Concerns Grow Over Beijing's Influence, Smear Campaigns Targeting Academia

As Washington detailed growing concerns this week over foreign funding and influence in U.S. educational institutions, international China scholars have described behind-the-scenes pressure and murky smear campaigns in support of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)..In its latest report on foreign funding in education, the U.S. Education Department said Cornell University had failed to report promptly around U.S.$1 million in funding from Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.Several other universities had been slow to admit to foreign funding, adding to growing concerns over CCP influence on U.S. academic life, the department said.Officials are concerned that foreign money may come with strings attached, and provide foreign governments with improper access to sensitive research or limit academic freedom in some programs, the report said."For too long, [U.S.] institutions have provided an unprecedented level of access to foreign governments and their instrumentalities in an environment lacking transparency and oversight,” the Education Department said in its report."Many large and well-resourced institutions of higher education have aggressively pursued and accepted foreign money," the report found, while failing to report the funding as required by law.The report also cited "concerns that China seeks to leverage its relationships with American universities to dominate a global market."Investigation criticizedThe report came as dozens of academics and experts on China hit out at a New Zealand university for its investigation of Anne-Marie Brady, a university professor who publicized links between the country's universities and Chinese state interests.The University of Canterbury has said it is investigating complaints against Brady from universities and individuals linked to a report she submitted to the New Zealand parliament in July.Brady, who is also a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington DC, has been called before an internal disciplinary body after complaints were made about the research paper.The report, titled "Holding a Pen in One Hand, Gripping a Gun in the Other," was co-authored by Jichang Lulu and Sam Pheloung, and details links between New Zealand universities and tech companies, and the Chinese state, including the paramilitary bingtuan in the northwestern region of Xinjiang.The China scholars called for an apology to Professor Brady, adding that the normal method of recording a disagreement with an academic paper was to publish a critical response, not to subject the writer to an investigation."I support Anne-Marie [Brady] because I respect her as an academic, am concerned about her as a person, and because not doing so misses an opportunity to send a message that universities must not forget that in democratic societies they serve as critical bastions for the free production of ideas and objective research," Carla Freeman, director of the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins-SAIS told RFA in a recent interview.'Clearly the wrong way'Andreas Fulda, associate professor of politics at the University of Nottingham, said covering up links between universities and foreign governments wasn't the way to go."You know anyone who actually files a freedom of information request and knows how to ask the right questions will be able to ... reveal all sorts of highly problematic partnership deals and agreements," Fulda told RFA.  "That's the nature of living in an open society with the rule of law.""So for universities to think that they can just hush it up and ... prevent a public debate, I think is ... clearly the wrong way," he said.Meanwhile, there are personal consequences for anyone speaking out about China. Fulda said he has been subjected to a barrage of emails sent to colleagues that aim to discredit him."Six colleagues in total had told me, individually, that they received ... this malicious email which attempted to smear my professional reputation," he said."It always means you have to explain to people [about] this kind of character assassination [and] it works in some cases ... it may potentially damage an individual or a group," Fulda said.'Run like businesses'Fulda said the fact that universities in Western nations are now run like businesses makes it harder for them to defend against influence campaigns.He said universities needed to respond to the CCP's suppression of the Hong Kong protest movement, the threat of military strikes against the democratic island of Taiwan, and the genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups in Xinjiang."To assume that they can just do business as usual is of course ... fanciful," he said.Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative told RFA that tracking funding linked to the governments of China and Russia is "very challenging.""So much of it is covert and not disclosed," he said. "This announcement by the State Department will help to expose some of that funding, but more work is still needed.""Regarding higher education, investigations by the Department of Education have revealed significant amounts of previously undisclosed funding coming from the Chinese government into colleges and universities in the U.S. and there's probably even more money that we still don't know about," he said."It's critically important for policymakers to know who is funding the experts they're talking to or whose research they're reading," he said. "We know that funding can bias, or at the very least, influence the work think tanks are doing."Reported by Jane Tang for RFA's Mandarin Service. Edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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Japan to Help ASEAN States Secure Coasts Amid South China Sea Tensions

Tokyo has agreed to supply Southeast Asian governments with patrol boats – Indonesia and Vietnam in particular – so they can secure their coasts amid tensions in the South China Sea, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in Jakarta on Wednesday. Japan strongly supports preservation of the rule of law in international waterways and is troubled by some recent activities in the South China Sea that go against maritime law, the new prime minister said. “Japan will support measures against illegal fishing by providing assistance in the form of patrol boats to ASEAN countries, including Indonesia and Vietnam,” Suga told a news conference in Jakarta as he wrapped up a visit to both countries – his first foreign trip since he succeeded Shinzo Abe as prime minister in mid-September. “Peace and prosperity can be achieved in the region only if we implement the rule of law that allows everyone freedom and openness, but there have been actions breaching this law in the South China Sea and we’re watching with concern,” he said, apparently alluding to escalating Sino-U.S. tensions over the contested waterway. Suga said that Japan strongly opposes the use of force to solve any disputes or settle any claims. “Japan rejects any action and movement that escalates tensions in the South China Sea,” he said, urging countries to refrain from using “force and intimidation.” However, Japan’s efforts towards a free, peaceful and open Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean should not be construed as a slight against any one nation, the prime minister said. “For Japan, an Indo-Pacific that is free and open is not aimed at any one country.” On Tuesday, Suga had said that Tokyo supported ASEAN’s Indo-Pacific outlook because of its many fundamental similarities to Japan’s vision. He also specifically addressed China’s criticism of The Quad – an informal strategic forum of four Indo-Pacific democracies: Australia, India, Japan, and the United States. Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi took aim at the U.S. government, saying it was seeking an “Indo-Pacific NATO” with The Quad. “We are open to cooperate with any country that shares our outlook and there’s no intention to create an Indo-Pacific NATO,” Suga said. Meanwhile on Wednesday, Japanese media reported that Japan’s Fisheries Agency had flagged a recent surge in Chinese fishing boats in the country's exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. The rise of Chinese vessels was seen in the Yamatotai fishing grounds located in the center of the Sea of Japan, according to a report by the Asahi Shimbun, a Japanese daily newspaper. A record 102 orders to leave the EEZ had been issued to Chinese fishing boats this year as of Oct. 16, a significant increase over the 89 and 12 of 2018 and 2019, the Japan Coast Guard said. Boosting defense ties Japan has been ramping up its engagement in Southeast Asia, especially by bolstering its defense and civilian ties with countries whose borders extend into the South China Sea. After talks with Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Tuesday, Suga agreed to accelerate talks on the export of defense hardware and transfer of technology to Indonesia. On Monday, while in Vietnam, Suga agreed in principle to Tokyo supplying Hanoi with military equipment. In August, Japan signed its first major defense export deal, the sale of advanced long-range surveillance radar to the Philippines. And earlier this year, Japan promised to supply the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) with coastal defense vessels, Teuku Faizasyah, a spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service,. Bakamla and the Japan Coast Guard also signed a cooperation agreement in 2019, he said. “Since then, various cooperation programs have been implemented, including to increase the capacity of Bakamla,” he said. Faizasyah said the cooperation deal had nothing to do with the South China Sea issue, although Indonesia had in recent years and on multiple occasions detected Chinese fishing or coast guard ships in its EEZ off the Natuna Islands. These islands lie in the southern reaches of the South China Sea, an area that Indonesia calls the Natuna Sea. The latest such incursion took place in September, in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. In its protest to the Chinese government about the ship, Indonesia reiterated that it rejected China’s so-called Nine-Dash Line, which Beijing uses to demarcate its claims in the South China Sea, and that the Indonesian government has no overlapping claims with Beijing in its EEZ. Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, along with Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan, have territorial claims or maritime boundaries in the South China Sea that overlap with the sweeping claims of China. While Indonesia does not regard itself as party to the South China Sea dispute, Beijing claims historic rights to parts of the sea that overlap Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. America’s top diplomat to visit Indonesia Meanwhile, in its latest push to engage Southeast Asia for its support on the South China Sea, the U.S. announced on Wednesday that Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo would visit Indonesia during a five-nation tour from Oct. 25-30. At a press briefing in Washington on Wednesday, Pompeo said that in addition to bilateral issues, he would discuss how Indonesia and the U.S. could cooperate toward a free and open Indo-Pacific, in the face of what he described as a Chinese threat to Southeast Asian countries’ sovereignty. “[I]t’s no surprise that the United States firmly believes that it is in Southeast Asia … that it’s in their best interest to ensure that their sovereignty is protected against the continued efforts to encroach upon their basic rights – their maritime rights, their sovereign rights, their ability to conduct business in the way that they want to inside of their country that the Chinese Communist Party continues to threaten,” Pompeo said, according to a transcript from the State Department. “I know the Indonesians share our desire to make sure there’s a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we want to make sure they know they have a capable, willing partner in the United States of America.” Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

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Taiwan Lodges Protest Over Assault by Chinese Diplomats at Fiji Reception

The democratic island of Taiwan said on Monday it had lodged a protest with Fiji after it emerged that one of its diplomats was taken to hospital following an assault by Chinese officials who gatecrashed an event in Suva earlier this month."The incident was very regrettable and we condemn China for disrupting our event, which was held peacefully," Taiwan's deputy foreign minister Harry Tseng told lawmakers.Tseng was answering questions after regional media reported the Oct. 8 incident. He said the foreign ministry had kept the matter quiet because it was "confirming the details" of the incident.Two staff members from the Chinese embassy in Suva, Fiji's capital, started taking photos at a reception marking Taiwan's Oct. 10 National Day, according to separate reports published Monday in the Grubsheet Sunday blog, and a New Zealand-based Asia Pacific Report.When asked to leave, the gatecrashers assaulted a member of staff of the Taiwan representative office in Fiji, a foreign ministry spokesman said."The Chinese personnel were later forcibly taken away from the scene by the Fijian police, but then the police turned it around and said that the Chinese staff were attacked by our staff, to try to muddy the waters," he said."The Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemns these serious violations of the rule of law and civilized norms by the staff of the Chinese Embassy in Fiji," the spokesman said.The protest by Taiwan was over the refusal by Fijian police to pursue the matter, saying that the Chinese officials had diplomatic immunity, the media reports said.Fiji established diplomatic ties with China in 1975, five years after becoming independent.'A cozy relationship'The ministry dismissed claims by the Chinese diplomats that they were the ones being assaulted.Larry Tseng, head of the foreign ministry's East Asian and Pacific Affairs department, said parties on both sides sustained injuries in the scuffles."Our side sustained a minor head injury ... in a scuffle, where they were pushed to the ground," Tseng said. "The other side behaved in a very arrogant manner.""We asked the police to take them away ... but you can imagine the cozy relationship they have with the government [in Fiji]," he said.Taiwan's foreign ministry has issued a warning to all of its missions abroad to take precautions against similar incidents in future, Tseng said.Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian responded on Monday by saying Taiwan "has no so-called diplomats" in Fiji, and that its embassy staff were "provoked by a cake" bearing the Taiwan flag, which dates back to the 1911 Republic of China (ROC) formed by Sun Yat-sen's Kuomintang, the CCP's enemy in the civil war (1927-1949)."The report you cited is totally untrue, and Taiwan was like a thief calling 'stop the thief'," Zhao told a regular news briefing in Beijing."The Taiwanese institution in Fiji blatantly displayed the [ROC] flag, and its cake was also decorated with a self-styled flag," Zhao said.Taiwan rejects unificationTaiwan president Tsai Ing-wen, who swept to a landslide second-term victory in January 2020, has repeatedly rejected calls from Chinese Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping that the island, which has never been controlled by the CCP, "unify" with China.Tsai has said Taiwan's 23 million people have no wish to give up their sovereignty or way of life, and that China should first move towards a democratic system.Xi said in a speech on Jan. 2, 2019 that China would make no promises not to use military force to annex the island. China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) has flown 217 sorties into Taiwan’s airspace in 2020, mostly by military surveillance aircraft.A recent opinion poll found that more than 80 percent of Taiwanese would reject Xi's offer to rule the island via the "one country, two systems" model used for the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macau, especially following a brutal crackdown by Hong Kong's riot police on political dissent following months of protests in Hong Kong last year.Taiwan was ruled as a Japanese colony in the 50 years prior to the end of World War II, but was occupied by the KMT government and troops as part of the post-World War II settlement.The island began a transition to democracy following the death of Chiang Kai-shek's son, President Chiang Ching-kuo, in January 1988, starting with direct elections to the legislature in the early 1990s and culminating in the first direct election of a president, Lee Teng-hui, in 1996.Chao Tian-lin, a lawmaker for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said China would suffer damage to its international image from the incident."It's almost unheard-of for someone to carry out acts of violence like this at another country's diplomatic function," Chao said. "This behavior must have been sanctioned ... from higher up in the [Chinese] government."Reported by Hsia Hsiao-hwa and Lee Tsung-han for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Chung Kuang-cheng for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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Chinese Developer in Cambodia Sanctioned ‘Unfairly’ by US, Cambodia’s Defense Minister Says

A Chinese company sanctioned this week by the U.S. Treasury Department for land grabs, rights abuses, and corruption in Cambodia has been targeted unfairly and is operating in line with the country’s laws, Cambodia’s defense minister said on Friday.The Union Development Group (UDG)—which is building the U.S. $3.8 billion dollar Dara Sakor project including a seaport, resorts, and casinos in Cambodia’s Koh Kong province —was sanctioned by the Treasury Department on Tuesday under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.The Department also raised concerns that Beijing may be using the project to secretly build a naval base and airstrip for military use as part of a bid to secure its territorial claims in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service in an interview on Friday, Cambodian Defense Minister Tea Banh challenged the charges made against UDG, saying the Chinese state-owned developer has “invested properly” in the Southeast Asian country and is operating within Cambodia’s laws.“It is not true at all to say that this company is involved in corruption and human rights violations,” the defense minister said. “The company has properly invested in Cambodia according to Cambodian laws, and has always complied with guidelines issued by the government, just the same as other companies investing [in Cambodia].”Though UDG’s investments in Cambodia have had “impacts” on residents of the areas near projects, the company and the Cambodian government have properly compensated villagers displaced by the company’s work and are “finding solutions for the problems that remain,” Tea Banh said.The Dara Sakor project has been mired in controversy ever since UDG’s parent company, Tianjin Wanlong Group, was granted a 99-year lease to 90,000 acres along 20 percent of Cambodia’s coastline in May 2008. The lease was handed to Tianjin Wanlong without an open bidding process, and provided the company with more than triple the size of any concession allowed under Cambodia’s land law.UDG soon began clearing large swathes of forest from the Botum Sakor National Park, which was included as part of the land lease, and forced hundreds of families to relocate. Many have yet to receive the compensation they were promised as part of the deal 12 years ago.The Treasury Department confirmed on Sept. 15 that UDG’s seizure and destruction of villagers’ land was carried out in part by Cambodian military forces, which controlled villagers’ movements, prevented them from planting rice paddies on disputed land, and burned down the houses of villagers with whom UDG had conflicts.Meanwhile, much of the Dara Sakor project, touted by Beijing as one of its signature Belt and Road Initiative projects, remains unfinished, and completed structures like casinos and a hotel have been left largely to rot.Work has continued though on Dara Sakor’s international airport, which will be the largest in Cambodia when finished, heightening U.S. concerns that the facility and a deep-sea port under construction nearby will be used someday to base and support Chinese military forces.Reports that Cambodia will allow a Chinese military presence on its territory are unfounded, Tea Banh told RFA.“Frankly, these accusations based on so-called credible reports only serve the geopolitical interests of the United States within the region,” the defense minister said, adding, “Cambodia has no real concerns about this.”“The U.S. itself has several military bases around the world, but no one questions them about that. I find this really hard to explain,” he said.'China has been an enabler'Observers meanwhile welcomed the U.S. moves against UDG, with Sophal Ear—an associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in California—saying that the U.S. has now shown there will be consequences for China’s economic, political, and military encroachments in Cambodia.“The U.S. is like a wedding crasher. China and the Hun Sen regime were getting married, and the U.S. showed up to ruin their perfect ceremony!” Sophal Ear said.“The regime isn’t going to like their money or power relationships being touched. But then again, there ought to be consequences for human rights abuses, the destruction of democracy, and the curtailing of freedom.”“China has been an enabler of the Hun Sen regime—and it needs to be told in no uncertain terms to cut it out,” he said.Cambodia-based political science professor Em Sovannara said that by sanctioning UDG, the United States has signaled its continuing willingness to enforce international law and help smaller countries be more cautious in their dealings with China, whose companies “always violate legal principles.”“But I think that Cambodia won’t benefit much from these latest measures because of the strong and close relations it has built with China in recent years,” he said.Alex Gonzalez-Davidson—an environmental activist and founder of Mother Nature, a group working to protect the environment in Koh Kong—called the U.S. sanctions against the Chinese development firm a warning to Hun Sen to roll back Beijing’s influence in the country.“This is a clear signal to Hun Sen that if he doesn’t limit China’s influence, and doesn’t restore human rights and democracy [in Cambodia], he can expect even more entities to be placed on a U.S. black list,” Gonzalez-Davidson said, adding that even Hun Sen’s family members and Hun Sen himself may find themselves sanctioned someday.China has stepped in to wield significant influence in Cambodia in recent years as relations between Phnom Penh and Western governments have cooled amid concerns over the country’s human rights situation and political environment following a broad crackdown on the political opposition in 2017.Chinese investment has meanwhile flowed into Cambodia, but Cambodians regularly chafe at what they call unscrupulous business practices and unbecoming behavior by Chinese businessmen and residents.Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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