Report says Confucius Institute subverts academic integrity and imports censorship

American universities have closed most of the more than 100 Confucius Institutes linked to Beijing across the country, but many continue to operate under new names and programs to promote Chinese propaganda and soft power, according to an academic study.

The National Association of Scholars reported that a total of 118 Confucius Institutes are operating at U.S. universities, of which 104 have closed or are in the process of closing.

However, the report notes that the Chinese government is continuing to use other organizations and methods to influence U.S. universities.

“Confucius Institutes are one of China’s most strategic beachheads in U.S. higher education, and the failure of the Confucius Institutes has not stopped the Chinese government from seeking alternative ways to influence U.S. colleges and universities,” the report concluded.

One of the most successful strategies has been to rebrand similar Chinese-funded programs under different names, with many shuttered institutions reopening under different forms, such as the U.S.-China “sister” university exchange program.

According to the 228-page report, 28 institutions replaced shuttered Confucius Institutes with similar programs, and 58 of them maintain close ties with former Confucius Institute partners.

Five agencies moved their operations to a new hosting organization.

In China, the Confucius Institute Headquarters and the Office of the International Chinese Association (also known as Hanban) were renamed the Language Exchange and Cooperation Center of the Ministry of Education, and an independent organization called the “China International Education Foundation” was established to fund and control the Confucius Institutes and many alternative organizations.

The name change is part of Beijing’s efforts to reshape its soft power business through the institutes, the report said.

Stanford University, University of Utah and Georgia Wesleyan College are among the 17 universities where the Confucius Institute continues to operate.

Confucius Institutes are ostensibly Chinese language and cultural centers located on university campuses and some schools.

The main goal of these institutes is to oppose American academics who oppose the Chinese Communist Party and influence issues such as the commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, U.S. support for Taiwan, and China’s repression of Tibet.

“We also exposed secret contracts signed by universities with the Chinese government, granting Hanban the power to hire teachers, select courses, and exercise veto over all Confucius Institute programs and activities,” the report said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in 2020 that Confucius Institutes are part of Beijing’s soft power structure that influences universities and their administrators, often with financial backing.

Those U.S. agencies “are trying to censor or promote China-friendly speech in a decidedly unorthodox way,” Mr. Wray said.

“It’s an effort to bring students together to ensure that the Chinese narrative comes in and dominates the conversation at the university,” Mr. Lei told the Hudson Institute.

During the Trump administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stepped up efforts by the U.S. government to shut down institutions that were seen as organs of the Chinese Communist Party to influence U.S. universities.

Pompeo said the Confucius Institute is “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”

The State Department designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center in 2020 as a Chinese government entity controlled by the Foreign Missions Act of 1982.

The U.S. State Department also warned all U.S. college administration boards that Confucius Institutes spread CCP propaganda and exert malicious influence on campuses.

American universities have been eager to replace Confucius Institutes with similar programs, and many Confucius classrooms operating in K-12 schools have continued to operate despite their closures, the report said.

Many staff at these institutes have moved to similar China influence programs at the same universities, and textbooks and materials consistent with Chinese state propaganda continue to be used on the institutes’ closed campuses.

“Many institutions were forced to pay the Chinese government refunds, sometimes in excess of $1 million, after shutting down CI,” the report said.

In addition, some universities that are required by federal law to disclose foreign gifts and contracts do not disclose their Chinese funding.

“A number of institutions, including the University of Michigan and Arizona State University, have made retrospective edits to anonymize continued Chinese funding,” the report said.

The report features in-depth case studies of Chinese soft power activities at Washington University, Western Kentucky University, Arizona State University, and Purdue University.

In the case of the University of Washington, the Confucius Institute was established in 2006 following a meeting between Washington State Governor Christina Gregoire and then Chinese President Hu Jintao at the home of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The Confucius Institute has developed unusually close relationships with a number of companies, including Microsoft, the report said.

The university has since severed ties with the Confucius Institute, but sought legal loopholes that would allow the school to bypass federal transparency laws, the report said.

“Pan Weiping, founding director of the Confucius Institute at Western Kentucky University, was a leader in coal technology at a time when the Chinese government was improperly transferring coal technology to China,” the report said.

The report recommends that all universities close remaining Confucius Institutes and withdraw from alternative programs, including sister university programs.

In addition, the report urges Congress to amend the recent law banning Confucius Institutes to include additional bans on alternative Chinese-language programs.

In response to Chinese government influence operations, the federal government should tax U.S. educational institutions’ money from China and limit federal funding to U.S. universities that conduct academic research and military-civilian integration programs with China.

Confucius classrooms below universities should also be restricted.

The National Association of Scholars is an independent organization of scholars and others that promotes rational academic and civil debate in American colleges and universities.

The report was co-authored by National Association of Scholars researchers Rachelle Peterson, Flora Yan and Ian Oxnevad.



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