WASHINGTON, DC—For Chinese intellectuals, the opportunity to study in the United
But for the hundreds of thousands of Chinese nationals attending American universities, the experience is anything but liberating.
This was the message on Friday, when Chinese students and professors gathered for a forum in the U.S. capital to draw attention to an issue they say is a serious threat to American sovereignty and a violation of U.S. laws.
"The Chinese student community [in the United States] is not really free," explained Mr. Xia Yiyang with the World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong. Instead, he says, many spend their tenure in the West being coerced into doing Beijing's bidding, including extending an agenda of political repression to these shores.
For many Chinese students, from the moment they touch down on U.S. soil they are brought into the fold of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association—or CSSA—which claims over a hundred branches on U.S. campuses.
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Student members of the associations are closely watched, ensuring
they don't adopt any dangerous western ideas during their tenure
abroad. Failure to toe the party line can result in threats to one's
family or future job prospects in China, while loyalty can ensure plush
Xia Yang cited the example of one CSSA president who was awarded $3,000/month from the Chinese consulate for carrying out its orders, the most important of which, according to the panelists, are political persecutions and intimidation of Chinese dissident groups such as Tibetans, democracy activists, and Falun Gong.
The issue was brought home recently for panelist Lidia Louk, a Columbia University employee and member of the school's Falun Gong club. In April, the club organized a conference to shed light on the Chinese regime's practice of forcibly harvesting organs from unwilling Falun Gong prisoners. Among the panelists was Canadian human rights attorney David Matas, co-author of an investigative report on organ harvesting from Falun Gong.
The evening before the event, Columbia University's CSSA circulated an email to its members directing them to disrupt the conference.
"We will use the sea of [Chinese] flags, dyed with blood, to strike hard against [Falun Gong's] arrogant fervor, and to resolutely defend the honor and dignity of the Motherland," it read in part. Should "Americans" fail to get the message, it indicated physical confrontation would be in line.
The email worked: during the forum, some 20-30 CSSA members showed up, throwing posters at the speakers and waving placards vilifying the Falun Gong group.
"It was very intimidating," says Louk.
The CSSA went on to post several articles on its website demonizing Falun Gong, most of them taken verbatim from the Chinese embassy's website. Last week, they went so far as making a death threat against Falun Gong adherents and anyone else who dared "offend" the Chinese communists. Until recently, the only advisors at Columbia's CSSA were Chinese consulate employees.
When Falun Dafa club members reported the incidents to
Columbia authorities, as Louk recalls, "we were told it was an issue
concerning Chinese politics, that it wasn't their
It's an assumption many in the West have made. But it's a
costly mistake, according to panelist Larry Liu, an assistant professor
"The CCP is creating a circle of communism in this country…I think all media and congressmen should be very concerned about it," he said, adding that U.S. law requires all individuals engaged in political activities on behalf of a foreign government be officially registered as foreign agents. The Chinese Communist Party, he noted, has made illegal agents out of unwitting Chinese students.
Not only that, but U.S. universities may in fact be training grounds for the next generation of Chinese industrial spies, stealing technological and military secrets that cost the country billions, according to the forum's host Leeshai Lemish.
Many of China's top scientists are sent overseas and asked by the Communist Party to stay there in order to infiltrate the highest echelons of Western societies, said panelist Tony Liu, a postdoctoral researcher in neurology at Yale University. Liu recalled that before his arrival in the United States, a Chinese security agent recommended he stay overseas and make his way in "big corporations and government agencies."
But the biggest concern for panelist Wang Xiaodan, a former
CSSA member, was more simple. "I look at it more from the education
side," she said. "Since coming to the United States, just in this short
time I've learned so much and have gained a huge appreciation for