Virginia Must Investigate and Control the Relationships of Its State Institutions of Higher Learning With the Government of China

by James C. Sherlock

The title of this article seems at first glance axiomatic.

After all, the power “to conduct … all intercourse with other and foreign states” is granted in the state constitution to the Governor.

Yet that power has been assumed by some Virginia state institutions of higher education (IHEs) with the apparent approval of their state-appointed Counsels.

They need better lawyers.

Courtesy U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission

The story of Communist Chinese influence in America’s IHEs is the story of left-wing faculty. The same ones that march in Hamas rallies.

They divide the world into oppressed and oppressors, with no room for individuals. They offer a narrative, not discussions.

Somehow, in their admiration for Chinese Marxism, they have missed the fact that the Chinese government is one of the most oppressive regimes on earth.  Straight out of Animal Farm.

It does not bother them that Xi Jinping and his government wish America harm. Or that America is on the brink of war with that country over Taiwan.

The campus radical leftists, and many of the schools they dominate, have their own threat assessments and foreign policies that do not align with those of the United States.

Background. In one of my earlier articles in this series, I called too-large slices of the faculties of American IHEs “the beating heart of the anti-American radical left in this country.”

In this series I have exposed the influence of that cabal. It is a disturbing, dangerous and perhaps illegal story.

American taxpayer-funded IHLs, including some in Virginia, have for years supported China’s efforts described in the National Threat Assessment described below.

Some continue to do so. They tend to call it “globalism.”

When we consider China’s United Front (chart above) with whom their schools do business, we see they cooperate with that Chinese national strategy and host its front organizations in the United States.

George Mason University was the first state-supported IHE in Virginia to establish a Confucius Institute (CI). William and Mary was the second. Then ODU.

For an upbeat view of the W&M CI from 2013, see the Fall 2013 WMCI newsletter. It is titled, with unintentional irony, “The Master Said.” The introductory note is from the ubiquitous Dr. Stephen Hanson mentioned earlier in this series. Read about his trip to China with the senior leadership of the University.

It is a love letter.

Note that Hanson called University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) — “one of William & Mary’s most important overseas partners in the fields of science and technology.” UESTC is an even more important partner to the Peoples Revolutionary Army (PRA).

For a different view than Dr. Hanson’s, see Politico How China Infiltrated U.S. Classrooms from 2018. You can pick either version. The United States government under both Trump and Biden administrations has picked the latter.  

Here is why.

The Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2014 proclaimed an overall goal:

“to build a country with a strong socialist culture while strengthening the nation’s cultural soft power. To enhance national soft power, “China must adhere to the development path of a socialist culture with Chinese characteristics and consolidate the guiding role of Marxism in the ideological areas.”

To spread that Marxist culture, that same Central Committee resolution urged support for:

“Confucius Institutes (CI), overseas cultural centers, and cultural exchanges between peoples.”

See the Biden administration’s Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for 2023.

China will persist with efforts to acquire foreign science and technology information and expertise,
making extensive use of foreign scientific collaborations and partnerships, investments and acquisitions, talent recruitment, economic espionage, and cyber theft to acquire and transfer technologies and technical knowledge.

As part of efforts to stifle anti-Beijing criticism, the PRC monitors overseas Chinese students for dissident views, mobilizes Chinese student associations to conduct activities on behalf of Beijing, and influences research by U.S. academics and think tank experts.

These activities have included pressuring family members in China.

Authority. In Article V Section 7 of the Virginia Constitution is written:

“The Governor shall conduct, either in person or in such manner as shall be prescribed by law, all intercourse with other and foreign states.”

If any governor has allowed state IHLs to exercise his authority, I have been unable to find evidence of it.

It was reasonable for governors to think that the college and university presidents and their counsels appointed by the Attorney General would prevent contracting directly with foreign governments, especially prominent adversaries of the United States.

They did not.

Read one of the CI contracts W&M President Reveley signed.  =It is without any question a standard Chinese contract with a few blanks filled in and American and Chinese signatures. The Chinese signatory was Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban) Chief Executive Xu Lin, a senior official of the Chinese government.

Confucius Institutes.



My attempt at rendering the terms of the 2016 WMCI contract is the figure below.

President Reveley welcomed President Liu of Beijing Normal University (CI partner), Deputy Director Wang of Hanban, and Minister Counsellor Fang of the Chinese Embassy to the 2012 WMCI opening ceremony, so he was not ignorant of with whom he was dealing.

Indeed Reveley led the delegation to China on the 2013 WMCI junket described by Dr. Hanson. There he gave, according to Hanson, “a stimulating address on the history and future of the U.S. War Powers Act to an audience of eager BNU students.”

You could not make that up.

Some CIs were closed long after schools had reason to know they were threats to national security. And some, like at William and Mary, closed only under threats of federal funding sanctions. They transitioned to a relationship with their WMCI partner, Beijing National University, which is under the strict control of the Chinese Ministry of Education.

On the issue of transparency,

  • William and Mary’s Confucius Institute page has suppressed videos (marked “private”) of a “Xinhua News Agency Interview” (Xinhua is the official state news agency of the People’s Republic of China) and a “WMCI Short Documentary.” All of the links on that page are broken.
  • The W&M contracts — I downloaded a few a week or so ago — seem no longer available online.

School oversight. Once the first WMCI contract was signed, Dr. Hanson of William and Mary was Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the Reves Center for International Studies. He soon served also as Interim WMCI Director for a year.

He had a lot on his plate overseeing for W&M his own WMCI program while serving at the pleasure of Hanban.

Chinese CI money. A question worth answering is where the $150,000 annually that China sent to William and Mary and that school’s matching funds (some in-kind) went. Over the nine years of the contracts that was nearly three million dollars. Was the American WMCI Director paid with any of it? How about that group junket to China in 2014 by W&M brass?

CSSAs. Some Virginia state schools still maintain on-campus the “Chinese student associations to conduct activities on behalf of Beijing” called out in the threat assessment. They are called Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSA) and they continue to operate at Virginia Tech, ODU and William and Mary.

Tech proudly labels its CSSA one of the largest in the United States.

See the place of CSSAs in Xi Jinping’s United Front in the chart above. It would be useful to know whether there are contracts with the CSSAs, whether Chinese funding is part of the arrangement and why they are still permitted a Virginia schools.

Technology transfer. What do the thousands of Chinese nationals study in Virginia colleges and universities?

The Department of Defense has reported on the Chinese overseas influence operations and it military-civil fusion (MCF) program:

“The PRC conducts influence operations, which target cultural institutions, media organizations, business, academic, and policy communities in the United States, other countries, and international institutions, to achieve outcomes favorable to its strategic objectives.

The PRC is investing in and seeking to acquire technologies that will be foundational for future commercial and military innovations including AI, robotics, autonomous vehicles, quantum information sciences, augmented and virtual reality, financial technology, and biotechnology. These technologies blur the line demarcating commercial versus military use.”

Chinese nationals arriving on Virginia campuses study and participate in research in those subjects.

Federal government entities such as the Office of Naval Research have contracts with William and Mary and Virginia Tech. They should reconsider if proper safeguards are not in place.

Chinese Universities. Every college and university in China has a Chinese Communist Party Committee Secretary in charge. It is the highest office at every institution. American universities having those institutions as partners and American exchange students should be made aware of that if they are not.

If they are looking for a free exchange of ideas or academic freedom, that cupboard is dry.

Bottom Line.

All of this needs to stop.

Governor. The Governor should:

  • review and void all contracts by state IHEs with the Chinese government;
  • review all state IHE contracts with foreign governments;
  • ban CSSAs from state campuses; and
  • ban access by Chinese nationals to courses and research targeted by the Chinese government for dual civil-military use.

Virginia’s Attorney General, at the request of the Governor, should investigate to see how much foreign money flows to state IHE’s and from where, and if state laws were broken, new laws are needed, or both in the hosting of CIs and CSSAs and any other Chinese government front organizations.

In this effort he will benefit from the assistance and resources of the U.S. Attorneys for the Eastern and Western Districts of Virginia and the FBI to get access to the necessary financial records and examine if federal laws, including the Foreign Agent Registration Act, were broken.

Boards of Visitors. I have not found any evidence, and I looked for it, that the Board of Visitors of any participating Virginia state IHE was informed of the details of the CI’s or CSSAs.

With this series, they have been.

Those Boards will be informed further by the recommended investigations to determine if new rules are required on their campuses.

Updated Nov 16 at 14:30 to add section on Chinese universities.