting partnerships all have in common is that they can be traced back to decisions by these U.S. and Chinese universities to jointly operate Confucius Institutes (CIs), which are Chinese government-sponsored organizations that offer Chinese language and culture programming worldwide,” says FDD Adjunct Fellow and report author Craig Singleton. 

Using Confucius Institutes as modern-day Trojan horses, the Chinese government managed to build an intricate web of academic and research partnerships between America’s top universities and Chinese schools that directly enable China’s military-industrial complex,” he says. 

Singleton writes that Confucius Institutes have long been considered a key element in China’s “united front,” a network of groups and key individuals that seek to co-opt and neutralize sources of potential opposition to the policies and legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This report reveals that the Institutes also serve as platforms that advance facets of China’s military-civil fusion (MCF), a national strategy aimed at acquiring the world’s cutting-edge technologies – including through theft – to achieve Chinese military dominance. 

Singleton says Congress should require American universities to publish copies of both their Confucius Institutes contracts and foreign partnership agreements, and that lawmakers should direct the closure of the 34 remaining Confucius Institutes in the United States. Congress and the White House should also take steps to withhold certain types of federal funding from U.S. universities which voluntarily elect to maintain problematic partnerships with malign Chinese universities. 

“U.S. law does not require U.S. universities to disclose the details of such partnerships, even though Beijing has made clear that it intends to harvest cutting-edge American innovations to underwrite its military modernization,” Singleton says. He added, “That needs to change.” 

While many U.S. universities closed their Confucius Institutes, they elected to maintain, and in some cases expand, their research agreements with the Chinese universities that previously supported their Confucius Institute programming. Of the 79 schools that shuttered their Institutes in recent years, dozens continue to work closely with their Chinese university partners, even though there is ample open-source information linking these universities to China’s military. 

The report includes a chart of the 28 U.S. schools and universities, the Chinese university with which each has partnerships, and if the relationship benefits China’s MCF strategy, its nuclear program, supports the People’s Liberation Army, and/or Beijing’s cyberespionage efforts. 

The report, a product of FDD’s China Program, analyzes Confucius Institutes closures between 2018 and 2021. It also examines how these Chinese universities provide direct support to China’s MCF program and defense industry. Lastly, the report scrutinizes the 34 remaining Institutes across the U.S. and offers a series of policy recommendations aimed at uncovering, and even neutralizing, China’s ability to leverage these Institutes and their associated academic partnerships to access sensitive U.S. research and development. 

Singleton warns that Congress should approach this “with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer,” as only 90 schools – or three percent of China’s 3,000 colleges and universities – have these kinds of problematic relationships. “Not all academic or cultural engagement between U.S. and Chinese universities carries risk, but this report details how China is, quite literally, weaponizing American universities to support its military modernization. By instituting common sense guardrails, there can still be ample room for academic exchanges between the United States and China.” 

“Craig’s authoritative report provides an essential guide for federal, state, and university officials to ensure that our best schools – all of which receive public funding – stop advancing Beijing’s military modernization,” said Matt Pottinger, Chairman of the China Program at FDD. “Craig shows how Beijing exploits its Confucius Institutes and sister university programs for deliberately nefarious ends.” 

To contact FDD media relations, please email [email protected]. 


About the Foundation for Defense of Democracies: 

FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan policy institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. Connect with FDD on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. 

About FDD’s China Program: 

FDD takes a whole-of-institution approach in studying and countering the threats from the Chinese Communist Party. FDD’s China program, comprised of leading experts on these threats, works closely with FDD’s centers on American power: the Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP) headed by General H.R. McMaster; the Center on Cyber and Technology Innovation (CCTI) chaired by Dr. Samantha Ravich; and the Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP) led by the Hon. Juan Zarate. FDD also studies China across our multiple regional areas spanning the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East, Central Asia, Europe, Africa, Canada, and Latin America.