Georgian private and public universities have continued their engagement with Chinese academic entities despite the emergence of COVID-19. These Universities have not only resumed their involvement with Chinese academia but have also begun establishing further relations, a trend that poses several significant concerns for Sino-Georgian ties.
Cooperation between these educational institutions is not transparent. With a few exceptions, information including their MOUs, international contracts, and other documents that justify the dual partnership is impossible to obtain from the responsible departments. Public access to these resources constitutes a challenge in itself, and difficulties also arise from non-compliance with the terms of the agreement signed between the parties. Even before the pandemic, the information contained in the memorandums or cooperation agreements had not been entirely realized, creating a sense of unmet expectations.
Currently, Georgia has no state-issued guidelines for cooperation with entities based in authoritarian regimes. To mitigate this deficiency, Civic IDEA is currently working on initiating policy recommendations concerning “the legislation against the foreign government interferences” in various fields, including academia.
Confucius Institutes represent a vital pillar in expanding PRC’s global foreign policy goals in Georgia. Overall, there are four official Confucius Institutes, covering the three largest cities in Georgia. Kutaisi University was the most recent addition in 2020, with support from the Chinese International Education Foundation and Xinjiang Medical University, the latter of which is also responsible for the Confucius classrooms at the University. The other three are established at the Free University of Tbilisi (2010), Tbilisi Open University(2017), and Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University(functions with the unofficial name since 2017). Other state and private universities have also actively integrated Confucius classrooms and scholarships. For example, another Georgian university affiliated with the Orthodox Church of Georgia, the Saint Andrew the First-Called Georgian University (SANGU), in collaboration with the Chinese Lanzhou University, has initiated Confucius classes and Confucius scholarships since 2018. We requested information from the National Center for Educational Quality Enhancement (a legal entity of the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia) about the legal status of the Confucius Institutes and the compliance of their programs and textbooks to the accreditation rules and procedures. According to their response, neither the Confucius Institute nor other Chinese language/culture courses are controlled by the Ministry of Education. Meanwhile, their curriculums go beyond the Chinese language courses, often disseminating the CCP’s propaganda narratives among Georgian students. It is absolutely clear that China-related education is stronger at the universities where CIs operate; there are more scholarships and more exchange programs, as well as follow-up activities by the embassy in Georgia.
Academic cooperation with Chinese universities
In addition, Georgian private and state universities cooperate individually or internationally with several well-known Chinese universities that jeopardize not only the academic sphere but Georgia’s national security as a whole. Particularly prominent is the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT), which according to the ASPI China Defense University Tracker, carries very high-security risks as it is entitled to top-secret credentials and is actively involved in advancing the PLA’s warfighting capability. BIT partners with several of the largest Georgian education institutions, including Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University, Georgian Technical University, Ilia State University, International Black Sea University (IBSU), and Batumi Shota Rustaveli State University. The areas covered within the frame of such partnerships involve Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Technology, Computer Science and Technology, Control Science and Engineering, Electronics Science and Technology, Information and Communication Engineering, Aeronautics & Space Science and Technology, Mechanical Engineering, Law, Economics, Business, Natural sciences, Big data analysis, 5G systems, Chinese language and culture, Intelligent vehicles and Electric vehicles.
Tsinghua University is another notorious Chinese university posing very high-security risks and is alleged to be involved in cyberattacks and engaged with the PLA. Under the frame of the Vanke School of Public Health, Tsinghua University cooperates with Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University and Akaki Tsereteli State University, providing stipends for MA students willing to study public health in China and pursuing academic and staff exchanges.
Peking University (PKU), Zhejiang University, and Tianjin University are also among those that carry high-security risks. According to ASPI, PKU, which has signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the PLA Navy, has been actively collaborating with Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University since 2019 in the fields of Medicine and Public Health. Both Zhejiang University and Tianjin University, have signed memorandums of understanding with Free University Tbilisi (FUT). The latter is distinguished by its close ties with various Chinese entities, including those mentioned above. In conjunction with these Universities, FUT accommodates joint exchange stipends to send MA students in International Relations to China.
The PRC’s engagement with Georgian state and private universities is low on the company level. By now, we have identified three partnerships with two Chinese companies, the Hualing group and HUAWEI’s local branch in Georgia. These firms organize contests and workshops for the Georgian students in order to select and hire them for their projects, including those concerning the field of telecommunications. Moreover, in 2015, HUAWEI actively supplied the Chinese Language and Culture Center opened at TSU with computers and furniture.
Mitigating the Risks
Georgia’s primary challenge of mitigating the risks associated with authoritarian regime engagement derives from its lack of legal regulations, therefore, taking these steps is an essential condition for addressing security risks:
- The country has to precisely determine the terms (Including but not limited to foreign influence operations, foreign policy domination, disinformation, propaganda, etc.)
- The country has to determine what to do about these issues accurately.
- The country has to ensure the sound implementation of the legislation.
Finally, problems persist in various domains beyond academia. More specifically, the Georgian side does not conduct Due Diligence until an agreement is reached with a specific university or other Chinese entity carrying certain security risks. This lack of oversight is also driven by the degree of Chinese influence in Georgia and local elite capture. Therefore, specific changes need to be applied to reduce the security threats in this regard.