Senate Passes Bill to Counter Threats Posed by Confucius Institutes on US Campuses

March 4, 2021 Updated: March 4, 2021

The Senate on March 4 passed a bill that aims to rid U.S. college and university campuses of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence through Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes.

The legislation, which passed by unanimous consent, would force universities that host Confucius Institutes to take full control of the centers, including what it teaches and who it hires, or lose federal funding. The bill, dubbed the “CONFUCIUS Act,” was also passed by unanimous consent during last year’s Senate session.

Confucius Institutes, billed as Chinese language and culture centers, are funded and overseen by a department within China’s central government. They have attracted growing criticism in recent years over their role in stifling free speech and promoting Beijing’s propaganda on college campuses.

“These institutes run by the authoritarian government of China will not allow the free exchange of ideas,” John Kennedy (R-La.), the measure’s sponsor, said on the Senate floor on March 4. “They will not allow anyone to talk about the Uyghurs or the people of Tibet or Hong Kong or what happened in Tiananmen Square.”

Kennedy, in a separate statement, described the institutes as “propaganda centers that threaten academic liberty and free speech without shame.”

“Too many American schools are falling victim to the political con every day.”

The bill would also require Confucius Institutes to protect academic freedom and ban the application of any foreign law on the campus.

In recent years, a spate of Confucius Institutes has closed across the United States amid rising scrutiny from lawmakers and advocates. As of February, there were 55 Confucius Institutes stationed across American universities, with 64 that had closed or were in the process of closing, according to the National Association of Scholars.

Last year, the Trump administration designated the Washington-based Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the time that the measure was a recognition of the center’s role in “advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses.”

From 2006 to 2019, the Chinese regime poured more than $158 million to about 100 U.S. universities through Confucius Institutes, according to a 2019 U.S. Senate subcommittee on investigations report (pdf).

Last month, a U.S. official publicly called for American students to learn the Chinese language and history from Taiwan instead of at the Confucius Institutes.

“Learning Mandarin from Taiwanese teachers means learning Mandarin in an environment free from censorship or coercion,” said William Brent Christensen, the Taipei office director of the American Institute in Taiwan, in an interview with Japanese media Nikkei Asia in early February. The institute is the de facto U.S. Embassy in Taiwan.

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