A Chinese education startup expanding into American schools received funding from Chinese tech behemoth Tencent, classified by the State Department as a “tool of the Chinese government.”
Tencent has been described as lacking the “ability to tell the Chinese Communist Party ‘no’ if officials decide to ask for their assistance,” and received a sizable investment from Wendi Deng, a potential CCP asset according to U.S. Intelligence officials based off Wall Street Journal reporting.
The education startup, known as ‘VIPkid’, allows Western-based teachers to virtually tutor students on their English language skills. In 2017 the company launched LingoBus which allows Chinese instructors to teach American students Mandarin online.
In light of the coronavirus-fueled shift to online learning, the company has “donated” its services to many American public schools.
Meanwhile, Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley recently proposed a bill banning US officials from working with Chinese companies deemed national security threats, chiefly naming Tencent:
“Companies like Tencent and Huawei are espionage operations for the Chinese Communist Party, masquerading as telecom companies for the 21st century. Prohibiting the use of these platforms and stopping taxpayer dollars from being used to capitalize Chinese espionage infrastructure are common-sense measures to protect American national security.” Sen. Cruz announced.
If US officials allegedly view at least two of the public investors behind VIPkid as clear and present dangers to both safety and security, why is the company still allowed to operate in American schools?
The State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation described Tencent as a “tool of the Chinese government,” noting the company has “no meaningful ability to tell the Chinese Communist Party ‘no’ if officials decide to ask for their assistance.”
It provides “a foundation of technology-facilitated surveillance and social control” as part of the CCP’s broader crusade “to shape the world consistent with its authoritarian model,” the report added.
In other words, a learning platform operating in American classrooms could be requisitioned by the CCP at any moment.
Not only does this raise concerns about the data stored on the program ending up with the CCP, but it also grants them authority in dictating content, bridging the gap between Chinese Communist propaganda and American classrooms.
VIPKid has even been criticized for attempting to influence school curricula by firing teachers who show maps with an independent Taiwan and Hong Kong and accurately describe the brutal Tiananmen Square massacre.
Tencent’s CEO is also known to have direct links to the CCP, currently serving as a Congressional Deputy and member of the Standing Committee, a who’s who of the Communist Party of China.
Even the progressive group Amnesty International rated Tencent’s data encryption capabilities zero out of 100, noting it hadn’t “stated publicly that they will not grant government requests to backdoor.”
Tencent has been funding VIPkid from its inception, with the company investing millions since it first started soliciting public funding. And in at least three other rounds of financing, Tencent has also “led” the several hundred million dollar efforts.
In the company’s most recent round of funding, post-launching LingoBus, VIPkid received an “undisclosed” amount of funding from Tencent.
Another prominent investor and board member at the company is media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng, who U.S. Intelligence officials allege could be trying “further the interests of the Chinese government” according to reports from The Wall Street Journal.
Deng invested $200 million in the company in 2017, the same year VIPkid launched its program for American classrooms, LingoBus.
Officials reportedly warned Jared Kushner of Deng’s suspected CCP ties the same year.
“U.S. officials have also had concerns about a counterintelligence assessment that Ms. Murdoch was lobbying for a high-profile construction project funded by the Chinese government in Washington, D.C., one of these people said. The project, a planned $100 million Chinese garden at the National Arboretum, was deemed a national-security risk because it included a 70-foot-tall white tower that could potentially be used for surveillance, according to people familiar with the intelligence community’s deliberations over the garden. The garden was planned on one of the higher patches of land near downtown Washington, less than 5 miles from both the Capitol and the White House,” The Wall Street Journal also noted.
Deng also lists herself as an investor in CCP-affiliated Tencent.
Despite these obvious red flags, the program is still operating and even expanding in American classrooms.
Recently, the program was used in conjunction with a Chinese language learning initiative spearheaded by the Confucius Institute, a CCP-funded organization and alleged trojan horse for espionage and propaganda viewed suspiciously by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and politicians, that led to several Utah public schools airing CCP military parades, teachers pledging to instill Chinese “morality and values” in students, and a pen pal program with the President of China Xi Jinping.
Even CCP-run media outlets have used the partnership to demonstrate how coronavirus hasn’t dampened American students’ “unabated interest in studying the Chinese language and culture,” part of the country’s coronavirus disinformation campaign to imply there’s no resentment towards the country for spawning and spreading the virus.
Whether viewed as a national security threat, propaganda outlet, or data collection service, VIPkid and LingoBus represent a clear and present danger to America’s most impressionable: school children.