Chinese university claiming ties to US schools flagged as military threat

One of these universities claims ties to nine major U.S. colleges.

The Deparment of Commerce has released additions to a U.S. military security threat list, including several Chinese universities.

Several Chinese universities were added Friday to a U.S. government security risk list. One of the colleges claims to have ties to nine U.S. universities. Now the website for one of those universities is gone. 

The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security added twenty-four “governmental and commercial organizations to the Entity List for engaging in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States,” including several Chinese universities and institutes. 

Harbin Engineering University was added as a sanctioned organization, but the university was not always known by this name. HEU began as a department of the People's Liberation Army Military Engineering Institute, which was founded in 1953 following instructions from Chairman Mao Zedong

In 1994, the institute was renamed to Harbin Engineering University. Two years later, HEU was characterized as “one of the key universities being enhanced by the first batch of the 211 Project, which was established by the Chinese government to “facilitate the development of higher education in the context of the country's advancement in social and economic fields.” 

Goals include “enhancing China’s overall capacity and international competitiveness.” 

“HEU is dedicated to maintaining an international focus, building relationships with institutions such as the University of California-Berkeley," stated a page on the University website that was offline Thursday. An archived version shows the same language.

Of the university’s approximately one-hundred International Partners, nine are American universities, including North Dakota State University, the University of  Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University of  Michigan. The page detailing these partners went offline Thursday, but another public archive of the page reveals the same information.

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HEU’s Ideology & Politics Theory Teaching  Department is based on the “Marxism-Leninism Department” from its parent university, PLA Military Engineering Institute. HEU’s College of Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) has been “involved in the comprehensive research and development of nuclear power plants in China.” This page also went offline Thursday, with an archived version revealing the same language.

According to the university’s website, CNST “adheres to the goals of becoming ‘International, Open, Research-intensive, High-level.’” The college has signed “comprehensive cooperation agreements” with more than twenty institutions including the University of Michigan and Texas A&M University. 

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HEU’s parent Institute (PLA Military Engineering Institute) is now called the National University of Defense Technology and is under direct leadership of China’s Central Military Commission. 

Another Chinese institute added to the Department of Commerce’s warning list is the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT). The institute was invited to be part of the 985 Project as an original member of the C9 League, the “Chinese equivalent of the US Ivy League.” The Chinese government began the initiative in 1998.

A U.S. embassy spokesman told The Times of London that the Harbin Institute of Technology was added to the entity list due to it “acquiring and attempting to acquire US-origin items in support of programs for the People’s Liberation Army.”

“HIT has sought to use U.S. technology for Chinese missile programs. This activity is contrary to national security and foreign policy interests,” he added.

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The action of adding HEU and HIT to the entity list will “prohibit the export, re-export, or in-country transfer of items subject to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR)... without Department of Commerce authorization.” 

“The new additions to the Entity List demonstrate our commitment to preventing the use of U.S. commodities and technologies in activities that undermine our interests,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.   

Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation Mike Gonzalez told Campus Reform, “This is a very difficult time now with China” citing the strife in Hong Kong, “skirmishes on the Indian-Chinese border” and COVID-19 as just some of the reasons.

“Should we be concerned about foreign students dealing with sensitive technology? Yes. Of course, it is a real concern, Gonzalez answered. “We don’t want research universities doing national security research to be spied upon.”

“How to handle that is the devil in the details,” Gonzalez added. “Something too sweeping could be very harmful [because] we do want bright students coming to this country and staying here.”

“It is increasingly dawning on the [Trump] Administration that China is an adversary who needs to be taken seriously. The transfer of sensitive information, especially in technologies, is something that is increasingly on the horizon for foreign policymakers,” Gonzalez concluded.  

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