Dozens of U.S. universities still taking millions from Chinese front group despite federal warning
08/26/2020 // Cassie B. // Views

The U.S. government recently designated the Confucius Institute as a foreign propaganda mission. Nevertheless, dozens of American universities, including Stanford and Columbia, continue to take millions of dollars from the Chinese government-run global education program.

The government labels entities that are directly controlled by foreign powers as “foreign missions,” and the designation subjects them to administrative requirements akin to those that apply to consulates and embassies. The Chinese government has spent more than $150 million funding more than 100 Confucius Institute programs throughout the U.S., according to a Senate report.

In a statement announcing the designation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the group “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms. Confucius Institutes are funded by the PRC and part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”

The stated aim of the program is to promote Chinese language and culture. Many universities depend on the organization to support their Chinese culture and Mandarin language classes, but the Institutes have long been criticized for restricting academic freedom on campus and pressuring universities that host them to censor speeches that the Chinese communist party does not approve of.

One American university ended up canceling a talk with Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama, while another removed references to Taiwan from the biography of a university speaker in response to pressure from the Confucius Institute.


The Institute bars its staff from talking about topics such as the Xinjiang concentration camps and the Hong Kong protests.

It’s all about the money

Despite the foreign mission designation, some universities plan to continue their relationship with the CCP front group. Universities such as SUNY Albany and George Washington University told The Free Beacon that they do not believe the program poses a threat to academic freedom.

Meanwhile, Stony Brook University and Tufts University say that they are reviewing the Trump administration’s designation to decide if they need to change their relationship to the Institute.

A partnership with the Confucius Institute programs comes with as much as $1 million in funding from the Chinese government.

Many universities have been distancing themselves from the program, with 22 universities eliminating their Confucius Institute chapters in the first eight months of this year. Last year, 21 chapters were shut down. Universities have listed a wide variety of reasons for these closures ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to budgetary concerns, but experts believe the political pressure has also played a big role.

Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) commended the universities that have ended their relationship with the program but warned that they could find other ways of partnering with the Chinese government.

She said: "I am pleased that some universities … have recognized the harm Confucius Institutes cause to higher learning. However, our work here is not done until every Confucius Institute is closed, even if they present themselves under another name or through another branch of the Hanban, and we must stay vigilant and flexible to keep up with Chinese tactics."

This is what happened with Pace University, who severed ties with the Confucius Institute last year but continues to employ Confucius Institute staffers in a new Asia program that replaced the Institute. Meanwhile, the University of Michigan is collaborating with Hanban, the arm of the Chinese government responsible for organizing the Confucius Institute, to find alternative arrangements after ending its relationship with the Institute last year.

National Association of Scholars Director of Research Rachelle Peterson said that while many universities distance themselves from the group, they remain connected to China. She said: “Universities aren't really learning the lesson, they’re just playing a PR game.”

Unfortunately, many universities are all too happy to give in to the censorship as long as the Chinese government keeps the money flowing.

Sources for this article include:

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