Beijing-Backed Student Group Pressuring Cornell on China Partnership

Cornell University is being pushed by a student group backed by the Chinese embassy to move forward with a multi-million dollar partnership with the communist government, The Washington Free Beacon reported.

A petition calling on Cornell to start a dual degree program funded by the Chinese Ministry of Education was launched by the Cornell chapter of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association. That group has dismissed reports of human rights abuses in China as an effort to “deliberately discredit and attack China,” according to the Free Beacon.

“We sincerely hope that Cornell can carry out mutually beneficial cooperation with China,” the petition says, “and avoid ideological conflicts, political disagreements and other factors affecting pure academic exchanges.”

The Cornell group says on its web page: “Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) is a voluntary, non-profit organization whose members are students and scholars coming from China, It is the ONLY Chinese student organization officially supported by Embassy of People’s Republic of China at Cornell University.

“Cornell CSSA’s primary mission is to enhance happiness, harmony and unity among members; foster acquaintance and good fellowship through information, activities and mutual assistance; introduce Chinese culture and facilitate international culture exchange …”

But the Free Beacon reported Beijing has a history of using CSSA branches to influence discourse. Citing information from Foreign Policy, the Free Beacon notes the student group’s Australian chapter allegedly spied on students on behalf of the Chinese government.

“If they can shape in some way the way that Cornell students think about the [Chinese Communist Party], then they can shape the future of America,” said Mike Gonzales, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

The group’s Cornell petition came after the university’s student assembly and faculty senate demanded the university reconsider plans for a dual degree program with Peking University.

Some professors have expressed deep concerns about whether Cornell could maintain its academic independence amid increasing control and influence by the Chinese.

“When I talk to my colleagues at Peking University, there’s a dean and then there’s a political officer,” said Ken Birman, a professor of computer science, according to an earlier report by the Free Beacon. “I’m wondering how we maintain Cornell’s independence and freedom of bias and our standards?”

The debate about the joint-degree program has spurred an examination of the school’s ties to China as the country continues with myriad human rights violations including a campaign that some have described as “genocide” against Uighur Muslims.

“If we were running a joint-degree program with a Nazi university, then we would have said, ‘Well, we shouldn’t be doing that, because they’re committing genocide,'” Professor Eli Friedman, who studies Chinese labor issues, said at a March 10 faculty meeting.

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