Ivy League school told to ignore faculty, student concerns about China’s human-rights abuses

Cornell University / Source: Robert Barker/University Photography • April 15, 2021 5:59 pm

A student group backed by the Chinese embassy is pressuring Cornell University to ignore faculty and student opposition and push forward with a multimillion-dollar partnership with the regime.

The Cornell chapter of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) is circulating a petition calling on Cornell to launch a controversial dual degree program bankrolled by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The group dismisses allegations of Chinese human-rights abuses as an attempt to “deliberately discredit and attack China.”

“We sincerely hope that Cornell can carry out mutually beneficial cooperation with China,” the petition says, “and avoid ideological conflicts, political disagreements and other factors affecting pure academic exchanges.”

Students frequently launch petition campaigns—but unlike most student groups, the CSSA has the official backing of a foreign government. CSSA is the “ONLY Chinese student organization officially supported by [the]Embassy of People’s Republic of China at Cornell University,” according to its website. There are more than 150 CSSA branches on American universities across the country. It is unclear what role the Chinese embassy played in this petition, but Beijing has a history of using CSSA branches to influence campus discourse. Chinese consulate officials have ordered CSSA chapters to disseminate Chinese Communist Party propaganda on social media and have encouraged the groups to denounce anti-China views on campus, according to Foreign Policy. The group’s Australian chapter allegedly spied on students on behalf of the Chinese government.

The embassy’s involvement in upstate New York is a testament to the global reach of the Chinese propaganda apparatus, which hopes to minimize the repercussions of the Chinese government’s human-rights violations. Engaging with Cornell is a key part of achieving that goal—by influencing Cornell, the Chinese state can influence the next generation of American elites.

“If they can shape in some way the way that Cornell students think about the CCP, then they can shape the future of America,” Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the


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