A group of Republican lawmakers is pushing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on federal funds flowing to U.S. universities with ties to Beijing.
Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and 56 of his GOP colleagues sent a letter to Austin on July 25, asking the secretary why federal funds were going to schools that are linked to the Chinese Communist Party.
“We have learned that DoD [Department of Defense] has awarded funding with contractual periods extending beyond October 1, 2023, to some universities, including a number of major state universities,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that all these institutions are currently carrying a program or institute “directly or indirectly funded, or materially supported” by the communist regime of China.
The timeline mentioned refers to a law that will go into effect in 14 months, restricting grants to any U.S. academic institutions hosting Beijing-funded programs.
The 9-page letter spotlighted Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes (CI) on U.S. campuses, which Beijing once called “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup.” Given their longstanding and formal ties to the regime’s foreign influence operations, the presence of CIs has raised serious concerns about China’s attempts to infringe on academic freedom and illicit technology transfer on American campuses since the mid-2000s.
The lawmakers noted the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a massive bill that funds the military, which banned federal grants to any academic institution that hosts a Confucius Institute and “pressured most American universities to close Confucius Institutes on their campuses.”
“Confucius Institutes, however, are far from meeting their demise on our university campuses,” the Republicans wrote, citing a June report by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) that warns that China has rebranded its CIs in U.S. universities.
Researchers found that out of the 118 CIs that once existed in the United States, 104 have closed or announced closures. However, at least 38 colleges have replaced their closed programs with similar alternatives, according to the report.
“The single most common reason universities give when they close a Confucius Institute is that they are replacing it with a new PRC partnership program,” the Republicans said in the letter.
The lawmakers noted that, when the 2021 NDAA was introduced into Congress, CI’s parent agency under the Chinese regime, known as Hanban, was promptly rebranded in July 2020 as the Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation. The letter urged the DoD to focus its efforts on the “restructured programs and institutes” that function similarly to CIs.
According to the NAS report, universities that hosted replacement programs still received federal funds, including the University of Michigan, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, North Carolina State University, Stony Brook University, and the University of Texas at San Antonio.
The lawmakers provided Austin a list of questions over the rebranded CIs and funds, setting a deadline of Aug. 15.
At least 28 American universities also collaborate with Chinese sister universities, many of which are involved in research that aids the communist regime’s military, according to a December 2021 report from a Washington-based think tank.
Several Chinese universities have already been recognized by the U.S. government as posing a national security risk to the United States and have been placed on the Commerce Department’s “entity list.”
Although no laws require American universities to sever ties with Chinese institutions that appear on a U.S. blacklist, inclusion on the entity list would require U.S. universities to seek permission from the Commerce Department for certain research collaborations.