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China: Risk review of Academia

International Affairs Academy

Document of the Day

Free Professional Development

As of March 2018, more than 1.4 million international students and professors were participating in America’s open and collaborative academic environment. The inclusion of these international scholars at U.S. colleges and universities entails both substantial benefit—and notable risk. Many of these visitors contribute to the impressive successes and achievements enjoyed by these institutions, which produce advanced research, cutting-edge technology, and insightful scholarship. However, this open environment also puts academia at risk for exploitation by foreign actors who do not follow our rules or share our values.

The vast majority of the 1.4 million international scholars on U.S. campuses pose no threat to their host institutions, fellow classmates, or research fields. On the contrary, these international visitors represent valuable contributors to their campuses’ achievements, providing financial benefits, diversity of ideas, sought expertise, and opportunities for cross-cultural exchange. Any research institution hoping to be—and to remain—among the best in the world must attract and retain the best people in the world, wherever they are from. The FBI recognizes, and values, this unique package of benefits these international students and professors provide. However, some foreign actors, particularly foreign state adversaries, seek to illicitly or illegitimately acquire U.S. academic research and information to advance their scientific, economic, and military development goals. By doing so, they can save their countries significant time, money, and resources while achieving generational advances in technology. Through their exploitative efforts, they reduce U.S. competitiveness and deprive victimized parties of revenue and credit for their work.

Foreign adversaries’ acquisition efforts can come in many forms, including overt theft, plagiarism, elicitation, and the commercialization of early-stage collaborative research. As foreign adversaries use increasingly sophisticated and creative methodologies to exploit America’s free and open education environment, the United States faces an ever-greater challenge to strike a sustainable balance between unrestricted sharing and sufficient security within this education ecosystem.

Through a whole-of-society approach that includes increased public awareness, academic vigilance, industry self-protection, government and law enforcement collaboration, and legislative support, the U.S. higher education system can continue to enjoy the manifold contributions that international academics provide, while minimizing the risk they (and their affiliated home governments) pose to U.S. security priorities. The FBI maintains that striking this balance is possible and necessary. Foreign adversaries exploit America’s deeply held and vital culture of collaboration and openness on university campuses, with the Chinese government posing a particular threat to U.S. academia for a variety of reasons. First, it does not play by the same rules of academic integrity that U.S. educational institutions observe.

Many recent high-profile examples show plagiarism is commonplace throughout Chinese academic and research institutions. Illustrative of this endemic plagiarism, when the Journal of Zhejiang University–Science became the first in China to employ text analysis software to identify plagiarism in 2008, its analysis of articles published over a two-year period found approximately 31% of papers exhibited “unreasonable” copying and plagiarism, according to the journal director. Second, the Chinese government has historically sponsored economic espionage, and China is the world’s principal infringer of intellectual property.

The annual cost to the U.S. economy of counterfeit goods, pirated software, and theft of trade secrets is between $225 billion and $600 billion. Lastly, while the vast majority of students and researchers from China are in the United States for legitimate academic reasons and contribute to the diversity of backgrounds and ideas important in our society, the Chinese government uses some Chinese students—mostly post-graduate students and post-doctorate researchers studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)—and professors to operate as non-traditional collectors of intellectual property. These Chinese scholars may serve as collectors—wittingly or unwittingly—of economic, scientific, and technological intelligence from U.S. institutions to ultimately benefit Chinese academic institutions and businesses. Regardless of motive, this exploitation comes at great cost to U.S. interests.

When these foreign academics unfairly take advantage of the U.S. academic environment, they do so at a cost to the institutions that host them, as well as to the greater U.S. innovation ecosystem in which they play a role. Directly or indirectly, their actions cost money, jobs, expertise, sensitive information, advanced technology, first-mover advantage, and domestic incentive to innovate. The FBI values academic integrity and rules-based scholarship, and we recognize international academics infuse campuses—and greater U.S. society—with a diversity of ideas that helps fuel the continued growth of the U.S. economy.

According to the current numbers, immigrants—including many who first came to America as international students—founded almost a quarter of all new U.S. businesses, nearly one-third of our venture-backed companies, and half of Silicon Valley’s high-tech startups. More than 18% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants. Academic environments represent the very bedrock on which this country is built and upon which its future depends. These campuses are where young minds from diverse background and countries discover new technologies, learn novel concepts, establish crucial connections, pursue innovation, and lay the groundwork for America’s continued leadership in scholarship and technology advancement for decades to come. If these open, free, and collaborative environments are compromised, limited, or obstructed, all of us here today—and the country’s future generations— lose. We want to work with you to address these challenges.

CHINA’S DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY The Chinese government’s strategic goals include becoming a comprehensive national power, creating innovation-driven economic growth, and modernizing its military. It aspires to equal or surpass the United States as a global superpower and influence the world with a value system shaped by undemocratic, totalitarian ideals. Using a whole-of-society approach to achieve these goals, the Chinese government takes advantage of every opportunity— from academic collaboration to economic espionage—to develop and maintain a strategic economic edge. To achieve its economic, technological, and military goals, the Chinese government relies on various state-directed plans.

These plans provide insight into the kinds of knowledge, research, intellectual property, and trade secrets the country targets and seeks to acquire from foreign sources. At present, China’s government has as many as 100 plans guiding China’s foreign acquisition, and their scale and influence are impressive. Two of the most important among these plans include the 13th Five-Year Plan and the Made in China 2025 Plan, both of which help to guide the country’s overall strategic direction. Comprehensive National Power CHINA’S STRATEGIC GOALS Innovation-Driven Economic Growth Model Non-Traditional Collectors Joint Ventures Research Partnerships Academic Collaborations S&T Investments Mergers & Acquisition Front Companies Talent Recruitment Programs Intelligence Services Legal and Regulatory Environment Military Modernization The Made in China 2025 Plan lists 10 domestic Chinese industries from which the government of China seeks to eliminate any foreign-produced technology:

• Information technology

• Computer numerical control machine tools and robotics

• Aerospace equipment

• Marine engineering equipment and high-tech ships

• Advanced rail transportation equipment

• Energy-efficient and new-energy automobiles

• Electric power equipment

• Agricultural equipment

• New materials

• Biomedicine and high-performance medical instruments

FOREIGN TRADECRAFT USED AGAINST ACADEMIA Academic Targets of Foreign Adversaries If your university or institution’s research has technical applications, expect foreign adversaries to target it. If your university or institution invests significantly in expensive research and development, anticipate foreign adversaries will target it—including those conducting the research and the development processes you use to produce your end products.

Some of the information these adversaries target might seem insignificant, but by bypassing the research and development phase and stealing your technical information or products, foreign adversaries can gain a competitive economic and military advantage. Research can lead to the development of products with national security applications. Even if the technologies and their applications are not currently classified, they could be in the future. Foreign adversaries know this and seek to obtain this technology when it is least restricted and easiest to obtain: before it is classified. Foreign adversaries might target your:

• Students, professors, and researchers with access to research and technical information (particularly graduate and post-doctorate students)

• Pre-publication research results

• Research data

• Techniques and processes

• Laboratory equipment and software

• Pre-classification research

• Access protocols

• Budget estimates and expenditures

• Computer access protocols

• Computer network design

• Customer and employee data

• Equipment specifications

• Passwords for your computer, phone, or accounts

• Phone and property data

• Proprietary research, formulas, and processes

• Prototypes or blueprints

• Software, including source codes

• Technical components and plans

• Vendor information and supply chain

• Confidential documents

• Grant data


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