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Horowitz: Rep. Eric Swalwell’s Chinese spy scandal shows perfectly why we must end the Chinese foreign student program

Op-ed

We need a global divorce

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It's a form of Chinese water torture that chokes America to death. The cycle goes something like this. China, with the help of its leftists allies in America, seeds millions of Chinese students in our universities over the decades, which enables the students to obtain jobs with access to sensitive information; engage in trade theft, counterintelligence operations, and espionage on behalf of China; and influence universities, companies, and politicians to promote more policies that further facilitate the cycle of Chinese subversion. Will the revelation about the latest Chinese spy, Christine Fang, finally force policy changes in this country?

If there is one thing the China virus and all its economic fallout have revealed about our dependence on China for everything, it is that we need a global divorce from this evil country. But that would first require us to stop opening our front door to China at every turn. The bombshell case of accused Chinese spy Christine Fang is exhibit A.

On Tuesday, Axios published the culmination of a year-long investigation that shows California Rep. Eric Swalwell (D) and other California politicians developed close relationships with Christine Fang, who the FBI suspects was a Chinese spy. Fang established close ties with California Democrats between 2011 and 2015 and, according to the Axios story, developed romantic relationships with two Midwestern mayors. In 2015, FBI investigators informed Swalwell of the concerns with Fang, and she immediately left the country. According to Axios, "U.S. officials believe Fang's real reason for being in the U.S was to gather political intelligence and to influence rising U.S. officials on China-related issues."

The real headline of this story is that Fang was enrolled as a student at California State University East Bay and served as the president of the school's Chinese Student Association. She used this platform to influence political events on and off campus. It's this fact that is so concerning, because we have allowed China to monopolize our F visas to the point that every year, there are over 350,000 Chinese students studying in America. While not all of them are spies, there are a lot of others like Fang, and we have no good vetting system. "She was just one of lots of agents," said a current senior U.S. intelligence official to Axios.

The reason we know the Chinese student visa problem is the most important takeaway from this story is the fact that lead author Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian said on Twitter, "The worst (and most inaccurate) possible lesson to take away from the story of Christine Fang is that Chinese students on campus are a threat."

Nope. This is an extremely accurate takeaway. The Chinese foreign student program is the antecedent to the entire Chinese espionage food chain that leads to the workplace, political world, governmental employment, and trade theft.

We hand out roughly 70,000 to 85,000 green cards to Chinese nationals every year, more than to nationals of any country besides Mexico. In addition, we have, by far, more foreign students from China than from any other country. In fact, 372,532 Chinese nationals were here on student visas for the 2019-2020 academic year, more than one-third of the growing total of over 1 million foreign students every year.

How in the world could we possibly vet these people and be sure that the Chinese either did not initially send any of them as operatives or are not manipulating those they know are here studying technical fields with bribes and threats to their relatives back home? Any wonder why China is stealing our research and development left and right?

This is not some right-wing theory. This has been obvious to our government for years. The director of national intelligence warned in the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment, "China's intelligence services will exploit the openness of American society, especially academia and the scientific community, using a variety of means." The U.S. attorneys' website is replete with cases of Chinese nationals facing indictment over fraud or espionage-related activity in academia or the workplace.

Noted right-wing outlet CNN reported in 2019, "The sheer size of the Chinese student population at U.S. universities presents a major challenge for law enforcement and intelligence agencies tasked with striking the necessary balance between protecting America's open academic environment and mitigating the risk to national security."

According to a bipartisan Senate Homeland Security subcommittee report, there are 10,000 Chinese nationals conducting research in the Department of Energy's National Labs. The report found that agencies and departments conducting scientific research like the National Institutes of Health and the State Department do not "systematically track visa applicants linked to China's talent recruitment plans."

The report found that foreign-born researchers working for various U.S. scientific research agencies were being paid by China under the Thousand Talents Plan run by the communist government. It concludes, "American taxpayer funded research has contributed to China's global rise over the last 20 years," because it allowed China to go "from brain drain to brain gain."

In the case of foreign students, it's really the god of public education, which is being subsidized happily by the Chinese. The universities get cash from the Chinese government, while the Chinese get operatives and intelligence officers into the country to work in academic fields and occupations. The rest of the American people lose.

In 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee that "the level of naïveté on the part of the academic sector" about the espionage threat from Chinese foreign students and the Confucius Institutes that organizes their influence peddling "creates its own issues."

"I think in this setting I would just say that the use of nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting, whether it's professors, scientists, students, we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country," said Wray in response to a question from Marco Rubio about "the counterintelligence risk posed to U.S. national security from Chinese students." "It's not just in major cities. It's in small ones as well. It's across basically every discipline," added Wray.

Last year, a U.K. parliamentary committee warned how China uses its foreign student diaspora and the accompanying funding stream through the Confucius Institutes to take over college campuses and stifle freedom of speech. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee warned in a report, "There are strong signs that the [government] is not treating the issue of interference in academia as the priority it should be."

In America, China uses this diaspora to influence dirty politicians like Swalwell. As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Swalwell constantly projected upon Trump and his family the allegation that they were bought out by Russia. Meanwhile, he was going on TV downplaying the threat of Chinese subversion.

What's quite evident is that we need social distancing from China today. Our politicians are bought and paid for by China. Evidently, while there are some Chinese spies who are literally in bed with the politicians, the politicians are all proverbially in bed with the Chinese government. The effort to reverse this influence begins with placing a moratorium on F-1 visas for Chinese students. Why should they be here anyway, with campuses too cowardly to open in-person learning because of fear of the very virus that emanated from China?

Rather than passing a National Defense Authorization Act that contains a provision harming small businesses and renaming military bases, Republicans should demand a provision cutting off F-1 visas.

Why is the NDAA the appropriate vehicle?

None other than former Secretary of Defense James Mattis noted in his resignation letter that Russia and China are our biggest strategic threats and that we must "be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries" and "use all the tools of American power to provide for the common defense." Well, if nothing is more quintessential for the common defense than countering China and Russia, cutting off student visas that allow them to subvert us from the inside out belongs in the annual defense bill itself.
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