Global geopolitical tensions are well established. Recently, against the backdrop of the submarine crisis between France and several of its allies (the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom), it was indeed the relationship with China that was implicit. The world power seeks to compete with the United States and Europe in all areas. It is also active in the soft power that the hard power.
But global tensions also affect a traditionally open and free sector, that of universities and research.
A report, chaired by LR MP Etienne Blanc, describes “China’s dominant, but not exclusive, position in terms of influence.” Other countries, such as Russia, Turkey, and some Persian Gulf states, are also affected.
“But no one can boast of the means and scope of China’s strategy, which plays on multiple fronts and no longer hides its desire to occupy a central position in international relations,” he added.
Confucius Institutes as a tool of influence or propaganda?
The 240-page document describes “attempts at influence” that “are no longer limited to issues of economic intelligence, but extend to academic freedom and scientific integrity.”
The mission contemplates a dual process. On the one hand, “the shaping of the image or reputation of a state, or the promotion of an official” narrative “through the instrumentalization of the humanities 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 seems so far to be the most capable state in pursuing a strategy of global and systemic influence,” the authors add.
Among its tools are in particular the Confucius Institutes (IC), which are present all over the world. Like their French, German or Spanish counterparts, they aim to promote Chinese culture. But his critics accuse them of being propaganda tools, threatening the academic freedom of their partners, and even harassing spies.
In this regard, the report considers that the “surveillance threshold” of the French academic world is too high, unsuitable for new threats and weakened by a global lack of resources.
A European strategy in the face of Chinese influence
The authors of the report insist on the dilemma facing the university, which by nature is intellectually open, but which must now adopt constant vigilance, especially with regard to its foreign students.
The report recommends, among other things, an EU-wide strategy. Because several Western countries have already expressed public concern about the Chinese influence strategy in their universities. “It is important that the countries concerned coordinate,” said the rapporteur, André Gattolin, especially celebrating the European Commission’s “interest” in this issue.
The subject was the subject of a study by the Institute for Strategic Research of the Military School (Irsem), the authors of which were interviewed. “Beijing is increasingly taking infiltration and coercion,” they wrote. “The State Party now seems to be of the opinion that, as Machiavelli wrote The prince, “It is safer to be feared than to be loved” “.
Legal means … or illegal
Beijing is firing on all cylinders, coming to control and intimidate Chinese students, but also teachers and administrators “to change the content of courses, teaching materials or event scheduling,” say Irsem researchers Paul Charon and Jean- Baptiste Jeangene Vilmer.
“The State Party also uses universities to acquire knowledge and technology, through legal (…) or (…) illegal and covert means such as theft and espionage.” In a “context of civilian-military merger”, this interference contributes to allowing Beijing to “build weapons of mass destruction or develop surveillance technologies,” they insist.