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Western universities are not prepared for engaging with China

Attempts to exert influence exploit schools' financial needs and individualism

| China
The University of California, San Diego braved criticism from Chinese students and officials in inviting the Dalai Lama to deliver a commencement speech last June.   © Reuters

China is in the midst of a concerted campaign to expand its influence over institutions, public opinion and policymakers across the world. This campaign is sometimes called a "soft power" push, but this nebulous term masks what it really is: an old-fashioned play to establish leverage.

Doing so is neither inherently wrong nor uniquely Chinese. It is a simply a strategy to advance China's national interests. China believes, with some justification, but also a large dose of instrumentality, that the global narrative has long been skewed against it. Newly enriched, it has capacity to right this wrong. The determination and ability to push back against what it sees as Western hegemony is an underlying dynamic.

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