Even as Chinese students arrive in the free world, such as the United States, it does not mean they are safe from authoritarian control back in China.
Zhihao Kong, a student at Purdue University in Indiana, is an example of how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) subdues mainland voices against it in other countries.
Kong first publicly touched the CCP last year when he posted an open letter on a dissident website that honored the students killed in the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, ProPublica reported.
Soon after, the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) located his parents, and Kong received a phone call where his parents were begging him to stop his activism or “we are all in trouble.”
Then came the harassment on the U.S. campus. According to ProPublica, “other Chinese students at Purdue began hounding him, calling him a CIA agent and threatening to report him to the embassy and the MSS.”
Kong became much more aware of how invasive the CCP has been in his university when he was invited to give a speech at an online commemoration for the Tiananmen massacre.
As the graduate student joined Zoom rehearsals for the events, the MSS again looked for his parents and demanded he stay away from giving public speeches or any rally. Kong was still tentative when he got the invitation, but he gave up on the speech as the CCP showed itself.
The CCP’s acknowledgment of the Zoom rehearsals helped Kong realize that his school might be infiltrated.
“I think some of the Chinese students in my school are CCP members. I can tell they are not simply students. They could be spies or informants,” Kong told ProPublica.
There are many similar stories of the blatant CCP grip on free speech and debate on U.S. campuses such as Kong experienced are many. Informants working for the CCP could be driven by patriotism, money, ambition, or even fear.
One graduate student at the University of Georgia disclosed a conversation where a Chinese intelligence officer forced him to monitor his fellow dissidents in the U.S. for the CCP. The regime retaliated by harassing his family at home after the publication.
Yet, it is not easy for the U.S. administration to counter the CCP’s brazen monitoring system.
It is tricky for law enforcement agencies to legally interfere as victims face the consequences at home, not in the U.S. Some victims were also frightened to seek help from American authorities.
Meanwhile, school leaders are either hooked by lucrative financial support from the CCP or instead focus on other social topics in the U.S., not wanting to displease the CCP.
“It is easier to take a stance against the United States than against China. That is what is happening at U.S. universities,” said Rayhan Asat.
Asat is a Harvard-educated lawyer who had tried to host a panel about the Chinese repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang at Brandeis University, Massachusetts. Instead, her event was vandalized by Chinese students.