On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the University of Washington of refusing to help free its student, who was in a Chinese re-education camp in 2017 and was held captive for nearly two years. Pompeo said the university chose not to act to avoid jeopardizing a multi-million dollar deal with China at the time.
In a speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology, Pompeo described his concerns about Chinese influence in U.S. universities and brought up the case of Vera Zhou, the student held captive in China for nearly two years.
“Let me tell you about Vera Zhou,” Pompeo said. “She’s a permanent resident of the United States of America. She’s originally from China and a senior at the University of Washington. In October of 2017, so just three years ago, she returned to China to visit her father. Local authorities put her in a re-education camp, a re-education camp for five months and under house arrest for 18 months after using a virtual private network connection to connect to her school’s website, something many of you are doing even as I speak.”
Pompeo said Zhou’s father Bob Fu “desperately petitioned the University of Washington to advocate for her return, but the University of Washington, a woman named Sarah Castro, head of the federal relations office, said – she said that the university wouldn’t help because of a multi-million dollar deal with China.”
“Now, thank God, Vera was eventually released and returned to the United States, but no thanks to the University of Washington and no thanks to the deal that it had made with the Chinese Communist Party,” Pompeo said, concluding his remarks about Zhou’s story.
Earlier in his remarks, Pompeo warned that U.S. campuses are “rife with anti-Americanism, and present easy targets for [Chinese] anti-American messaging. That’s why they planted Confucius Institutes on our campuses. And under President Trump, our State Department has made very clear these Confucius Institutes are literally up to no good. Many have gone away. Many campuses have seen that and they’ve chosen to close down these institutes. But right here in Georgia, Wesleyan College still has one in Macon.”
Moments later Pompeo said, “Look, we can’t let the CCP weaponize political correctness against American liberties. We have to protect and preserve them. Fraudulent cries of racism or Sinophobia should never drown out a candid exposure of the activities of the Chinese Communist Party. But we see too often on American campuses that there is silence and censorship. It’s being driven by the Chinese Communist Party. It usually boils down to something far less idealistic. So many of our colleges are bought by Beijing.”
Pompeo raised Zhou’s case as one example of Chinese money subverting U.S. interests on college campuses.
Following his remarks about Zhou, Pompeo said, “The U.S. Department of Education over the last years has found that schools have taken an estimated $1.3 billion from China since 2013. That’s just what we know about. Like so many – like Columbia – so many schools that have failed to report the true amounts. What more – what more bad decisions will schools make because they are hooked on Chinese Communist Party cash?”
In November 2019, the Department of Education announced investigations into several U.S. universities over allegations they had not fully reported donations from foreign sources, including China and Russia.
The Trump administration has also worked to counter Chinese influence on U.S. campuses through their Confucius Institutes, which State Department officials have said are billed as cultural exchange offices, but act more like propaganda arms of the Chinese government. In August the U.S. moved to designate Confucius Institutes as foreign missions of China. At the time, Pompeo said the Confucius Institute is “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms.”