‘Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical…’
(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fl., urged the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to enhance restrictions on Chinese Confucius Institutes, citing Beijing’s “growing influence” in American universities.
In a letter addressed to the committee, Rubio said Congress should include these restrictions in the upcoming Higher Education Reauthorization Act.
“There is mounting concern … about the Chinese government’s increasingly aggressive attempts to use ‘Confucius Institutes” and other means to influence foreign academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s past history and present policies,” Rubio said in the letter. “The upcoming Higher Education Reauthorization Act provides an opportunity to begin to address some of these concerns.”
Rubio sent a similar letter of concern in February to five schools in Florida, calling on the administrations to sever their relationships with the Chinese government-run programs.
Confucius Institutes teach Chinese language and culture in American schools.
More than 100 of them are in American universities, and some have made their way into the K-12 level as “Confucius Classrooms.”
Their curriculum is overseen and by the Chinese Ministry of Education, which employs teachers trained in China, who then return to the U.S. to teach Chinese government-approved versions of history, culture, and current events.
In 2011, a Chinese government member said the institutes were “an important contribution toward improving our soft power.”
“The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness,” Li Changchun said, according to Rubio’s letter. “Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”
The University of South Florida was the first Sunshine State school to adopt a Confucius Institute, when it partnered with Qingdao University in 2008.
It provides “academic support” to USF’s Chinese language program, and even works with similar programs at K-12 schools in the area.
After China’s indoctrination efforts became apparent, many faculty members and students spoke against these programs.
USF officials, however, said the Institute’s two professors, originally from Qingdao University, “strictly” adhere to USF’s curriculum.
Several universities have broken with the program, though, including the University of Chicago, which allowed its agreement to expire in 2014 after faculty outcry.
Pennsylvania State University quickly followed suit.
The American Association of University Professors said the Confucius Institutes “ignore academic freedom” in a 2014 report.
“North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate,” the group wrote.
Gao Qing, executive director of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center in Washington, disavowed these claims, saying the programs have always been “transparent.”
“Confucius Institutes in the U.S. have been fully complying with the university policies and requirement as open and transparent initiatives,” he said. “It is wise to further comprehend Confucius Institutes’ operations and impact through people who are involved with and participate in the programs, not through speculations. The conclusion should not be drawn upon unfounded allegations.”
Rubio is not the only Congressman sounding the alarm: A new draft bill sponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., would clarify language in the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires organizations and individuals engaged in lobbying efforts or other forms of public discourse on behalf of a foreign government to register with the Department of Justice, and disclose their funding and provide reports regarding their activities.
Wilson’s amendment would require Confucius Institutes to register as foreign agents, even though the bill does not explicitly name them.
As it’s written, FARA provides an exemption for “bona fide” academic pursuits.
Wilson’s draft proposal would redefine what a “bona fide academic pursuit” is, excluding foreign-funded efforts in the American education system.
“The goal is transparency by the foreign agents themselves and also by the universities,” Wilson said. “The American people need to know that they are being provided propaganda.”
Ben Freeman, director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the nonprofit Center for International Policy, said the draft proposal is the first legislative measure to address Confucius Institutes.
“This is an important issue of language clarification for the FARA statue,” he said. “Certain key portions of FARA are written in vague language, causing a lot of confusion for transparency groups and also for people who think they might have to register but aren’t sure.”
Confucius Institutes have tried to censor information on sensitive political topics regarding China on their host universities’ campuses, specifically regarding Tibet or Taiwan.
Rachelle Peterson, author of a 2017 study about the institutes, said, “there is a very strong understanding that certain topics are off limits.”
“To speak about China in a Confucius Institute is to speak about the good things,” she said. “The other things don’t exist as far as the Confucius Institute is concerned.”