There are increasing calls to stop the sale of a New Jersey college to a Chinese company.
"The question is, do we want a hostile communist dictatorship gaining footholds in strategic academic and scientific areas of our country? Absolutely not!" New Jersey Assemblyman Hal Wirths, a Republican, said.
Wirths has introduced a resolution in the state Assembly seeking to stop the sale of Westminster Choir College, in Princeton, New Jersey, to what he and other say is really a Beijing-owned entity. For more than 100 years, Westminster has been one of our nation's premier academic institution for advanced musical studies, training ministers of music in the Christian evangelical tradition. Critics fear that history will end if the college is sold and fear that China's influence and propaganda on our soil will only expand.
Wirths, and other opponents of the sale, charge that the Chinese education company that has offered to buy Westminster, Kaiwen Education, is really "a government-owned Chinese defense contractor."
"I am concerned of the overall issue of Chinese government-owned companies looking to purchase colleges in the United States," Wirths said.
"What is particularly troublesome about the potential sale of Westminster Choir College," he points out, is the fact that Princeton is the home to some of the nation’s most advanced international educational and national security research institutions.
"Besides having future leaders in domestic and foreign affairs in Princeton, Princeton is also home to world-class scientists and the world-famous Institute for Advanced Study. Albert Einstein made his home there after fleeing Nazi Germany."
The Assembly resolution says that "it is essential that every possible precaution is taken to ensure that a Chinese government-owned company does not exploit the openness of the world of academia to establish a foothold in our open and free society for illicit activities."
An alumni group, the Westminster Foundation, has sued to stop the sale, claiming that if Rider University, which runs Westminster, is allowed to sell it the Chinese government would have its own beachhead in America academia.
The foundation's lawsuit says that the company intended to run the school, Princeton Westminster International, is really owned by Beijing Wenhuaxuexin Education, which is a subsidiary of Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology, "a for-profit Chinese entity owned and controlled by the government of China." The lawsuit also said that just three weeks before it announced its intent to buy Westminster, Kaiwen changed its name from Jiangsu Zhongtai Bridge Steel Structure Company, "a manufacturer of components of Chinese naval vessels and is a defense contractor" for China's military," in order "to create the veneer and seeming appearance of an education entity to justify its acquisition of Westminster Choir College."
U.S. intelligence officials have been raising the alarm about Chinese influence on American college campuses.
"They're exploiting the very open research-and-development environment that we have," FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last year.
"The use of nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting, whether it's professors, scientists, students, we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate aimed at cracking down on China's expansion in American higher education.
"The Chinese communist government is a dictatorship, it is cruel and repressive. It tortures and murders its citizens, and dictatorships hate sunlight, they hate truth," Cruz told Fox News last month.
"They spend money trying to stifle academic freedom in our universities, and universities shouldn't be willing to sell their academic freedom, they shouldn't be willing to allow the communist government to have control over discussion."
Rider University, which put Westminster on the market, has defended the proposed sale.
Larry J. Livingston, interim president of the Westminster Choir College Acquisition Corporation, has written, in part:
"Kaiwen operates two prominent K-12 international schools in Beijing, China for series and talented youth. It is planning several more international school campuses to carry out the mission of educating young people to become open-minded, inquiring, courageous, reflective, principled, and caring citizens through educational focus on an international curriculum of humanities, science, arts and sports...I wouldn't have accepted the challenge if I didn't see Kaiwen Education as an outstanding partner capable of preserving what's best about WQCC and committed to its mission."
Our request for comment from Kaiwen Education and the Chinese government have gone unanswered. In addition, a lawyer for Kaiwen has declined to comment.
On its website, the company says "Kaiwen Education is a unique ‘A-share’ listed company in China. The company will focus on building an international education industry chain centered on K-12 international schools. The first step will be to establish these schools in first-tier cities, and then gradually expand its scope across the country."
The New Jersey resolution will be referred to an Assembly committee, and sources say a similar bill is expected to be introduced into the State Senate.The next court date for the alumni group lawsuit is March 27.
Ben Evansky contributed to this report.