China Punishing Students In U.S. Who Speak Out Against Regime
Soldiers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) honor guard perform the flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square to mark the 71st Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 2020 in Beijing, China.
VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Chinese students studying at America’s college and universities are not safe from the authoritarian surveillance of the Chinese Communist Party.

ProPublica reported on the story of Zhihao Kong, a student at Purdue University who expressed dissident views about the regime publicly, prompting a backlash against his family back home. As ProPublica explained:

In a rush of adrenaline last year, the graduate student posted an open letter on a dissident website praising the heroism of the students killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

The blowback, he said, was fast and frightening. His parents called from China, crying. Officers of the Ministry of State Security, the feared civilian spy agency, had warned them about his activism in the United States.

“They told us to make you stop or we are all in trouble,” his parents said.

Then other Chinese students at Purdue began hounding him, calling him a CIA agent and threatening to report him to the embassy and the MSS.

When this started, Kong had accepted an invitation to speak at an online commemoration for the Tiananmen massacre. He told ProPublica he was unsure whether he would ultimately participate, but joined in rehearsals on Zoom anyway. Kong told the outlet that within days of him participating that rehearsal, MSS officers went to his family’s door again. His parents then begged him to stop speaking out against the regime or attending any rallies.

“I think that the Zoom rehearsals were known by the Chinese Communist Party,” Kong told the outlet. “I think some of the Chinese students in my school are CCP members. I can tell they are not simply students. They could be spies or informants.”

As ProPublica reported: “As the regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping reaches across borders to control its citizens wherever they are, its assaults on academic freedom have intensified, according to U.S. national security officials, academics, dissidents and other experts. Chinese intelligence officers are monitoring campuses across the United States with online surveillance and an array of informants motivated by money, ambition, fear or authentic patriotism. A comment in class about Taiwan or a speech at a rally about Tibet can result in retaliation against students and their relatives back home.”

Mike Orlando, who leads the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, told the outlet that people who don’t adhere to the Chinese Communist Party’s line “risk being targeted for harassment.”

It is not just Purdue facing this issue, Chinese students at Brandeis University last year sabotaged “an online panel about atrocities against Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.” A graduate student at the University of Georgia was pressured by a Chinese intelligence officer to spy on potential dissidents. The student publicized the conversations, and his family was harassed by the regime. A law student at St. John’s University in New York told the outlet that a dissident chat group was hacked by Chinese officials.

“If there are more than three or four Chinese students in the same class, you are scared to talk. A Chinese student is definitely seen in good favor by the Chinese government for reporting someone.” Chen said.

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