Thousands of Chinese spy balloons are hovering over American universities

By George Fishman on June 1, 2023

Washington Examiner, June 1, 2023

Each year, the People’s Republic of China sends aloft thousands of spy balloons to hover over American universities. They are doing far more damage to our national security than the balloon we finally shot down. Yet America not only allows them to enter our airspace freely, but we actually encourage them to — in large part because they pay full tuition.

I am speaking, of course, about PRC nationals going to college on student visas. In the 2019/20 academic year, they numbered 372,532, more than one-third of the entire foreign student population. Because of COVID, the number dropped to 290,086 in 2021/22, still representing almost one-third of all foreign students.

PRC military officials openly proclaim that armed conflict with the United States is inevitable and the PRC has been assiduously pursuing a goal of military superiority. Speculation runs rampant that the PRC will invade Taiwan — and President Joe Biden has signaled we will come to Taiwan’s defense. The PRC openly aligns itself with Putin’s regime and may yet send weapons to Russia for use against Ukraine.

How are we preparing for this threat? Believe it or not, we are engaging in a campaign of turbocharging the PRC’s war preparations. Crazy? Seemingly. How?

Through a student visa policy that lets the PRC strip-mine U.S. universities for militarily exploitable technological know-how. The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission concludes that “overseas Chinese students and scholars are key to [the PRC’s] plans to transform China into a ... militarily formidable world power,” and FBI Director Christopher Wray concludes that the PRC “has pioneered a societal approach to stealing innovation any way it can [including] through graduate students and researchers”. As a former CIA officer noted, “Anytime a graduate student from China comes to the U.S., they are briefed when they go, and briefed when they come back.” Students don’t necessarily come here with ill intent, but, as the State Department has testified, they “are later co-opted to work for their government.”

The PRC uses its students in the U.S. and Canada as shock troops to disrupt Falun Gong, Tibetan, Uyghur, and pro-democracy protests. It also uses them to report on any disfavored political activity by their compatriot classmates (allowing the government to threaten retaliation against families back in China).

PRC students accounted for only 9% of foreign students in 1994/95 and only 3% in 1984/85. The exponential growth since is the direct result of visa policy changes by the Bush and Obama administrations “which reflected an assumption ... that China would gradually liberalize as the result of increased engagement,” per the ESRC. Unfortunately, it would be more accurate to say that China has rapidly deliberalized.

What can we do to protect our national security from this ballooning threat? One method is focused law enforcement. In 2018, the Department of Justice did just this, launching the "China Initiative" "to reach nontraditional [intelligence] collectors.” But the Biden administration shut it down. Why? Because of “concerns from the civil rights community that [it] fueled a narrative of intolerance and bias.” Wait a second, it is the PRC that is engaging in racial profiling — per the ESRC, “appeal[ing] to national pride [and] ethnic identify” to recruit student spies! It would certainly behoove federal law enforcement to focus on those the PRC is profiling.

With Biden taking focused law enforcement off the table, we need at least to consider barring the entry of all students from the PRC, or at least those studying in STEM and other fields with military applications. While not every such student will engage in espionage while on our campuses, a sufficiently large number will that a blanket ban may be the only effective option. Congress doesn’t even need to act — Biden can utilize his “212(f)” powers to “suspend the entry” of “any class of aliens … detrimental to [U.S.] interests.”

But what of the hundreds of thousands of PRC students already here, protected by a plethora of constitutional and statutory rights and our overwhelmed immigration courts? In reality, many will remain in the U.S. far into the future should they choose to. Which raises an unpleasant question — what happens if the PRC and the U.S. go to war?