U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the possibility that all Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes (CI) on U.S. college campuses would be forced to shut down by the end of the year.
“I think that everyone’s coming to see the risk associated with them and the recruitment of spies and collaborators inside of those institutions,” Pompeo said on Sept. 1 during an interview with Fox Business Network.
He added: “I think these institutions can see that and I’m hopeful we will get them all closed out before the end of this year.”
Pompeo’s remark came less than a month after the U.S. State Department designated a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes CIs as a foreign mission of the Chinese regime, with Pompeo calling it “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K–12 classrooms.”
A foreign mission is defined as an entity “substantially owned or effectively controlled” by a foreign government and according to federal rules, are subjected to certain administrative requirements that are applied to foreign embassies and consulates in the United States.
More than 100 Confucius Institutes have been established at U.S. universities since 2004. The Beijing-funded education programs have come under increasing scrutiny by U.S. officials over concerns that they spread Chinese propaganda, restrict academic freedom, and facilitate espionage in U.S. classrooms. In February 2019, U.S. Senate investigators found that Beijing gave more than $158 million since 2006 for U.S. schools to run these institutes.
The Senate investigation also found that Chinese teachers working at CIs could see their contracts terminated if they “violate Chinese law” or “engage in activities detrimental to [China’s] national interests.”
The National Association of Scholars (NAS), an education advocacy group, recently updated its website and stated that there were a total of 67 CIs in the United States as of Aug. 26, while 53 CIs have closed or are in the process of closing.
Among the colleges scheduled to close down their CIs are: Community College of Denver (scheduled to close on Sept. 30), University of Oklahoma (October 2020), University of North Carolina Charlotte (December 2020), and Emory University (November 2021), according to NAS.
The Chinese regime reacted angrily to the State Department’s previous designation. On Aug. 14, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, in a daily briefing, accused Pompeo of “oppress[ing] the Confucius Institutes under unfounded pretexts.”
China’s hawkish Global Times, in an article published on Aug. 14, painted CIs as “victims of Pompeo’s political scheme.” It also attacked Pompeo, accusing him of being “the destroyer of international rules and world stability.”
Several U.S. lawmakers had applauded the foreign mission designation.
“The Chinese Communist Party uses Confucius Institutes to spread its propaganda and suppress free speech on campuses across the nation,” stated Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) in a statement from his office.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) took to his Twitter account to say: “I support exchange programs but we cannot allow these Confucius Institutes to continue to promote China communist propaganda & suppress academic debate at US schools.”
Also speaking to Fox on Tuesday, Pompeo said the U.S. government will soon take certain action to address China’s theft of U.S. intellectual property developed at universities.
“In the coming days and weeks…you’ll see the United States confront this in a very serious way….students that are studying here in the United States that are part of this network,” he said.
The Justice Department has prosecuted several Chinese researchers for hiding their connections to China or stealing trade secrets while studying or being employed at U.S. colleges. Meanwhile, the Chinese regime has recruited both Chinese and foreign researchers to work in China and drive its tech ambition via state-sponsored job recruitment programs.
Referring to the Chinese students, Pompeo elaborated: “They aren’t all spies, but many of them are being watched, their families back home are being watched, and these are efforts for the Chinese government—the Chinese Communist Party in particular—to identify those that might ultimately work on their behalf.”