A major U.S. university has announced it is taking a step back from partnering with Chinese telecom companies, a move influenced by current federal legislation. Meanwhile, another university has closed the Confucius Institute at one of its campuses.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced April 3 that it will not be renewing or pursuing partnerships with major Chinese telecom companies Huawei Technologies and ZTE, or their respective subsidiaries.
In the announcement, MIT says they review any possible risks with any international project or collaboration they engage in, and recently identified that engagements with certain countries, namely China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia, warranted an enhanced review.
“Special attention will be paid to risks related to intellectual property, export controls, data security and access, economic competitiveness, national security, and political, civil, and human rights, as well as potential impacts on the MIT community, consistency with MIT’s core values, and alignment with MIT’s academic mission,” the announcement says.
The Institute cites ongoing federal investigations regarding violations of sanction restrictions as the reason for ending their collaboration with Huawei and ZTE specifically.
The two Chinese telecom companies face separate charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Last year, the U.S. government banned sales by American companies to ZTE after the company made false statements during an investigation into sales of its equipment to Iran.
Early this year, U.S. officials charged Huawei with financial fraud, alleging the company had violated sanctions against Iran when Huawei made false statements to banks about the company’s relationship with Skycom, a Hong-Kong based company that does business with Iran. Huawei says the two are separate companies, but U.S. prosecutors allege that Huawei runs Skycom.
On the same day as MIT’s announcement, Indiana University also closed its Confucius Institute (CI) at its Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. University spokesperson Chuck Carney told the Washington Post it had to do with federal changes.
“This decision ensures ongoing operations of some programs within IU impacted by federal changes surrounding Chinese-language programs,” Carney said.
The move is in response to legislation recently passed by Congress, which prohibits the use of Department of Defense (DOD) funding to go toward Chinese-language instruction through a Confucius Institute or to support a Chinese-language program at a university that has a Confucius Institute.
Confucius Institutes are Chinese language and culture institutions that are owned by the Chinese regime and are part of their “United Front” overseas work.
The institutes often attract scrutiny because of their close ties with Beijing, and critics say the institutions work to present China only in a positive light and that they restrict intellectual freedom because the institutes adhere to Chinese law, including limited freedom of speech.
There are 1579 Confucius Institutes and classrooms worldwide, and over 100 active CIs in the United States, according to a report by the National Association of Scholars, which recommends that all universities close their Confucius Institutes.
A U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s report says the institutes are used to advance Beijing’s preferred narrative and subvert academic principles. The report also says CIs are funded by the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department.
Such concerns over CIs have prompted some universities to end or review their relationships with the program.
For example, in December 2018, the University of Michigan announced it would not renew its contract with its Confucius Institute, reports The University Record, the university’s news outlet.
“This transition is driven by a desire to more broadly include the work of exploring and studying Chinese visual and performing arts within U-M’s regular academic and cultural units,” James Holloway, vice provost for global engagement and interdisciplinary academic affairs, told The University Record.
Confucius Institutes exist around the world, including in Canada.
There are currently 10 Canadian universities and a few public school boards that have partnerships with CIs. These include the University of Waterloo, Brock University, University of Saskatchewan, British Columbia Institute of Technology, Seneca College, Dawson College, Carleton University, the University of Windsor, Saint Mary’s University, and the University of Regina.
McMaster University closed its Confucius Institute after a human rights complaint by an instructor who alleged the institute’s hiring practices discriminated against Falun Gong adherents, while the University of Manitoba reportedly rejected a Confucius Institute over political censorship. The University of Sherbrooke also closed its Confucius Institute.