A senior party discipline inspector has accused one of China's most influential academic research organisations of being "infiltrated by foreign forces" and "conducting illegal collusion during [politically] sensitive times".
The criticisms were made by Zhang Yingwei during a visit to a research institute for modern Chinese history on Tuesday.
They were posted in an article on the institute's website that was removed yesterday.
Zhang heads a group sent to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (Cass) by the Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
He had asked the academy to "remain alert to some politically sensitive issues", the article said. It did not say whether he named the "foreign forces" or what he meant by "illegal collusion during sensitive times".
The warnings to Cass, an influential government think tank, come at a time when President Xi Jinping is tightening his grip on the media and has launched sweeping anti-corruption and ideological campaigns targeting the civil service and state-owned enterprises, as well as an intense crackdown on liberal intellectuals and activists.
On Friday, the CCDI spoke to nine new discipline inspectors at another leading research institute, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, about their roles and the anti-graft campaign inside that academy.
During a session on Xi's thoughts on party discipline at Cass, Zhang said the academy had "ideological problems".
These included using academic research as a guise for other purposes; using the internet to promote theories that played into the hands of foreign powers, allowing undue foreign influence in sensitive issues; and "illegal collusion" between Cass experts and foreign interests at sensitive times.
Zhang said Cass should maintain a high level of political sensitivity at all times and work in tandem with the party's Central Committee to strengthen political awareness. He said there would be no exceptions made for anyone.
The article on the institute's website was removed yesterday after the news began circulating online. Sima Pingbang, a well-known blogger in Beijing, asked why the Public Security Bureau had not taken action if the academy had indeed been infiltrated by overseas interests.
China-watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the graft watchdog's warnings to academic bodies showed the party was extremely fearful that their work with foreign institutions would expose them to values like human rights and freedom of speech.
"Cass funds overseas researchers to carry out studies in China that benefit the country, and they award scholarships to attract foreign talent, but they can't do any of it without their leaders' approval," he said.
"Their leaders are all appointed by those high up in the party, so there won't be ideological problems.
"In fact, Cass has never colluded with foreign powers, because all it does is explain and justify the party's policies."
Cass did not respond to requests for comments yesterday.
Zhang is a former lecturer on Marxism and Leninism at what is now Inner Mongolia Agricultural University.