China accused of efforts to 'infiltrate' US colleges as GOP launches probe

Get all the latest news on coronavirus and more delivered daily to your inbox. Sign up here.

Top Republicans from a slew of House committees demanded information Monday about what they said is the Chinese Communist Party's "investment in American colleges and universities to further its strategic and propaganda goals" -- an initiative they claimed could be "foreign academic espionage."

The announcement of the House GOP-led probe -- in a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos -- comes as lawmakers have increasingly sounded the alarm about Chinese efforts to influence U.S. policymakers and journalists in the wake of the deadly coronavirus pandemic that originated in China. Just hours before the letter was sent, Politico published a piece that largely quoted Chinese propaganda, underscoring what some commentators have characterized as the regime's outsized influence in the United States.

The leaders of the House Committee on Education and Labor, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, House Armed Services Committee, House Committee on Homeland Security, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and House Foreign Affairs Committee each signed the missive to DeVos.

"For some time, we have been concerned about the potential for the Chinese government to use its strategic investments to turn American college campuses into indoctrination platforms for American students," the Republicans began.

READ THE REPUBLICANS' FULL LETTER ON FOREIGN ACADEMIC ESPIONAGE

"For example, a 2018 Hoover Institution report notes the presence of some 110 'Confucius Institutes' on college campuses as well as over 500 'Confucius Classrooms' in secondary schools," they continued. "While the stated mission of such institutes and classrooms is to teach Chinese language and culture, the report notes, 'faculty and other watchdogs have warned that they may present risks to intellectual freedom by using American universities as vehicles through which to advance Chinese Communist Party propaganda.'"

It is imperative that the Department of Education investigate whether institutions "receiving federal taxpayer dollars should be allowed to accept funds from China, the CCP, or other affiliated organizations," the lawmakers went on, noting that The Higher Education Act of 1965 requires institutions of higher education to "disclose gifts from foreign sources." Specifically, section 117 of the Act requires that “whenever any institution . . . receives a gift from or enters into a contract with a foreign source, the value of which is $250,000 or more, the institution shall file a disclosure report."

Chinese paramilitary police wear face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as they stand in formation outside an entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing, Friday, May 1, 2020. The Forbidden City reopened beginning on Friday, China's May Day holiday, to limited visitors after being closed to the public for more than three months during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Chinese paramilitary police wear face masks to protect against the spread of the new coronavirus as they stand in formation outside an entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing, Friday, May 1, 2020. The Forbidden City reopened beginning on Friday, China's May Day holiday, to limited visitors after being closed to the public for more than three months during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The Department of Education has already "opened investigations into multiple universities for potentially improperly reporting foreign gifts or for failing to report altogether," they observed.

The Republicans specifically demanded from DeVos "all information, documents, and communication(s) between the Department [of Education] and all schools currently under a Section 117 investigation regarding acceptance or reporting of foreign gifts including, but not limited to, gifts to affiliated foundations, all ancillary or foreign campuses, and individual departments or professors between January 1, 2018 and present."

Additionally, they sought "any preliminary findings or reports that cover all open and closed investigations of the Department regarding false or misleading reporting of foreign gifts, including all source documents and information relied upon to determine findings or other report content."

In a separate statement, House Oversight Committee ranking member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, insisted that the U.S. cannot allow a "dangerous communist regime to buy access to our institutions of higher education, plain and simple."

CORONAVIRUS TIMELINE SHOWS HOW CHINA'S MISINFORMATION SPREAD -- & HOW U.S. FIGURES FLIP-FLOPPED

"The Chinese Communist Party's coverup of the early outbreak of the coronavirus immeasurably worsened this disease's impact on the United States and the world," Jordan said. "We owe it to the American people to hold China accountable and to prevent them from doing further harm to our country."

And, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the GOP ranking member on the Committee on Education and Labor, charged that China's "lack of transparency and accountability for the global spread of the novel coronavirus has devastated communities, businesses, and schools across the world, including our institutions of higher education."

Other Republicans have gone even further. Last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures" that it was a "scandal" that the United States has trained some Chinese nationals to "go back to China to compete for our jobs, to take our business, and ultimately to steal our property and design weapons and other devices that can be used against the American people."

Cotton, who has vowed that China will "pay" for what he has called its deliberate choice to unleash the coronavirus on the world, went on to say that the U.S. should take a "hard look at the visas" awarded to Chinese nationals.

"If Chinese students want to come here and study Shakespeare and the Federalist Papers, that's what they need to learn from America," Cotton said. "They don't need to learn quantum computing and artificial intelligence from America."

Cotton was one of the first lawmakers to speculate that COVID-19 may have made its first human transmission in a Chinese laboratory -- an idea once mocked as a "conspiracy theory" but that is now under investigation.

At a Fox News town hall on Sunday, President Trump predicted that the U.S. would be self-reliant on antibiotics, without needing to rely on China, within two years. Republicans have said it's "crazy" that America is reliant on China, a communist adversary, for critical supplies including antibiotics.

China, Trump said, had conclusively misled the world on the spread of the coronavirus. "I think, personally, they made a horrible mistake, and they didn't want to admit it," Trump said. He added that China had misled the World Health Organization, for which Trump suspended funding earlier in the year for failing to warn the global community and simply parroting China's claims about the virus.

"The World Health Organization has been a disaster," Trump said. "Everything they've said was wrong. And they're China-centric. They agree with China, whatever China wants to do. So our country, perhaps foolishly in retrospect, has been paying $450 million a year to the World Health Organization. And China's been paying $38 million a year. ... So I'll have to make a decision on that. ... They missed every single call."

Politico reported Sunday, citing the Department of Homeland Security, that China delayed informing the WHO that the coronavirus was contagious until it could first stockpile masks and other critical equipment.