China Is Setting up Covert Spy Networks in US and Australian Universities


The ever-rising droves of Chinese people studying abroad is generally considered an all-around win. It’s good for Chinese students, who get a coveted credential, as well as for host universities and local communities, which benefit from the spending boost.

It’s also good, it turns out, for China’s Communist Party. The Chinese government is rolling out a sprawling spy network inside Australia’s top universities, reports John Garnaut, a veteran journalist covering China, in the Sydney Morning Herald.

This news comes on the heels of allegations made in February by a dissident Chinese professor about the visiting scholars China dispatches to US universities like Harvard and Stanford. “Every year among those top universities there are some visiting scholars, and among them I can definitely say there are some people who are actually spies,” Xia Yeliang, a former Peking University economics professor, who now works at the Cato Institute in Washington, told Reuters.

According to Garnaut’s report, students are the more likely spies, however. These agents report on the activities of other Chinese citizens—including both professors and Australia’s 150,000-plus (pdf) population of students from the Chinese mainland—helping Chinese intelligence officials police their overseas nationals for openness to ideas that run counter to Party ideology.

For example, one lecturer at a top Australian school said China’s main spy agency interrogated him repeatedly about comments he made at a seminar on democracy. He told the Herald that the agency had shown him the report by a woman who had informed on him.

Australia is now ramping up its counter-intelligence program. But one reason there are so many Chinese spies in Australian universities might be that the schools haven’t created welcoming communities for visiting international students, said the Herald report.

Both the US and Australia have benefited from the appeal of their universities to Chinese students. The US remains the top destination for Chinese students hoping to study overseas, though it’s become less popular recently, while the UK is in second place. Last year, Chinese students contributed $7.2 billion to the US economy. As for Australia, one-quarter of its international students are from China. That’s even though Australia is one of the world’s most expensive places to study:


Reprinted with permission from Quartz. The original story can be found here

(Image via hxdbzxy/

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.