Alabama Lawmaker Calls on State Leaders to Close Down Beijing-Run Confucius Institutes

Alabama Lawmaker Calls on State Leaders to Close Down Beijing-Run Confucius Institutes
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) speaks during the DC March for Jobs in Upper Senate Park near Capitol Hill in Washington, on July 15, 2013. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Frank Fang

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) has sent a letter to Alabama state government officials, calling on them to push for the closure of Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes (CI) in the state.

“Alabama leaders should use every possible tool at their disposal to close Communist Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes at both Troy and Alabama A&M,” Brooks stated in a July 28 press release from his office.

He added: “These so-called ‘institutes’ are nothing more than Communist Chinese propaganda units. The Communist Chinese Party cannot be allowed to gain influence over America’s education system or undermine American national security.”

His letter was addressed to the governor and lieutenant governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey and Will Ainsworth, as well as leaders of the state legislature, Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and House Speaker Mac McCutcheon.

More than 100 Confucius Institutes have opened at U.S. universities since 2004. Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University inaugurated its CI in 2015, while Troy University’s CI was established in 2007.

In February 2019, U.S. Senate investigators found that Beijing provided more than $158 million to U.S. schools in order for them to run these institutes.
According to the National Association of Scholars, an education advocacy group, there are a total of 75 Confucius Institutes in the United States as of June 30, while 45 CIs have closed or are in the process of closing.

The China-funded education programs have come under scrutiny in recent years for spreading Beijing propaganda, stifling free speech, and being a possible hub of espionage.

In a June 2014 report, Washington-based nonprofit the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), warned of the threats posed by CIs on U.S. academic freedom.

“Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China,” AAUP wrote.

The group added: “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.”

At a congressional hearing in July 2019, Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), stated that CIs “offer a platform to disseminate Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party propaganda, to encourage censorship, to restrict academic freedom.”

Chinese officials themselves have publicly admitted Beijing’s ulterior motives behind the CIs.

Li Changchun, formerly in charge of propaganda on the Politburo Standing Committee, the Chinese Communist Party’s top decision-making body, stated in 2009 that CIs were “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup,” according to Brooks’ letter.

Brooks is not the only one calling on Alabama universities to close down the Chinese programs.

In May, the College Republican Federation of Alabama issued a press release, encouraging “every university, including those institutions within Alabama, to reconsider their partnership with the Chinese government and their Confucius Institutes initiative.”
On July 27, Alabama State Representative Tommy Hanes unveiled a new bill that would ban CIs from Alabama public colleges, according to local news website Yellowhammer.

“This bill would prohibit public institutions of higher education from providing support for, funding for, or use of its campus facilities for the operation of cultural institutes, such as Confucius Institutes, that are affiliated with, funded by, or supported by the government of China,” according to the bill text.

“College campuses are bastions of free speech and academic freedom, principles that communism explicitly seeks to destroy,” Hanes said in a statement.

He concluded: “We must make clear that the Chinese government will have no safe harbor to promote the evils of communism in the State of Alabama.”

Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
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