Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) on Thursday unveiled a bill that seeks to expose Confucius Institutes and other foreign influence programs in the United States.
The legislation, called the Higher Education Transparency Act, mandates complete transparency to expose Chinese Communist Party (CCP) funded Confucius Institutes (CI) and other foreign influence programs on college campuses disguised as cultural and language programs.
It would require American universities to be transparent about any agreement they have with foreign entities, including CIs. These foreign entities, said Gosar, are “seeking to leverage influence on American college campuses.”
Billed as language and culture centers, Beijing-funded CIs have drawn intense scrutiny over their role in spreading Chinese propaganda and stifling academic expression across college campuses around the world. They’re funded and largely staffed by Hanban, a nonprofit that claims to be non-governmental but is directly controlled by the CCP, according to a report by the Senate Homeland Security committee’s investigations subcommittee (pdf).
The institutes came under intense scrutiny from U.S. officials under the Trump administration over concerns that they spread communist propaganda, restrict academic freedom, and facilitate CCP espionage in U.S. classrooms.
“Confucius Institutes at U.S. colleges and universities are spewing CCP propaganda,” the Republican congressman said on Twitter in announcing the bill.
According to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), as of March 25, a total of 50 CIs currently exist in the country, including eight that are scheduled to close. Of these, 44 are at American colleges and universities, and one is at a private educational organization, the China Institute. There are also five CIs at K-12 public school districts.
Separately, 74 such institutes have so far closed or are in the process of closing, according to NAS.
“Institutions of higher education (IHEs) are the stepping stone for the development of the minds of the future leaders of America. It is important that colleges and universities are a place for the robust debate of ideas and absent of foreign influences, including those with ties to communist regimes,” Gosar said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, foreign entities disguising themselves as cultural education institutions raise many concerns about academic freedom and autonomy on our public universities,” he continued.
CIs “serve as a platform to advance China’s political agenda by allowing it to export its state censorship, control academic staff, choose curriculum, and restrict free speech and debate in college classrooms,” Gosar said.
The congressman’s office noted that the Department of Education found in February last year that over $6 billion in gifts and contracts from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates went unreported from various American IHEs, in violation of the Higher Education Act.
Failing to adhere to reporting requirements “undermines transparency and academic freedom,” the release said.
Gosar’s office said that the new bill would address these issues by requiring that Institutions of higher education (IHEs) post online the full content of any agreement between the IHE and a foreign source that provides language and cultural teaching resources and services to its students.
“Students educated at our colleges and universities deserve transparency when making choices about the institution they plan to attend and classes they wish to take,” added Gosar.
The NAS has warned that although CIs might be gradually closing in the United States, they are being “reorganized and rebranded” as part of a ploy to evade the public eye and continue exerting its soft power on American campuses.
For example, the Asia Society, a private nonprofit that cosponsors a K-12 version of CIs, has renamed its program the “Chinese Language Partner Network.”
Rachelle Peterson, a senior research fellow at NAS, noted that some colleges and universities are replacing their CIs with other substantially similar forms of partnership with the Chinese regime. Many of these newly established China-focused initiatives retain some CI staff and programs.
After closing its CI, the University of Michigan continued to receive funding from Hanban, according to foreign gift disclosures.
Cathy He contributed to this report.