UC Berkeley repeatedly neglected to inform the U.S. government of its massive deal with China, which involves the communist country funding a highly sensitive $240 million joint tech venture that has been running for the last eight years.
The university failed to disclosed to the U.S. government a $220 million investment from the city of Shenzhen for a tech project inside China, and another $19 million from Tsinghua University in Beijing, according to documents obtained by the Daily Beast.
The project, called the Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute (TBSI), is a joint research initiative backed by Berkeley and Tsinghua University, a top science school widely known as “China’s MIT,” that is controlled by the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education.
The TBSI project also reportedly includes partnerships with Chinese companies that the United States has since sanctioned or accused of being complicit in human rights abuses.
Chinese backers of the project had also promised lavish funding, state-of-the-art equipment, and smart Ph.D. students for Berkeley academics researching national security-sensitive technologies, according to the documents.
While a Berkeley spokesperson admitted that it had failed to disclose to the U.S. government a $19 million deal in 2016 with Tsinghua University, he suggested that the rules at the time were not very clear.
“Like many universities across the country, UC Berkeley did not have a reporting process in place — in 2016, thus the initial sponsored research agreement was not reported,” the spokesperson told the Daily Beast.
“In 2018, due to national security concerns with China and countries of interest, the Department of Education’s reporting process was recertified and all universities were required to start reporting,” he added.
When it came to the school’s failure to declare the $220 million investment from Shenzhen to build a research campus in China, the spokesperson told the outlet that the university hadn’t yet disclosed the investment because the campus is still under construction.
However, a former Department of Education official who once assisted with managing the department’s foreign gifts and contracts disclosure program said that investment agreements must be disclosed within six months of signing, not when they are fully executed.
Through the TBSI project, UC Berkeley reportedly built an unusually close partnership with the Chinese Communist Party.
In 2015, the university’s then-vice-chancellor, Patrick Schlesinger, noted that the “active participation of the Shenzhen municipal government” is an “unusual feature” of TBSI that sets it apart from other U.S. universities, the Daily Beast reported.
Dan Currell, a former deputy under secretary at the Department of Education — who has also worked on policy related to foreign influence in U.S. universities — told the outlet that “if the facts are as Berkeley’s documents seem to assert, this is exactly what universities must report.”
“The school isn’t complying with a clearly applicable federal statute,” Currell added.
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