Confucius Institutes: A Chinese Trojan Horse

May 17, 2020 Updated: May 17, 2020

Commentary

On American college and university campuses, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has, for nearly two decades, funded over 100 Confucius Institutes—Chinese state-run propaganda organizations that partner with many cash-strapped U.S. educational institutions to indoctrinate young American students in Sino communist thought.

Some large and substantial institutions, such as Columbia University, George Washington University, Stanford, Purdue, Emory, and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), have received funds from the CCP to set up Confucius Institutes in the United States.

In recent years, the Confucius Institutes’ unusual reach into U.S. higher education has become increasingly controversial, and they have attracted increased criticism.

For example, a blistering 2017 report by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) expressed concerns about Confucius Institutes’ influence on academic freedom and their close ties to the CCP. “These Institutes avoid Chinese political history and human rights abuses, portray Taiwan and Tibet as undisputed territories of China, and educate a generation of American students to know nothing more of China than the regime’s official history,” the report stated. The NAS recommended that all Confucius Institutes be closed or reformed.

The lack of transparency, threat to academic freedom, and CCP access to the U.S. education system—access that China does not extend to U.S. programs—was also noted in a scathing 2019 report by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI).

The report shows a “stunning lack of transparency and reciprocity in how Chinese-funded and controlled Confucius Institutes operate with impunity at American universities,” according to the PSI, who noted that the CCP had pumped more than $150 million into 100 Confucius Institutes in U.S. high schools, colleges, and universities.

“Nearly 70 percent of U.S. schools with a Confucius Institute that received more than $250,000 in one year for Confucius Institutes failed to properly report that information to the Department of Education,” the report stated.

Propaganda and Control

The Confucius Institute programs are supervised and controlled by the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE), which is run by the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department. Overseen by a branch of the MOE known as Hanban, the Institutes are part of a broader global propaganda initiative to infiltrate high schools, colleges, and universities and brainwash American students into accepting Chinese communist propaganda to enhance the CCP’s image abroad.

About 12 years ago, the CCP’s propaganda chief at the time, Li Changchun, described the Confucius Institute as “an appealing brand for expanding our culture abroad.” According to a 2018 Politico story, Li extolled the advantages of the Confucius Institutes’ propaganda capabilities, arguing that “It has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”

And it’s not just college campuses that have been duped and infiltrated by the CCP. The bipartisan PSI report, by Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Tom Carper (D-Del.), warned of the rapid growth of “Confucius Classrooms,” Mandarin language classes funded by the CCP in more than 500 elementary, middle, and high schools in the United States.

“Absent full transparency regarding how Confucius Institutes operate and full reciprocity for U.S. cultural outreach efforts on college campuses in China, Confucius Institutes should not continue in the United States,” Sen. Portman said in a statement.

Like the CCP, the Confucius Institutes are shrouded in secrecy. At most Institutes, the terms of the agreement are hidden. In addition, “Many students from China studying in the U.S. as well as faculty members believe the Institutes are centers of surveillance. There is no positive proof that the Institutes are also centers for Chinese espionage against the United States, but virtually every independent observer who has looked into them believes that to be the case,” stated the NAS report.

Moreover, the NAS report cited several off-the-record testimonies that claimed that the Confucius Institutes were “centers of threats and intimidation directed at Chinese nationals and Chinese Americans, and as cover for covert activities on the part of the Chinese government.”

But the tide may be turning for the nefarious Confucius Institutes in the United States.

Confucius Institute Closures

In 2018, Congress enacted the National Defense and Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

The bill, H.R. 5515, included language that prevents universities that host Confucius Institutes from participating in certain federally funded programs. It restricts funding to universities and requires them to provide a public record of any agreements or contracts they have with the program.

In the 15 months prior to May 2019, at least 15 U.S. colleges and universities announced the closure of their Confucius Institutes as political pressure intensified, according to Inside Higher Education. Since the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act, universities needed to decide between Chinese language funding from the U.S. government or the Chinese regime.

Recent closures include the University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Tennessee Knoxville, University of Minnesota, Indiana University–Purdue University, University of Oregon, San Francisco State University, University of Hawaii Manoa, Arizona State University, San Diego State University, and University of Kansas.

Today, there are currently an estimated 86 Confucius Institutes, according to a list last updated on May 1, 2020, by the National Association of Scholars. Six are stated to be closing later in the year.

The CCP is engaging in a massive academic, economic, and communications spying and disinformation campaign against the United States, and Western democracies. The espionage targets include U.S. academic institutions, classified government and military institutions, and high-tech companies.

Clearly, Confucius Institutes are a Trojan Horse; they represent a powerful menace to academic freedom. They also serve as an eye on Chinese students studying abroad, who might find freedom of thought and expression appealing.

All Confucius Institutes in the United States should be shut down immediately, and all Chinese “teachers” deported. It’s an intrusion on American higher education, and it’s time to stop the outsourcing of U.S. college classrooms to a foreign, and enemy, regime like the CCP. The United States must end China’s unfettered access to our research centers and universities. The Confucius Institute U.S. Center, based in Washington, D.C., should be shuttered, too.

Octavio Nuiry, a naturalized American of Cuban descent, is a former New Orleans Times-Picayune columnist.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.