US Senators Urge Biden to Back Trump-Era Proposal on CCP’s Confucius Institutes

February 25, 2021 Updated: February 25, 2021

A group of U.S. senators is calling on President Joe Biden to implement a rule that would require U.S. academic institutions to disclose their relationships with Beijing-funded Confucius Institutes (CI)—a Trump-era proposal that was quietly scrapped by Biden last month.

“We have significant concerns regarding the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] nefarious actions and urge you to follow through on your commitments to advancing the interests of the American people as we collectively respond to the challenge that the CCP poses,” GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) wrote in a letter (pdf) to Biden on Feb. 23.

The Trump administration on Dec. 31, 2020, submitted a proposal, named “Establishing Requirement for Student and Exchange Visitor Program Certified Schools to Disclose Agreements with Confucius Institutes and Classrooms,” that sought to ensure colleges and K-12 schools that are certified to host foreign exchange programs disclose their financial ties to CIs and the affiliated Confucius Classrooms.

The Biden administration, however, quietly scrapped that proposal on Jan. 26, according to the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which is a division of the White House’s budget office.

CIs bill themselves as places to learn Mandarin, study Chinese culture, and land a scholarship. 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 Chinese propaganda, restrict academic freedom, and facilitate espionage in U.S. classrooms.

“We believe it is critically important to better understand and reduce the CCP’s influence on the American people, including through the Hanban, its propaganda arm that runs Confucius Institutes through the PRC Ministry of Education,” the senators added. “The proposed rule is a necessary step in that effort and would bring needed transparency to Confucius Institutes.”

The senators urged Biden to “protect our nation’s students by enforcing transparency.” They cited a report from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that highlights the Chinese regime’s long-term goal to “exert political influence over U.S. elites” through the U.S. education system.

Currently, CIs operate in at least 60 colleges and about 500 Confucius Classrooms in grade schools and high schools across the nation.

“Confucius Institute funding comes with strings that can compromise academic freedom… The Chinese teachers sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging they will not damage the national interests of China,” the senators said. “Such limitations attempt to export China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics.”

There has been a global pushback against the CCP’s CIs, most notably in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. In 2013, McMaster University in Canada became the first university in North America to close its CI.

The National Association of Scholars, an education advocacy group, reported that as of Feb. 17, 64 CIs have closed or are in the processing of closing.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by The Epoch Times.

Frank Fang contributed to this report.