- - Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The FBI is investigating scores of Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes around the country over concerns the institutes are part of covert spying and influence operations.

The centers, mainly located on American college campuses, ostensibly were set up to teach Chinese language and culture. But they have become centers for spreading pro-China propaganda and influence activities, including organizing Chinese communist student groups that challenge human rights activists and others.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told a Senate hearing this week the FBI is investigating the institutes.

“We do share concerns about the Confucius Institutes. We’ve been watching that development for a while,” Mr. Wray said, adding that the institutes are “one of many tools that [the Chinese] take advantage of.”

“We have seen some decrease recently in their own enthusiasm and commitment to that particular program, but it is something that we’re watching warily and, in certain instances, have developed appropriate investigative steps.”

Mr. Wray warned that Beijing is using Chinese students and others for spying.

“I would just say that the use of nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting, whether it’s professors, scientists, students, we see in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country,” he said. “It’s not just in major cities; it’s in small ones, as well. It’s across basically every discipline.”

The FBI director criticized what he said was “naivete on the part of the academic sector” about the threat.

The Chinese are “exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere, but they’re taking advantage of it,” he noted. “One of the things we’re trying to do is view the China threat — it’s not just a whole-of-government threat, but a whole-of-society threat on their end, and I think it’s going to take a whole-of-society response by us.”

The comments came in response to questioning at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing from Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, who recently wrote to five schools in Florida urging them to terminate ties to Confucius Institutes.

The senator stated in the letters to Miami-Dade College, the University of North Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of West Florida, and Cypress Bay High School that the institutes are part of “growing foreign influence operations of the People’s Republic of China in the United States, particularly in our academic institutions.”

“There is mounting concern about the Chinese government’s increasingly aggressive attempts to use Confucius Institutes and other means to influence foreign academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s past history and present policies,” Mr. Rubio stated, noting that Chinese officials have described them as “soft power” tools of the government.

Currently more than 100 Confucius Institutes are operating in the United States, along with other K-12 “Confucius Classrooms.”

Mr. Rubio urged blocking the programs over concerns they are part of an aggressive Chinese campaign to infiltrate American classrooms, stifle free speech, and subvert free expression both in the United States and abroad.

“It is my view that they’re complicit in these efforts to covertly influence public opinion and to teach half-truths designed to present Chinese history, government or official policy in the most favorable light,” Mr. Rubio said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Pyongyang’s Charm Offensive

The Trump administration is worried its pressure campaign on North Korea is being undermined by the charm offensive now underway by the regime of Kim Jong-un.

The dispatch of Mr. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, combined with more conciliatory policies toward the North adopted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in are weakening efforts to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program. The administration’s current strategy is to apply maximum pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs without having to resort to military force.

The main tool in the pressure campaign has been an unprecedented, U.S.-led effort to impose sanctions on the Kim regime in a bid to squeeze its finances and bring the North Koreans to the bargaining table.

The most recent U.N. sanctions were imposed in September and December following a nuclear and missile test. Those sanctions targeted North Korea’s oil supplies and its export of workers.

During his visit to the Olympics, Vice President Mike Pence warned that even tougher sanctions are being prepared.

A major worry is that Mr. Moon, the South Korean president, could undercut the pressure campaign by offering aid to North Korea in the midst of the ratcheting sanctions campaign.

Next Pacific Command chief

Now that President Trump has nominated current Pacific Command commander Adm. Harry Harris to become U.S. ambassador to Australia, military officials say the replacement to head U.S. military forces in the Pacific will be Adm. Philip S. Davidson, currently commander of the Fleet Forces Command at Norfolk, Va. The nomination has been sent to the White House and an announcement is expected in the coming days.

Adm. Davidson’s selection for the Pacific Command post is unusual as his experience — as a surface-warfare officer on destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers — has largely been in Europe and South Asia, with limited Pacific deployments. Past commanders, including Adm. Harris, were picked from the commander of the Pacific Fleet.

That did not happen because of the contracting and gift scandal that has ensnared scores of Navy officers, many of whom had nothing to do with the corruption involving a Navy contracting firm in the Pacific Glenn Marine Group and its chief, Leonard Glenn Francis, better known as “Fat Leonard.”

Mr. Francis gave thousands of dollars in cash, travel expenses, luxury items and prostitutes to a number of Seventh Fleet officers in exchange for classified information about the movements of U.S. ships and submarines, contracting data and information about active law enforcement investigations into Glenn Defense Marine Asia.

Two senior officers blocked from the plum Pacific Command post include Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift, and Pacific Air Force Commander Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy.

Adm. Swift announced in September he was retiring after he was informed he would not be nominated for Pacific Command commander.

Mattis on global warming

During a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis was asked by Rep. Jim Langevin, Rhode Island Democrat, why climate change was taken out of the latest national security and defense strategies as a threat.

Mr. Mattis told the lawmaker, without any hint of irony: “Congressman, on a military level, every base we have has what we call extreme-weather plans. We acknowledge any kind of environmental impacts from the weather, whether it be drainage systems or whatever we need in order to keep that base operating, whether it be airfields, seaports, marshaling bases for deployment, that sort of thing. This is a normal part of what the military does, and under any strategy, it is part and parcel.”

Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz


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