U.S. universities were accused by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday of caving under Chinese pressure to blunt or ban criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.
Before leaving office in January, the attack, which included naming two university officials by name came as the Trump administration continues to cement its anti-China policies.
Pompeo threatened colleges in the U.S., alleging that they failed to discuss the complaints of the Trump administration regarding China’s efforts to manipulate students and scholars. Specifically, he called out the MIT president, arguing that he declined to host a speech by Pompeo and a senior official at the University of Washington about a case involving a Chinese student.
Both colleges denied the allegations swiftly and emphatically.
In remarks at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Pompeo defended the Trump administration’s stern position on China. The speech came less than a month before the two crucial run-off races in Georgia that would decide Senate control.
Americans deserve to know how, for their own reasons, the CCP is poisoning the well of our higher education, and how such acts are weakening our liberties and our national security. If we don’t educate ourselves, Beijing will educate us,” he said. “They know that left-leaning college campuses are rife with anti-Americanism and provide their anti-American messaging with easy target audiences.”
In Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong, the western Xinjiang region and the South China Sea, Pompeo has been a defender of the administration’s hardline approach on Chinese policies, and has made similar pronouncements since. He placed several layers of restrictions on Chinese officials; narrowed visas for Chinese diplomats, journalists and scholars; and pressured other nations to reject high-tech communications from China.
But his remarks on Wednesday were striking in that he identified the two American university officials in suspected Chinese malfeasance as complicit.
Pompeo said he tried to give his Georgia Tech speech at MIT originally, but he was turned down by the president of the esteemed research institution, Rafael Reif, for fear of upsetting Beijing.
Pompeo said, “MIT wasn’t interested in having me give this speech on their campus.” “President Rafael Reif suggested that I could insult their ethnic Chinese students and professors with my arguments.”
MIT spokeswoman Kimberly Allen denied Pompeo’s claim, stating that because of coronavirus limitations, the university refused to host the speech. She said some other high-level prospective activities had also been declined.
Reif “had real concerns that a high-level visit might not only attract crowds, but suggest to students that MIT did not take seriously its own rules,” she said. “With his deep regrets, President Reif verbally conveyed the decision of MIT based on a commitment to the health of our students and our surrounding community.”
Pompeo also blamed Sarah Castro, director of federal affairs at the University of Washington, for reportedly refusing to support Vera Zhou, a Chinese-born student detained in China in 2017, so as not to jeopardise a “multimillion-dollar deal” between the university and Beijing.
“Now, thank goodness, Vera has finally been released and has returned to the United States,” Pompeo said of the student. “But no thanks to Washington University, and no thanks to its deal with China.”
“A statement by university spokesman Victor Balta called the remarks of Pompeo a “shameful” and “outrageous” deflection by an administration that on behalf of Zhou took “no effective action.
That the Secretary of State would believe that in this case a university has more influence than the government of the United States is bizarre,” he said.” “It is unbecoming of the office that he would identify a staff member by name and his statement is flatly wrong.”
Balta said the university had no record of State Department interaction with any deals with China, and officials may not know what Pompeo was referring to as a “multimillion-dollar deal.” He added that Zhou is again enrolled at the university as of this quarter.