How has the Chinese Communist Party infiltrated American universities? How are Confucius Institutes involved?
While some Confucius Institutes are being shut down, is it possible some are staying, simply under a different guise?
And, how does the Chinese regime use the Thousand Talents Program and similar operations to steal American research?
In this episode, we sit down with Rachelle Peterson, Director of Policy at the National Association of Scholars.
This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Rachelle Peterson, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Rachelle Peterson: It is my pleasure to join you. Thank you for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, almost a couple of years have passed, since we last saw each other. It was at the Hudson Institute, China’s Global Challenge to Freedom Forum. We were panelists on different panels. And you really caught my attention with your discussion of Hanban or Confucius Institutes. Now, this was right after the Vice President gave a pretty landmark speech that signaled a major policy shift with respect to China for the United States. And frankly, a lot has happened there.
I’ve been wanting to catch up with you about Confucius Institutes, because we keep hearing about all these different actions around China. And Confucius Institutes, something really important in the mix, we don’t hear about as much. So if you can tell me super quickly, remind us what these Confucius Institutes are? And then we’ll dive into what’s been happening with them recently.
Mrs. Peterson: Well, thank you for covering this very important topic. Vice President Pence in that speech called for China to respond to the United States with fairness, reciprocity, and respect for our sovereignty. And Confucius Institutes are a perfect example of how China has not done that. Confucius Institutes are Chinese government-funded centers that are on American college campuses as well as other college campuses around the world.
These are basically little nodes of the Chinese government on campus, teaching Chinese Communist Party-approved propaganda, packaged in curriculum, using teachers that are vetted and selected by the Chinese government and paid by the Chinese government and using materials that are being sent over by the Chinese government. So they are little nodes of influence from the Chinese Communist Party, and they are basically infecting American higher education and putting a quash on academic freedom and challenging the integrity of our schools.
Mr. Jekielek: So if I recall, something to the tune of 100 of these were established across all sorts of universities. And then I also remember there were these Confucius classrooms in high schools and possibly grade schools as well. Can you tell me, at the height of this, what are we looking at here? How many, how much influence?
Mrs. Peterson: A lot. At the height, there were 110 Confucius Institutes just in the United States—there were more than 1000 across the world—and 500 Confucius classrooms at the K-12 level, mostly at high schools, but also at elementary schools, which is really alarming when you think of Chinese Communist Party selected teachers going into elementary schools and teaching our school-aged children. So more than 100 Confucius Institutes.
That number is going down now that Confucius Institutes have come to the forefront. They’re facing a backlash. We’ve really woken up as a society to the risks that China is posing, that Confucius Institutes, in particular, pose. Right now there are 75 Confucius Institutes in operation in the United States. And all told, since they launched in 2005 at the University of Maryland, 45 Confucius Institutes have closed in the US, which is really a victory that I’m very happy to celebrate.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so tell me a little bit about how you got interested, quickly, in this issue, how you became aware of it, and the National Association of Scholars which you were the policy director of, how is it involved in all of this?
Mrs. Peterson: I really got involved out of curiosity. The National Association of Scholars is a membership organization of college professors and other concerned citizens across the country, and one of our members alerted us to this. They sent us an email and said, “Hey, my university is talking about establishing a Confucius Institute. The faculty were never consulted. It was a top-down thing by the administration. I looked this up, and it turns out there are lots of them around the country. Have you ever heard of this before?” We had never heard of it before.
We looked it up, realized in fact there were 100 or more around the country, all over the place, including at some high profile universities and started wondering what is going on at these Confucius Institutes? Why is the Chinese government investing millions of dollars into American colleges and universities? What’s being taught there? So we decided to do a full-scale research project. In 2016, I did case studies at 12 universities, looking at what gets taught? Who are the teachers? Who is paying them? How did this get set up? Who made the decisions? Things like that and really did the first ethnography of what happens in a Confucius Institute.
And since then, with others who have also been writing about Confucius Institutes and starting to sound the alarm, we’ve seen the United States as a country, and a lot of the rest of the world also, just wake up to the realization that China has been using a Whole-of-Government Approach, sometimes even a whole of society approach towards infiltrating the West, towards trying to penetrate our institutions and work within them from inside to turn them in favor of China, to turn them against our own values. And that is exactly what’s been happening with our colleges and universities, with Confucius Institutes but also with the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, with the Thousand Talents Plan, with a number of prongs and approaches that the Chinese government has taken towards our colleges and universities. It’s very alarming.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, I definitely want to talk about the Thousand Talents Program, because that’s another thing I know that your organization is following very closely. But let’s talk a bit more about Confucius Institutes here. You’re saying there’s still 75 in operation as we speak. The trajectory is down, but there are still quite a few out there. What exactly are they teaching? What may be some examples, and why is it such a threat? Why are these islands of the CCP, as you’re saying?
Mrs. Peterson: Well, some of what gets taught is just Chinese language and culture. But the way the culture that gets presented is the Chinese Communist Party’s version of Chinese culture. You won’t hear about the Uyghurs; you won’t hear about Falun Gong; you won’t hear about the various acts of repression that the Chinese government has taken against its own people. If you ask about Taiwan and Tibet, you’ll hear that they are part of China and they always have been, nothing to talk about there. If you look at a map, they’ll be shown as part of China.
If you ask about Tiananmen Square, you will not get a straight answer. When I did my case studies, I asked, “What would you say if a student asked you about Tiananmen Square?” And the most telling answer was from the Chinese director of a Confucius Institute at New Jersey City University, who said, first, she would try to change the subject. If she couldn’t change the subject, she would show a picture and point out the beautiful architecture. So a student asking about Tiananmen Square would learn that it’s a tourist attraction. Here’s what the architecture looks like. That’s all of significance. That is Tiananmen Square, just the architecture. And that’s pretty revealing that at an American college campus, you could get an answer like that from a teacher that your university is backing and inviting to your campus.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s fascinating. Not even the information that [Tiananmen Square] is the place where people will go to appeal when they’re not being heard, but also nothing about the actual massacre in ’89 and so forth. No, fascinating. So Rachelle, when schools, universities in the country, would get courted by these Confucius Institutes, I’ll get you to tell me a bit about how the money works between the schools and the Hanban in a moment, but would they be aware that they’re giving away their right to adjudicate the content of the classes?
Mrs. Peterson: They would, because colleges and universities have to sign a contract with the Hanban, with this Chinese government agency, in order to set up a Confucius Institute. The Hanban likes to keep those contracts pretty secret and hidden from the public. I did get access to nine of them by filing Freedom of Information requests, and they have some very troubling clauses in there. And again, these are signed by college and university presidents and administrators.
[They include] things like the Hanban is going to select the teachers or at minimum put forward a slate of candidates from which the university is required to choose. The Hanban will send over thousands of textbooks that it has published and prepared for the use of Confucius Institutes. Things like the Hanban reserves to itself the right to be the final evaluator on the performance of teachers at these universities and the Confucius Institutes, and other clauses requiring that the university cannot quote “tarnish the reputation of the Confucius Institute.” And this is one of those phrases that is very vague, but that seems to be its purpose.
Its purpose is to be this kind of catch-all that puts the university on guard, to be sure that it doesn’t do anything that gets close to tarnishing the reputation of the Confucius Institute or tarnishing the reputation of the Hanban by wanting to pull out of the Confucius Institute or tinker with the structure, things like that.
And these contracts also, some of them had some very strange language about the way a contract could be severed. There were very few opportunities for universities to back out of their Confucius Institute contracts, but lots of opportunities for the Chinese government to back out and a requirement that any legal controversy would be settled in a Beijing court. So some of these, you can imagine if challenged in US Court would never hold up. But their point really is not to set up legal restrictions, but to use this as a signaling mechanism to colleges and universities to signal here’s what you need to do to stay in the good graces of the Hanban and in order to keep the money flowing.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s really incredible when you think about it. It actually reminds me a bit of this national security law that’s been imposed on Hong Kong with a lot of vague language, to the point where our conversation right now that isn’t incredibly positive about the Chinese Communist Party could be considered a violation of Hong Kong’s national security law. I mean, that’s the level of vagueness that we see. So this isn’t a new trick, I guess, that’s what you’re telling me here.
Okay, so let’s talk about the money. How much money are we talking about and which way does it flow? And, presumably, there’s some reason why all these Confucius Institutes popped up in the end, right?
Mrs. Peterson: Well, the money flows from China to the university. The Hanban will cover the operating costs. Usually it’s $150,000 in grants per year, just for operating costs. The teachers are paid directly by the Hanban. That money doesn’t even have to flow through the university. They’re getting their salaries straight from the Chinese government. The Hanban is sending over free textbooks and other supplies that the Confucius Institute might need.
The Hanban likes to advertise that universities put in 50% of the costs of the Confucius Institute. But if you look at that really closely and break down where they’re getting that, really what that means is the university is donating some office space and the use of some classrooms and is having a professor or administrator add on a few duties as the co-director of the Confucius Institute. So universities really aren’t putting money into the Confucius Institute. They’re just offering some classroom space that they already have available, things like that.
The money is coming from the Chinese government, and that’s what makes this so attractive to colleges and universities. They’re essentially getting Chinese classes provided at no cost to them. They have the opportunity to offer credit to students who sign up for these classes, charge students tuition for a class whose costs are being paid by the Chinese government. It’s a big money-making initiative.
But additionally, Confucius Institutes serve as the conduits for additional funding from the Chinese government. Once a university has a Confucius Institute, it establishes a close relationship with the Chinese government by way of the Hanban. Pretty soon you see the college president going on speaking tours in China, getting fed at lavish dinners. Pretty soon you see other professors making trips to China, additional Chinese students enrolling at that university. The levers of money really start flowing once a university gets a Confucius Institute. So it’s not just the money that the Institute itself brings in. It’s these host of other benefits that come along once they establish that relationship.
Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. So you have the influence, which is basically teaching according to the Chinese Communist Party’s dictates. And then you have this kind of growth of influence in the sense that there’s this much closer and warm relationship with the regime, back and forth. Now, we’ve been hearing a lot about different realities of espionage. Are these Hanban or the Confucius Institutes involved in that in any way that you’re aware of?
Mrs. Peterson: Well, we know that FBI Director Christopher Wray has warned colleges and universities about Confucius Institutes. The FBI has set up espionage watch operations and has seen evidence of espionage coming out of Confucius Institutes. We also know that Confucius Institutes, just by being a center of the Chinese government on campus, have an opportunity to watch a lot of activities, to keep an eye on a lot of things, to keep an eye on research and technology that’s being developed at that university, also an opportunity to keep an eye on scholars of Chinese who may want a visa to go back to China, and also Chinese students studying in the US who are under pretty much constant surveillance, and the Confucius Institute is one arm of that.
Mr. Jekielek: We’ve heard a lot about the United Front, which is the broad umbrella organization that’s basically pushing Chinese Communist Party influence overseas into these overseas Chinese communities. Is there any relationship with the Confucius Institutes?
Mrs. Peterson: Yes. The United Front Work Department uses Confucius Institutes as one of its tools. One of the mottos of the United Front is to make the foreign serve China, and that really could be the motto of the Confucius Institute as well. Make these foreign universities, these Western universities, from the inside out desire to have a friendly relationship with China, to cultivate their students to reflexively like China and to second guess anything bad they hear about the Chinese regime. That’s really what Confucius Institutes are doing. They’re working on the next generation of American students and scholars and currying favor with China and teaching them, grooming them, really, to have this favorable impression.
Mr. Jekielek: So what are we seeing in terms of response? I think it’s back in 2018 in the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act], I think the Pentagon was forbidden from funding schools that had Confucius Institutes? Please correct me if I’m wrong on some of the details. Obviously that had a profound effect, but there’s been more action taken. Actually maybe tell me about that in more detail and what else is happening basically since we last saw each other.
Mrs. Peterson: Yes, the NDAA has been so far the single most effective thing at convincing colleges and universities to close their Confucius Institutes. It did ban the Pentagon from funding Chinese language programs at a university that also had a Confucius Institute. And originally universities were allowed to apply for a waiver from the Pentagon. The Pentagon then announced it would not issue any waivers. It had sufficient security concerns about Confucius Institutes. So at least 10 colleges and universities have cited that law as the reason that they have closed their Confucius Institute. So again, that’s 10 out of 45. That’s a pretty big number, so that has been hugely important.
Really the other thing is just growing national awareness. We have warnings from the FBI, warnings from the State Department. Two Confucius Institutes at the University of Missouri and the University of Pittsburgh closed down after the State Department revoked the visas of Confucius Institute teachers. It had done some investigations and found that the teachers were not actually qualified for the visas that they were on. Some were on research visas, but they were teaching. Others were based on student-teacher visas. They were supposed to be under constant supervision of a Mandarin-proficient teacher, licensed in the United States. That wasn’t happening.
So we have warnings from the State Department. We also have a lot of warnings from members of Congress. Several additional bills have been introduced. The CONFUCIUS Act has passed the Senate. It is over to the House now for consideration. That would call for a lot of transparency from Confucius Institutes and basically forbid them from operating unless they can meet various academic freedom criteria. We also have the Transparency for Confucius Institutes Act introduced in the Senate as well. So there’s a lot of interest on Capitol Hill in addressing this. And colleges and universities I think are starting to heed those warnings and walk away, at least from the Confucius Institute brand, if not walk away from Chinese funding altogether.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so that’s actually quite interesting, because back in the day, I can’t remember what year now, the Chinese Communist Party announced that they were shutting down their labor camp system. But the reality of what happened is a whole bunch of people just got put into something called a prison instead of a labor camp, and which functioned in a lot of ways in pretty much the same way, right? And so this is kind of a standard approach for the Chinese Communist Party. The question is: okay, when these things close, does all the money dry up from the Chinese Communist Party? What’s going on here?
Mrs. Peterson: Well, it is certainly the case that the money continues flowing from the Chinese Communist Party. They have a lot of programs in place. It’s not just Confucius Institutes. So the spigots of funds are not being turned off. In the case of Confucius Institutes in particular, there are a lot of things that need to be looked at more closely.
Colleges and universities are closing down their Confucius Institutes in large numbers, but I’m not totally convinced that they have actually closed the Institutes. I think there’s a lot of evidence that they are pretty much rebranding their Institutes, all the more so now that the Hanban, the Chinese government agency that oversees Confucius Institutes, is itself going through a rebranding process. It’s being renamed the Ministry of Education Centre for Language Exchange and Cooperation, and it’s actually spinning off the Confucius Institutes to a separate organization, a new organization called the International Chinese Academy Education Foundation that is supposed to be a nonprofit.
And this is the Hanban’s attempt to stymie the criticism that these are being run by the Chinese government. I don’t think the line between this nonprofit and the Chinese government is going to be very distinct at all, and I suspect Confucius Institutes will operate pretty much exactly the same as they have operated in the past. But colleges and universities, I think, are going to start rebranding their Confucius Institutes, breaking up those programs and scattering them among newly created centers. I think this is something that we’re going to have to watch very closely as Confucius Institutes continue to generate criticism.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, so this is very fascinating, and again, you remind me of another scenario which is when China basically announced that it would not source organ transplants from prisoners anymore, right? And we know there’s almost no other source—and again I can’t remember what year it was—but the organ transplant industry continues strongly over there. Tell me, how would one actually track this? This strikes me as something potentially difficult to actually follow, and frankly, kind of scary, because in theory, you think you’ve dealt with a problem, but you’re basically telling me we might not have dealt with it at all.
Mrs. Peterson: Yes, it is scary territory. It sort of feels like we’re starting a game of whack-a-mole where we found the Confucius Institute, and we got that one. But now it’s going to pop up under another name, and who knows how many reincarnations it’s going to have. A couple things to watch for, though, are when a university closes its Confucius Institute, does it open up a new center that is substantially similar?
The University of Texas at Dallas in the same announcement where it said it was closing its Confucius Institute, announced a new center for Asian Studies, the director of which would be the exact same person who was the executive director of the Confucius Institute. That to me looks a little suspicious, so I want to look into that one a little bit more. The University of Michigan, when it announced that it would close its Confucius Institute, the Vice Provost said that he was exploring with the Hanban other opportunities that they could partner together. So that is a major red flag right there. What other opportunities have they come up with that they’re going to partner on? So those are some things to watch for.
Another tool is the fact that colleges and universities are required to report foreign gifts and donations in excess of $250,000 per year. And I know that sounds very wonkish but this is actually a pretty transparent tool that anybody can use. Just google “Department of Education, foreign gift and contract report.” It will take you right to the Department of Education’s website; there’s a spreadsheet; you download it; you can sort it by college, by source of gift, by year. And you can track where the money is coming from, where it’s going to.
So one of the things that I am going to be watching for in the coming months is whether Hanban money continues to flow to any of these universities that have shut down or ostensibly shut down their Confucius Institutes. The tool lags a little bit. These reports come out every six months. So you have to wait a little while before you can get access to the information. But I think that’s something that any average American can do. Go look up where your alma mater is getting its money, and I think it will probably astonish you.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, we learned recently that the vast majority of these donations, even over $250,000, were not being reported. There was this kind of a landslide of reporting all of a sudden, I guess in the last six months, right?
Mrs. Peterson: Yes, really in the last year. The Department of Education had been very lax about enforcing this law, and colleges and universities had been willfully negligent in complying with it. So now, under pressure from a couple of senators, the Department of Education has launched 10 civil compliance investigations against colleges and universities, including Georgetown, MIT, Harvard, Yale, Texas A&M, a lot of high profile universities, and those investigations have revealed some pretty alarming things.
A number of them have had research contracts with Huawei. A number of them have had research contracts with other organizations that have been banned from doing business with the US government, because they are national security risks. And $6.5 billion in unreported foreign funding has since been reported to the Department of Education. So we’re seeing immense amounts of money that were never being reported before, finally starting to get a little bit more of an accurate sense about the scale of foreign funding. And even still, I’m not convinced that everything is being reported. So a lot to watch for there.
Mr. Jekielek: How does it work? Is it from a single organization or from any Chinese organization? Or how does that work? Could you have 10, 20 organizations provide $249,000 and it sort of skim under the radar? How does that work?
Mrs. Peterson: Yes, you could. You could game the system that way. And that is one of the big flaws with our transparency laws right now. It’s $250,000 from a single source over the course of a single year. So you could also spread it out, December 31 and January 1, something like that. So the laws need a lot of updating.
I’ve been pushing for that disclosure threshold to be lowered at least to $50,000. I think for China and probably Russia and Saudi Arabia and a few other nations, it probably should be zero. Every single thing should be reported. There should not be a threshold for disclosure.
And we also need more information to be included in those transparency reports. The Department of Education has recently updated its guidance. It’s gotten a lot tougher. They’re asking colleges and universities for more information than they were before. But there’s a lot of information that we still don’t have. We don’t have the name of a foreign donor unless it’s a government. So a nonprofit is anonymous. This new spin-off of the Hanban that’s supposedly going to be a nonprofit, once it starts making donations to colleges and universities, it’s going to be anonymous. It’s just going to appear as donations coming from China on those disclosure reports. So those laws definitely need to be strengthened.
Mr. Jekielek: So let’s jump into this Thousand Talents Program. Again, people have kind of heard perhaps that it exists, a very high profile member of it was the chief investment officer, current chief investment officer of CalPERS that’s currently investing large amounts of money into China. We’ve been asking questions about that. But in general, what is the Thousand Talents Program? Why is it an issue for the US?
Mrs. Peterson: The Thousand Talents Program is a way for China to recruit scholars and researchers into sharing their findings with China. The Chinese Communist Party operates about 200 different talent recruitment programs. The Thousand Talents is the best known of those and it has about 7000 members worldwide. So that’s 7000 researchers and scholars who are getting incentives from China to kind of spill the beans on what they’re working on and give early access to their findings.
Usually the way this works is that China will approach a scholar, offer them research funding, sometimes a prestigious position at a Chinese university. For some, they’ll offer the use of a lab in China. And the scholar will get a lot of perks and financial benefits, but in exchange, they have to share their findings with China.
So just to give you a couple of examples, Charles Lieber is one of the names that probably a lot of people have heard. He is the top nanoscience expert in the world. Thomson Reuters named him the top chemist in the world. At one point, he was the Chair of the Chemistry Department at Harvard University. He was a member of the Thousand Talents Plan. He was receiving monthly $50,000 payments from China, a living stipend of $158,000 per year, and $1.5 million to set up a lab in China. In exchange, he was supposed to share his research findings and train three to four graduate students of China’s choice per year. You can see how that has major national security implications.
A couple other examples. At Case Western Reserve University, a professor there has been charged with $3.6 million in wire fraud. He had gotten a grant from the federal government to do some research and then simultaneously gotten another grant from the National Natural Science Foundation in China to do the exact same research. So he’s double-dipping and sending the findings to both sources. Similar thing at the University of Florida where a professor actually rose to become the vice president of a University in China. He had this secret dual career going on.
And there’s one kind of funny anecdote, not really funny but humorous. At West Virginia University, a tenured physics professor signed up for the Thousand Talents Plan, went to his university, and requested parental leave saying he needed to become the primary caretaker for his child. But really, he was going off to China, because his contract obliged him to spend three years working in China. So his way around this was asking for parental leave. But this is affecting hundreds of scholars, not just in the United States, but around the world. It’s a very big problem that we’re only just starting to grasp.
Mr. Jekielek: So I know that your organization tracks this and has some numbers, a sense of it. Did you mention 7000 in the US? Can you just tell us the extent of this, how many universities, how big is this whole operation?
Mrs. Peterson: It’s very large. There are an estimated 7000 members of the Thousand Talents Plan. That’s around the world. In the US, we’re tracking cases that have gone public. Most cases still haven’t gone public. The National Institutes for Health, for example, has said that it’s investigating 185 scholars at 65 different American colleges and universities. That’s just the National Institutes of Health. NASA is doing an investigation, the National Science Foundation, all these federal grant-making agencies are doing their own investigations to see whether scholars that they have funded have been also funded by China in an inappropriate way.
So the numbers are very large. We’re tracking the number of public cases. It’s, at this point, in the dozens. Most of those investigations are still ongoing and haven’t gone public yet. But I think we’re going to see waves upon waves of additional cases starting to go public as those investigations start closing and the Justice Department starts pressing charges.
Mr. Jekielek: Maybe give us an overview, because it might not be obvious to everybody, how a Chinese university with respect to let’s say the Chinese Communist Party or the government functions differently than private universities in the US and even public universities in the US.
Mrs. Peterson: Well, the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government are seeking to use all of these things to enhance their own power. It’s not for the sake of the prospering of society or the freedom of its citizens. It’s a very different research atmosphere than we have in the United States where we’re very open. We’re very free. China has exploited that. They’ve exploited the freedom and openness that we really prize here.
Another angle to really capture this is to think about forced technology transfer. The United States is very open to collaboration among corporations, among businesses, among researchers. In China, when a corporation wants to have access to a Chinese market and do business there, they’re forced to hand over technology; they’re forced to give over trade secrets and inventions and things that they’ve put together as the price of doing business in China. This is just one example of the way that China is really seeking to exploit American systems for their own advantage.
Mr. Jekielek: This is fascinating. It just struck me, with the Confucius Institutes, we have these open partnerships, so to speak, and somewhat clear flows of money. That may be changing. Then we have these various funding regimes. And then, with this Thousand Talents Program, we have something where everything is completely undisclosed. … Are you allowed to be a part of this program if you’re a US university researcher? How does this work?
Mrs. Peterson: Well, currently membership in the Thousand Talents Plan is not illegal. That conceivably could change, but right now it’s not illegal. What is illegal is to not disclose it or to double-dip for the same research or to take research that the federal government funded and then share the results with an unauthorized party, namely the Chinese government. So that’s what these scholars are being charged with. They’re being charged with fraud of the United States government and of failure to disclose their ties.
Mr. Jekielek: It is unbelievable. And what about these other 199 programs? I think you said there were 200, right. Can you give me some examples or what is known about this? You’re talking about a scale that frankly, I hadn’t really considered.
Mrs. Peterson: It’s very daunting. Yeah, there are an estimated 200 talent recruitment plans that the Chinese Communist Party funds. The Thousand Talents is the best known. The others are a little bit murky at this point. We don’t know exactly how they work, whether people are part of multiple recruitment operations or if they’re all totally distinct. It’s really a black hole at this point. But it’s something that we need to get on ASAP, because the implications for our country and our security and our research environment are mammoth.
Mr. Jekielek: So Rachelle, we’re going to finish up in a moment. But you’ve given us a lot of really, I would say, intense information here. And frankly, some things that I wasn’t aware of at all. Can you kind of give me a wrap-up picture of where we are today with academia vis-à-vis the Chinese Communist Party and where you would hope things to go in the future?
Mrs. Peterson: I think where we are today is in the process of waking up. We are just starting to realize what the Chinese government has put in place already on our colleges and universities by way of Confucius Institutes, the Thousand Talents Plan, programs geared at Chinese students studying in the US, programs geared at American students. We’re just really starting to get a handle on this. I think we’re going to continue to see new programs popping up, new programs that we weren’t aware of being unearthed. I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg, and we need to brace ourselves for a long haul, for a long battle to really reclaim the integrity of our colleges and universities.
Mr. Jekielek: One thing that struck me is that this is actually quite a bipartisan issue. I remember there was actually I think it was the College Republicans and the College Democrats together, coming together around the issue of Confucius Institutes, I believe. And how is that looking? I’m always looking for examples of bipartisanship in our crazy reality right now.
Mrs. Peterson: Well, Confucius Institutes are a great example of bipartisanship. There is bipartisan concern about this. You’re right. The College Republicans and College Democrats did issue a joint statement calling for the closure of Confucius Institutes. The CONFUCIUS Act passed the Senate and it was co-sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats. And we’re seeing statements coming out from Republicans and from Democrats, writing to universities in their district saying, “Hey, you have a Confucius Institute. I’m very concerned about this. I think you should consider closing that down.”
Mr. Jekielek: And any idea of how many of these Confucius Institutes are in the process of being closed at this point?
Mrs. Peterson: So of the 75 that are still in operation, four of them have announced that they will close by the end of the year. Middle Tennessee State University as a possible fifth. They say they’re winding down, but it’s a kind of vague statement, so I’m not going to call it. I’m not going to put it on the closed list until it actually closes. But that leaves still at least 70 that are in full swing.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it seems like a lot of work left to go. Rachelle Peterson, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mrs. Peterson: My pleasure. Thank you, Jan.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.