House Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Address Threats Posed by Beijing-Run Confucius Institutes

July 15, 2020 Updated: July 15, 2020

Reps. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio) have introduced a bill aimed to limit the influence of Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes on U.S. universities.

“Confucius Institutes are directly funded by the Communist Chinese government, which suppresses freedom of speech, academic freedom, and other democratic values,” Shalala stated in a July 14 press release.

“Through Confucius Institutes, the Chinese government is often able to coerce schools to follow a pro-Chinese Communist Party approach.”

The new bill, named Concerns Over Nations Funding University Campus Institutes in the United States Act (CONFUCIUS Act), aims to protect academic freedom at U.S. universities that host the Chinese language and culture education programs.

Confucius Institutes are funded and overseen by a department within China’s central government and have in recent years garnered criticism for stifling free speech and promoting Beijing’s propaganda at academic institutions.

The bill proposes handing the full managerial authority of Confucius Institutes to their U.S. hosts, so the latter can decide what will be taught at these Chinese institutes.

It would also prohibit applications of any foreign law on campuses that host the institutes. An award-winning documentary called “In the Name of Confucius” illustrated the case of a Mandarin language teacher working at a Confucius Institute in Canada who was required to avoid certain topics such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre and toe the Party line when answering students’ questions.

Finally, it would ban federal funding to U.S. universities that host Confucius Institutes “not in compliance with the law.”

The House bill is a companion version to Senate bill S.939, which was passed unanimously on June 10, after being introduced by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) in March. It was co-sponsored by Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.)

“The CCP has used these institutes to promote a pro-China image while actively working to steal American research and innovation and coerce our colleges and universities. It is time we hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for their actions and work to protect American institutions of higher learning,” Gonzalez said in the press release.

More than 100 Confucius Institutes have opened at U.S. universities since 2004, and they have come under increasing scrutiny recently by U.S. officials. 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.

In March, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a warning letter to 74 colleges, universities, and school districts with known active Confucius Institutes on their school grounds. He warned that the CCP was embedding these Chinese institutes in U.S. schools “as a propaganda tool.”

The National Association of Scholars, an education advocacy group, recently wrote that there were a total of 75 Confucius Institutes in the United States as of June 30, while 45 Confucius Institutes have closed or are in the process of closing.

Most recently, the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis closed on June 30, according to a June 30 press release from Blackburn’s office.

There are several other bills aimed to address problems posed by the Confucius Institutes: The Transparency for Confucius Institutes Act was introduced in the Senate (S.3453) by Blackburn in March, and its companion bill (H.R.7138) was introduced in the House by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) in June.

The Transparency Act would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to require program participation agreements between Confucius Institutes and their U.S. hosts to address the ways Beijing exerts undue influence.

In early July, China’s Ministry of Education issued a directive announcing that Confucius Institutes were being renamed Centers for Language Exchange and Cooperation.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer