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Risch Votes “No” on Gutmann, Cites Growing Chinese Malign Influence in Higher Ed

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee business meeting.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

“I concur in your remarks about filling these vacancies. It’s important. I’m glad we’ve been able to move as rapidly in this administration as we have—certainly more so than we did in the last administration. Nonetheless, it is bipartisan that these vacancies be filled, whichever party is in control of the White House.

“I want to speak briefly about the nominations. And, as you and I discussed, we will accept a voice vote on these nominations with the understanding that, with your usual kind indulgence, those who want to vote “no” will be able to be recorded as such.

“With that, I want to talk primarily about the appointment of Dr. Gutmann to the ambassador of Germany. The U.S. relationship with Germany faces significant challenges, especially due to threats of nefarious foreign and geopolitical influence from Russia and China.

“Our ambassador in Berlin must be firm in combatting these threats and able to make the case to our German counterparts that we need a shared approach to standing up against malign influence.

“I’m going to record a “no” vote against Dr. Gutmann, but it is not personal which I will explain here. And when she is confirmed, I stand ready to work with her to strengthen our alliance with Germany. I also expect her to engage on efforts to stop the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

“I am a “no” not because of her qualifications. Certainly she’s qualified. She’s had a long and successful career. But, I that think probably, with her position with the University of Pennsylvania, it really is a poster child for the ongoing and growing malign influence of China at our institutions of higher learning.

“The University of Pennsylvania has accepted millions, millions, and millions of dollars in donations and contracts from China. 

“The issue of foreign influence, and particularly Chinese influence, in U.S. higher education institutions is very important to this committee. And I’ve worked with the chairman on this to pursue efforts to put a stop to this and it’s important we do so.

“The University of Pennsylvania is a large organization, but I remain troubled that Dr. Gutmann did not exert more oversight of Chinese donations and contracts that Penn institutions were accepting. I think this is really a poster child for what is happening around the country.

“All CEO’s of these institutions of higher learning should learn from this wake-up call and should wake up to what China is doing in providing the money that it does.

“China is not providing the money for what they’re doing out the goodness of their hearts, but clearly to gain malign influence.

“For example, the University of Pennsylvania had four contracts to provide executive education to the PRC’s State Administration of Foreign Experts. During its operation, this government entity was responsible for recruiting foreign talent to China, including in science and technology.

“Dr. Gutmann told the committee that Penn’s contracts with PRC entities did not undermine U.S. national security simply because no classified information was revealed. Not sharing classified information is just the starting point to protect U.S. national security. It is not the finish line. 

There are many other risks to national security presented by PRC inroads into U.S. universities, and these apply to Russia too: China uses lucrative contracts, grants, exchanges, and other incentives to co-opt networks and institutions, promote PRC interests, and manipulate public discourse.

“I think, if anything, this nomination has provided us with an additional window to just how widespread this is and how dangerous this is.

“Additionally, there’s provision for opportunities for efficient and easy access and collection of open source intelligence and know-how to these entities that provide the money.

“We do not allow people running for public office to accept Chinese money or any other money. Why? Because we don’t want them to purchase influence or exploit that position.

“It just astounds me that we prohibit people running for public office from doing this, but yet we allow just this tidal wave of flow of money into these higher education institutions.

“This needs to stop, and I look forward to continuing to work with the chairman as we develop bipartisan legislation to do this.

“Briefly, as to Michele Taylor on the nomination to the UN Human Rights Council - I remain deeply concerned with the Human Rights Council and the U.S. membership in it.  

“It is a broken body which spends the majority of its time attacking Israel. And its membership is full of human rights abusers including China, Venezuela, and Cuba.

“I hope, although I doubt, Ms. Taylor can work to reform the council. The Biden Administration’s track record of pushing reforms at the UN is weak at best and the work that remains to be done is immense.  

“I believe it is inappropriate for the U.S. to bring its dignity and credibility and loan that to an institution like this institution.  

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity.