The University of Montana (UMT) is under scrutiny from Republican lawmakers for its decision to continue a study abroad program in China, funded by groups linked to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The program, known as the “CUSEF cultural exchange,” has been criticized for partnering with the China-United States Exchange Foundation (CUSEF) and the Max S. Baucus Institute, both allegedly connected to the CCP.
Montana GOP officials, including Governor Greg Gianforte and Congressmen Ryan Zinke and Matt Rosendale, have expressed serious concerns about the program’s potential role in advancing CCP influence operations.
They argue that CUSEF, described as a forum designed to further CCP objectives, and the Baucus Institute, significantly funded by the CCP-affiliated Wanxiang Group, pose a national security threat.
“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,” said Gianforte in a statement to Fox News Digital.
“Congressman [Ryan] Zinke remains concerned and disappointed that the university is not taking the Chinese threat seriously,” stated a Zinke spokesperson, echoing Gianforte’s concerns. “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.”
Despite calls to sever ties with these organizations, UMT defends the partnership, asserting the program’s compliance with state and federal laws.
The House Select Committee on the CCP, along with Reps. Zinke, Rosendale, and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), has formally addressed UMT President Seth Bodnar, urging the university to drop the program from its curriculum. They highlighted the problematic history of CUSEF’s founder, Tung Chee-hwa, as a CCP proxy in Hong Kong.
UMT’s stance on the controversy remains firm, arguing that “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 said. “This program is in complete compliance with state and federal law.”
The program’s next China trip, with dates yet to be determined, promises to cover lodging, meals, and travel insurance through CUSEF funding.