Thursday, May 25, 2023

How China has Infiltrated US Think Tanks

Here are some think tank-related excerpts from the book Spies and Lies by Alex Joske, the youngest-ever analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI):

  • America's think tanks have long been of interest to Chinese intelligence agencies.  Numerous spies from both the Ministry of State Security (MSS) and People's Liberation Army (PLA) have held posts as visiting scholars in DC think tanks with varying degrees of transparency and awareness about their backgrounds.  Even before the MSS was created, Chinese intelligence analysts were compiling open-source studies of influential think tanks in the Reagan era.
  • To many scholars and policymakers, the think tank China Reform Forum brings to mind dreams of change and liberalism to China.  Led by Zheng Bijian, the think tank touted unmatched access to China's leadership, superior pedigree through its affiliation with the Party's highest training academy, and a track record of policy influence.  It was cocaine for China watchers from Washington to Tokyo and Paris, manufactured in Beijing by the MSS.
  • Other think tanks envied the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's unusual connections to Beijing.  After several years of collaboration with China Reform Forum, Carnegie could now reveal it had inked a deal to deepen that partnership and set up Carnegie's first Beijing office within the premises of China Reform Forum.  It was the first American think tank with a permanent presence in Beijing.  Carnegie thought it was expanding its influence within China, blind to the fact that it was taking part in an MSS influence operation.
  • The Carnegie Endowment was far from the only American think tank that unwittingly wrapped itself up in the MSS's influence operations.  Two China representatives for the Asia Society were named as members of China Reform Forum's council.  Washington, DC's Center for Strategic and International Studies was often a host for visiting China Reform Forum delegations, as was the Brookings Institution.
  • MSS quickly homed in on RAND Corporation as a priority for influence and espionage operations.  It surely helped that RAND is headquartered in California, the state with the most mature MSS networks.  Through China Reform Forum, RAND also had some of the strongest and longest-running ties to the MSS of any American institution.  RAND continued to help China Reform Forum access the United States even after it was warned that the group was a MSS front.
  • Like every other major American foreign policy institution, Brookings had already been engaging with China Reform Forum, hosting Zheng Bijian and the MSS as they tested out the "peaceful rise" theory on its target audience.  Brookings chairman John L. Thornton unwittingly fell into the sights of an MSS influence operation.
  • Nicolas Berggruen's Berggruen Institute helps connect the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy (CIIDS) to global elites and is key to its success.
  • China Institute of Strategy and Management (CISM) started its existence as the internal think tank of the PLA's Academy of Military Science (AMS).
  • The China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) was originally established to give Chinese intelligence a channel for engaging internationally, and it actively helps the rest of the MSS target and recruit foreigners.  It holds dialogues and conferences with think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).
  • Maurice Greenberg was a leading donor to American foreign policy think tanks and once threatened to pull funding from the Heritage Foundation after one of its analysts wrote a paper calling for tougher policies on China.


Here is a list that Think Tank Watch compiled of former Intelligence Community (IC) officials that now work at think tanks.

One of the most interesting facts from the book: Windsurfing was invented by one of RAND Corp.'s engineers.