Solipsism, the late Charles Krauthammer liked to say, is the belief that the whole world operates pretty much like suburban Boston, his euphemism for any place in America where self-satisfaction and shallow thinking rule.
Indiana has a bad case of self-satisfaction and shallow thinking, particularly in the governor’s office in Indianapolis and with the trustees at Indiana University. Neither has demonstrated due diligence in distinguishing between a person of Chinese ancestry and an agent for a self-interested or even hostile foreign power.
We start with the governor because he’s the most visible of our solipsist. Eric Holcomb thinks that when the Chinese government invites him to visit for a week it is interested in helping him create good jobs for Hoosiers. It may or may not occur to him that everyone he meets there has been put in place by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).
So the trip may make interesting conversation back home at an Indianapolis dinner party but the State Department has begun to outline the CCP’s strategic goals for these junkets. Let us just say that they don’t conform to the governor’s oath of office.
Shortly after Holcomb returned from his recent trip to China (just ahead of the Wuhan virus) his office distributed a picture of his governorship displaying a decorative plate at an event feted by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. *
That sounded harmless enough until the State Department revealed that it was a front group for the CCP’s official foreign influence agency, the United Front Work Department, which targets U.S. governors and state-level politicians in an attempt to influence policy here — policy, it can be assumed, that would not be kind to Hoosier free markets and individual rights.
“It’s a different Chinese Communist Party today than it was 10 years ago,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently. “This is a Chinese Communist Party that has come to view itself as intent upon the destruction of Western ideas, Western democracies, Western values. It puts Americans at risk.”
Early this year the secretary warned specifically that the CCP maintains a list of U.S. governors ranking them as to their usefulness. A Chinese think tank that is a partner with the United Front Work Department gives Holcomb and 19 other American governors its highest rating of “friendly” (as opposed to “hostile” or “unknown”).
Hoosiers, taking into account Holcomb’s overall good character and affable disposition, must trust that the criteria for the rating is nothing more serious than relative gullibility.
In any case, the governor would benefit from an afternoon with a real businessman from China, and he wouldn’t have to travel thousands of miles. Elmer Yuan, a former Hong Kong investor now in the United States, breaks down the communist China threat this way: “You have to understand the communist mentality. Communists think they’re at war all the time. They use unconventional warfare — tactics you never would have imagined.”
An IU ‘Nest’
Pivoting to Indiana University, Martin Luther had an epigram that might apply to the unconventional warfare that China is waging here. “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head,” Luther said, “but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”
Building a nest — that is what some believe has happened in regard to the CCP during the administration of Michael McRobbie. They say that the IU president, who arrived in Bloomington 23 years ago from his native Australia, abided CCP “nests” in the form of so-called “Confucius Institutes” and similar groups, and did so years after they were known to be a danger to U.S. security.
A U.S. Senate report charged that the Confucius Institutes spread propaganda on more than 100 college campuses across the country, spending $150 million over the last decade to limit criticism of China’s political policies. Here is Sen. Marco Rubio questioning a witness at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in 2018:
“Last week I wrote a letter to five higher education institutions about the Confucius institutes, which are funded by China, Chinese government dollars at U.S. schools. And it is my view 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. Do you share concerns about Confucius institutes as a tool of that whole of society effort and as a way to exploit the sort of naive view among some in the academic circles about what the purpose of these institutes could be?”
The American Associations of College Professors also criticized the institutes, charging in a formal statement six years ago that that they posed a threat to the country’s national security. It wasn’t until shortly after the Senate report, however, that McRobbie closed the Confucius Institute associated with IU.
McRobbie, by any assessment, is a good friend of China. Since becoming president in 2007, he has made eight trips there, often leading large groups. His administration was proud to tell the local newspaper in McRobbie’s first year in office that enrollment of students from China increased 23 percent. And even before assuming the presidency he established the first of many cooperative research programs.
“In the 2019-2020 academic year, students from China paid just over $80 million to IU Bloomington in tuition and fees alone,” reports Margaret Menge in an upcoming issue of The Indiana Policy Review. “This is close to half the total amount of funding that IU Bloomington gets from the state of Indiana each year, which is around $200 million. Students from China represent fully a third of all foreign nationals on campus.
Moreover, a Chinese dissident, Charles Lee, told Menge that the great number of students from China at American universities, unlike students from other countries, have taken an oath of loyalty to the Communist Party and as such are security threats.
So with over two thousands students from China enrolled at IU this last fall it made sense for Menge to ask a McRobbie spokesman whether he thought any had absorbed American values.
“Is there any real evidence that it’s worked at all,” Menge pressed, “that any students from China who have studied at IU have renounced communism or become dissidents, or returned to China and worked to reform and liberalize it. Is there was anything remotely like this?”
“That’s not how it works,” the spokesman snapped.
Well, maybe in solipsism land it doesn’t, but at a tax-funding Indiana university it should.
*See p. 76, The Indiana Policy Review, spring 2020.