The Sun’s investigative report last semester on Cornell’s lucrative, undisclosed links with the shadowy Chinese tech giant Huawei should ring alarms everywhere. Beyond what The Sun’s editorial laid out, as a dissident Chinese, I am particularly bone-chilled by this news. My college, one of the few places in this foreign land that I see as a place of refuge, might very well be a lion’s den.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the Chinese government’s influence reaches far above Cayuga’s waters. This influence comes in many forms. Recently, keen journalistic attention has been put on an intercollegiate student organization called the “Chinese Students and Scholars Association,” a Chinese embassy-connected student organization on campuses around America. CSSA has been accused of acting as a tool for the Chinese government to pressure Chinese students even on American land. Several CSSA members have complained about increasing insistence from the Chinese embassy that this non-profit organization — one that provides much-needed services to international Chinese students — act as a vehicle for ideological propaganda.
Thankfully, concerned individuals and organizations both on and off campus have now caught on to the gravity of this situation. The Cornell Political Union, of which I am a member, invited three different speakers last school year relating to this issue. Authorities from the FBI and members of Congress have also started taking action. The problem of negligence is over.
But regrettably, we have now landed ourselves in an entirely different problem: antagonizing the Chinese community to a level unseen in recent memory. A paranoiac aura of suspicion toward my community has been steadily building, affecting even Chinese Americans. Chinese cancer researchers are being widely purged from top institutions on suspicion of sharing classified information, despite the widespread practice of data sharing in most medical research. Ever since I landed in this country to pursue undergraduate studies, never did a piece of news strike more fear in me than a story from a year ago — revealing that Stephen Miller, a White House aid and immigration hawk, had suggested a complete ban on student visas for Chinese citizens. The Chinese government had always tried its best to convince its subjects that there is no distinction between the Party, the Motherland and the Chinese themselves, for foreign countries will see no difference. How ironic that America is doing the devil’s work.
From complete negligence to xenophobic paranoia, America goes from one extreme to the other, and it is Chinese people that are caught up in the middle, especially those like me who hold dissident views. Faced with genuine fear that this country may no longer be welcoming of Chinese students on one side — and constant suppression of my dissident speech, living under constant fear that my public acts will hurt relatives back home on the other — I am trapped between Scylla and Charybdis.
Americans must realize that the first victim of this encroachment from the Chinese government on American campuses is always the Chinese students themselves. It was members of the CSSA, a majority of whom participated in the organization to serve the Chinese student community, that first exposed these scandals because of their dismay toward the Chinese embassy’s desire to politicize their mission. When the University’s ILR school rightfully terminated an exchange program on Chinese labor studies with Renmin University, I revealed to a Sun journalist that the majority of the Cornell Chinese community are either indifferent on the issue or actually broadly supportive of the action. The reason is obvious. As Chinese people, many of us sympathize with the labor activists back home who are currently being subjected to arbitrary detention and torture for fighting for the future of China, our future.
Indeed, both from a moral and practical standpoint, if Cornell’s administration and Americans want to effectively combat the Chinese government’s creeping influence, it is essential to acknowledge Chinese people as their first ally. Alienating us will only push us further into the devil’s embrace out of fear for our safety. With Chinese students being an integral component of the Cornell community, the administration should always remember that when they are protecting Cornellians from harm by the Communist Party, a key vulnerable group that desperately needs protection is Chinese students. Cornell should target the institutions that help foster the Chinese government’s influence, while aiding Chinese students in establishing our independent organizations free from the Party’s shadows. One idea is to limit the CSSA’s ability to attract unlimited donations from the Chinese embassy so that other Chinese service organizations can compete with it on an equal playing field.
In my junior year, a close friend jokingly told me that a Greek brother of his thought a very-informed and old-looking Chinese guy in his African politics class must be some Chinese agent. That “potential agent” happened to be me. I laughed along then. It is getting hard to laugh now.
Weifeng Yang is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Poplar 杨 Sovereignty runs every other Wednesday this semester.