United States designates Confucius Institutes as foreign mission

Elias Hubbard
August 14, 2020

Confucius Institutes are Chinese government-funded cultural and linguistic centers that operate on U.S. university campuses.

The State Department on Thursday designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center (CIUS) as a Chinese foreign mission, the latest move in the Trump administration's crackdown on Beijing's influence in the U.S. The designation restricts the CIUS's operations and staffing levels in the country.

Confucius institutes are Chinese government-funded centers on college campuses in the US and throughout the world, whose stated aim is to promote knowledge of Chinese language and culture.

A growing number of Confucius Institutes have shut down in recent years amid criticism of their role in the regime's campaign to expand its global influence. They're funded and operated by Hanban, or the Office of Chinese Language Council International, an office within China's Ministry of Education.

Mr Stilwell said on Thursday that the Confucius Institutes' "supposed language study activities" were in fact forcing decisions by university administrators, by teachers, and by students. A 2019 bipartisan report from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations stated that "the Chinese government controls almost every aspect of Confucius Institutes at us schools, including its funding, staff, and all programming" and that "has veto authority over events and speakers". However, U.S. agencies and elected officials have warned that the institutes serve as propaganda centers used by China to project soft power overseas.

The action tracks with earlier decisions to add Chinese media outlets to the list of organizations that should be considered foreign missions due to their ties to the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has quickened its actions targeting a range of threats by Beijing, including rights abuses in the regions of Xinjiang and Hong Kong, rampant theft of American technology, and military aggression in the South China Sea.

Accusing China of taking advantage of America's free speech and academic freedom, Mr Stilwell said: "Our goal is to get the other side to understand the importance of transparency and openness and sharing, but until that happens we're going to take steps to defend ourselves".

"The United States wants to ensure that students on USA campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies", he said, adding that the institute is under examination worldwide.

CIUS executive director Gao Qing told The Straits Times in an email: "We are now evaluating this situation to better understand what the designation means to us". "Universities around the country and around the world are examining the Confucius Institutes' curriculum and the scope of Beijing's influence in their education systems", he said. This comprises almost a fifth of the more than 480 Confucius Institutes worldwide, including one in Singapore.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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