As Senate runoffs draw near, Pompeo warns Georgia students of Chinese influence on U.S. campuses

As Senate runoffs draw near, Pompeo warns Georgia students of Chinese influence on U.S. campuses

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned an audience at Georgia Institute of Technology on Wednesday of the vulnerability of America’s college campuses to Chinese influence and accused some liberal higher education institutions of being bought by Beijing.

The Chinese Communist Party “know[s] that left-leaning college campuses are rife with anti-Americanism and present easy targets for their anti-American messaging,” Pompeo said, claiming that was a reason China has set up Confucius Institutes on U.S. campuses, which bill themselves as language and cultural centers and are under the Chinese government’s control.

“We can’t let the CCP weaponize political correctness against American liberties,” he said, telling the audience that Massachusetts Institute of Technology had raised concerns about his delivering the same remarks there because Chinese students and professors might be offended. “We have to protect and preserve them. Fraudulent cries of racism or xenophobia should never drown out a candid exposure of the activities of the Chinese Communist Party.”

The top U.S. diplomat’s appearance in the state comes just weeks before two U.S. Senate run-off elections there that will determine control of the chamber. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both visited Georgia last week to campaign for Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, while former President Barack Obama headlined a virtual rally for the two Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.

Since 2013, America’s schools have accepted $1.3 billion from China, Pompeo said, citing Department of Education figures. Those schools will make bad decisions because “they’re hooked on Chinese Communist Party cash.”

“What professors will they be able to go after to silence?” he asked. “What theft and espionage will they simply overlook, what business deals will get done as a result of that?”

Pompeo also renewed his all to shut down the Confucius Institutes, whose proliferation has prompted espionage concerns and attracted significant interest from the FBI.

Pompeo’s speech is the latest in a series of addresses he has given to domestic crowds, including conservative religious groups, in battleground states despite the role of the secretary of state traditionally being non-partisan. In September, he spoke to Wisconsin Republican lawmakers at the state’s Senate chamber as well as an evangelical church to Plano, Texas, and in October he virtually addressed a conservative Christian organization in Florida.

The secretary of state brushed off any political implications in an interview with conservative talk radio host Guy Benson on Monday.

“I promise you, when Secretary Kerry traveled to Massachusetts or Secretary Clinton traveled to New York, those were coastal elite states, those were all fine for secretaries to travel to,” Pompeo said. “When Mike Pompeo wanted to travel to Georgia, somehow that’s incomprehensible that foreign policy could matter to an enormously capable research institution like Georgia Tech, where I’m going to go speak about that very set of issues — the fact that in America’s research educational institutions today, the Chinese Communist Party is aiming to lobby, to influence, and to steal.”

Massachusetts and New York are former Secretaries of State John Kerry’s and Hillary Clinton’s respective home states.

Another of Pompeo’s speeches, from Jerusalem to the Republican National Convention, prompted investigation by the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal watchdog, for potentially politicizing his position.

Long thought to have presidential ambitions for 2024, the secretary also offered the Georgia students some parting advice.

“Grow where you’re potted. Don’t be chasing that next stream,” he said. “Don’t spend your time looking over the horizon about the job you want someday. In the end, if you work hard and do well, opportunities will present themselves.”

Abigail Williams

Abigail Williams is a producer and reporter for NBC News covering the State Department.

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