Senate report urges shuttering China's Confucius Institutes at US universities

Senate subcommittee raises alarm with report on China’s impact on the U.S. education system

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(Photo from Pixabay user 3dman_eu)

(Photo from Pixabay user 3dman_eu)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – U.S. lawmakers have once again raised alarm over the operations of China’s “Confucius Institutes” which operate over 100 such institutes in 44 out of 50 states.

A report by the Permanent Senate Subcommittee on Investigations was released on Feb. 27 analyzing China’s impact on the U.S. education system.

The report concludes that the institutes represent a means for Chinese state actors to disseminate propaganda in the U.S., and also suggests they may serve as assets of China’s state-directed intelligence operations.

These findings align with previous reports which suggest that Confucius Institute, in league with the Chinese telecom company ZTE, may be acting as a massive surveillance network for the Chinese government in the U.S. and throughout the world.

The Senate report suggests that each center is established with US$100,000 to US$200,000 dollars and receives an additional US$100,000 in funding annually from the Chinese government.

These funds are typically offered to host universities, ostensibly for providing language and culture programs, however the report says that the funds come with strings attached.

As university departments come to rely on these funds, the institutes will begin to exercise influence over curriculum and discourse. The report specifically mentions issues like Taiwan, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, or negative discussion of Chinese politics or leaders, as topics which can imperil funding from the Chinese state.

In extreme cases, where universities have entirely abandoned their standards of academic freedom, the Confucius Institutes may be able to effectively extend Chinese censorship onto U.S. campuses.

“The Chinese teachers sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging they will not damage the national interests of China. Such limitations attempt to export China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics.”

Senator Rob Portman warns U.S. universities and the public that the institutes do not operate transparently, and have been evidenced to actively “stifle academic freedom.”

Warning that the institutes may operate in a manner that runs “counter to U.S. interests,” Portman advised the following.

“Absent full transparency regarding how Confucius Institutes operate and full reciprocity for U.S. cultural outreach efforts on college campuses in China, Confucius Institutes should not continue in the United States.”

NBC news quotes Frank Figliuzzi, a former FBI assistant director for counter intelligence, who says that universities must be aware of the risks in entering into agreements with Confucius Institutes and the Chinese government because of clear “opportunity for exploitation by the Chinese intelligence services.”

The Senate report also offers strong criticism of the U.S. Department of Education and the State Department for its lack of oversight and failure to adequately monitor the operations of these institutes.

With the recent announcement of China’s campaign to revamp Confucius Institutes across the globe, and expand programs outside of universities to from Kindergarten through High School, the report recommends that the government take action to reduce the Chinese government’s footprint in U.S. academic institutions.

According to reports, the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University have all recently cut ties with the institute.

The full report from the Permanent Senate Subcommittee on Investigations can be viewed here.