Parliamentary report alerts French authorities to Chinese interference in our universities

the essential The report, chaired by Étienne Blanc (LR, right), describes the “preponderant, but not exclusive, place of China in terms of influence”.

Researchers under pressure, growing self-censorship, institutions under financial dependence: the French university and academic world is subject to multiple interference, with China in the lead, according to a parliamentary report published on Tuesday, October 5. Global geopolitical tensions are no longer to be demonstrated, but the work of the Senate fact-finding mission describes how much they also affect a traditionally open and free sector, that of the university and of research.

The report, chaired by Étienne Blanc (LR, right), describes the “preponderant, but not exclusive, place of China in terms of influence”. Other countries, such as Russia, Turkey and some states in the Persian Gulf, are also affected. “But none can boast of the means and the scale of the Chinese strategy, which plays on multiple tables and no longer conceals its desire to occupy a central position in international relations”, he adds.

“Let’s stop blindness”

Several Western countries have already publicly expressed concern about the strategy of Chinese influence in their universities. “It is important that the countries concerned coordinate,” said the rapporteur, André Gattolin, welcoming in particular the “interest” of the European Commission on the subject. “Let’s stop blindness”, he added, denouncing “ecosystems of influence” at the local or regional level which escape the vigilance of the State.

The 240 -page Senate document describes “attempts to influence” which are no longer limited “to questions of economic intelligence, but extend to academic freedoms and scientific integrity “. The mission looks at a dual process. On the one hand, “the shaping of the image or the reputation of a State, or the promotion of an official” narrative “, by the instrumentalization of the human and social sciences”. On the other hand “the intrusion and capture of sensitive scientific data (…) in order to obtain a strategic, economic or military advantage”.

“China appears to date as the state most able to conduct a strategy of global and systemic influence,” add the authors. Among its tools are in particular the Confucius Institutes (IC), present all over the world. Like their French, German or Spanish counterparts, they intend to promote Chinese culture. But their scorners accuse them of being instruments of propaganda, of threatening the academic freedom of their partners, and even of harboring spies.

Security and transparency

In this regard, the report considers that the “vigilance threshold” of the French academic world is too high, unsuited to new threats and weakened by an overall lack of resources. He recommends in particular “raising the subject of foreign interference to the rank of political priority” and regrets that it “has now become commonplace to speak of Russian” troll farms “or cyberattacks from Russia and China”.

The authors stress the dilemma facing the university, which is by nature open intellectually, but which must henceforth adopt constant vigilance, in particular with regard to its foreign students. The report recommends, among other things, a European Union-wide strategy, the performance of an audit on the security of university IT systems, as well as the creation of a “transparency regime on the origin of extra-European project funding “.

The subject was the subject of a study by the Strategic Research Institute of the Military School (IRSEM), whose authors were interviewed. “Beijing is increasingly assuming to infiltrate and coerce,” they write. “The Party-State now seems to believe that, as Machiavelli wrote in The Prince,” it is safer to be feared than to be loved “”.

Beijing is firing on all cylinders, to the point of monitoring and intimidating Chinese students, but also teachers and administrators “to modify the content of courses, educational material or the programming of events”, observe IRSEM researchers, Paul Charon and Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer. “The Party-State also uses universities to acquire knowledge and technology, through legal (…) or (…) illegal and covert means such as theft and espionage.” In a “context of civil-military fusion”, this interference helps to allow Beijing “to build weapons of mass destruction or develop surveillance technologies”, they insist.

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