The University of Montana (UMT) is taking heat from Republican lawmakers in the state after defending a program that allows groups tied to the Chinese Communist Party to host and pay for student trips to China.
UMT is offering a controversial study abroad program in China, referred to as the “CUSEF cultural exchange,” that has raised national security concerns from state lawmakers who say the groups that fund the trips are “an organ of the CCP’s approach to influence operations.”
The program is teaming up with two CCP-tied groups for an upcoming summer trip – the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF), which is an influencing operation described by lawmakers as a “forum designed to advance CCP objectives,” and the Max S. Baucus Institute. The Baucus Institute, formed by former Democrat senator of Montana and former Ambassador to China Max Baucus, is highly funded by the Wanxiang Group, whose co-founder, Lu Guanqiu, was awarded the title of “National Outstanding Communist Party Member.”
Despite Montana GOP calls to “terminate” all ties with CUSEF, the university is defending the partnership and prompting more concern from state lawmakers who believe the threat should be taken more seriously.
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“Like many Montanans, I have grave concerns about the Chinese Communist Party shoveling money into American colleges and universities, including those in Montana, to target, spy on, and influence our institutions. The CCP is not our friend,” Gov. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., said in a statement to Fox News Digital.
“Congressman [Ryan] Zinke remains concerned and disappointed that the university is not taking the Chinese threat seriously,” said Heather Swift, spokesperson for Zinke, in a statement. “The Chinese communist propaganda machine relies on influencing young people and normalizing their misinformation campaigns. Programs like that offered at UM are vehicles for the propaganda.”
Republican Montana Reps. Ryan Zinke and Matt Rosendale co-signed a letter with the House Select Committee on the CCP to UMT President Seth Bodnar in early December, expressing their concerns over the Chinese group’s involvement with Montana students and demanding the university drop the program from its curriculum. The college, however, continues to promote its upcoming summer China trip.
In the House letter to Bodnar, co-signed by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., the lawmakers said the CUSEF is a “key united front forum designed to advance CCP objectives in and beyond the PRC. The founder and longtime chair of CUSEF, Tung Chee-hwa, was the vice chair of the CPPCC and clearly aligns with CCP interests. Since the 1980s, Tung served as a proxy for the CCP in Hong Kong, where as the first chief executive he pushed for the kind of draconian national security legislation we see today.”
Fox News Digital previously reported on Chee-hwa’s close ties to President Biden’s clean energy czar, John Podesta, who repeatedly referred to him as his “friend” and said he had the “highest regard” for him in past emails.
Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., told Fox News Digital that “given the Chinese Communist Party’s malign influence, what the Select Committee on the CCP uncovered is troubling and deserves to be looked into further.”
Democrat Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s office did not respond to multiple inquiries when asked to comment on the matter.
When asked why UMT decided to remain in partnership with the CCP-tied groups while colleges such as the University of Texas rejected accepting any such funding from the group, the university sent an article that mirrored statements sent to other outlets.
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The UMT president said the China trips are in compliance with state and federal law and “rather than shrink opportunity, it is our responsibility to expand learning experiences for our students so that America can compete and win around the globe.”
“As a former special forces officer, I understand firsthand the threats to freedom posed by foreign adversaries,” Bodnar told the outlet. “This program is in complete compliance with state and federal law.”
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The dates for the next China trip are to be determined, but an advertisement for the program states that lodging, meals and travel insurance will all be covered by the CUSEF group.