Pompeo’s hint comes less than a month after the Confucius Institute U.S. Center was designated as a Chinese foreign mission. The designation restricts the Washington-based non-profit’s operations and subjects it to certain administrative requirements on the same degree as foreign embassies and consulates on U.S. soil. The center promotes Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms teaching Chinese language and culture in universities and schools nationwide.
The Office of Chinese Language Council International or Hanban, an office under the Chinese Ministry of Education, is responsible for funding and operating these institutes and classrooms.
More than 100 Confucius Institutes have been set up at U.S. universities since 2004, but recent numbers from the National Association of Scholars (NAS) stated that a total of 67 institutes were in the country. Fifty-three institutes have shut down or are in the process of closing. Some of the colleges scheduled to close down their respective Confucius Institutes include the Community College of Denver (end of the month), University of Oklahoma (Oct. 2020), University of North Carolina Charlotte (Dec. 2020) and Emory University (Nov. 2021.) Meanwhile, there are hundreds of Confucius Classrooms in grade K-12 classrooms nationwide.
A U.S. Senate investigation in Feb. 2019 reported that the Chinese government through Hanban spent more than $2 billion on Confucius Institutes worldwide. Furthermore, the findings reported that the Chinese government called all the shots on how Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms should operate – with no transparency whatsoever.
Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms around the country have been criticized for serving as the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda tool, with some people supporting the designation of Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission.
Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy released a statement in support of the designation, saying that Confucius Institutes are tools to spread Chinese communist propaganda and suppress free speech on campuses across the country. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman echoed the Louisiana senator’s sentiments; he wrote on Twitter that Confucius Institutes should not be allowed to promote propaganda and suppress academic debate.
NAS researchers have said that Confucius Institutes present positive images of China while condoning or disregarding altogether any discussion about sensitive topics such as human rights abuses. Rachelle Peterson, a senior research fellow at NAS, commented that the designation rightly recognizes Confucius Institutes as “central nodes of the CCP’s overseas propaganda network” and reveals China’s efforts to “influence higher education.”
Secretary Pompeo also said in the same interview with Dobbs that the U.S. government will be taking steps to address China’s intellectual property theft “in the coming days and weeks,” warning that this issue will be confronted “in a very serious way.”
In July, President Donald Trump ordered the immediate closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston after accusations of economic espionage and fraud surfaced. A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the decision “outrageous” and promised retaliation over the order.
Aside from the U.S., Sweden shut down all Confucius Institutes and Classrooms in early 2020 – the first European country to do so. The last Confucius Institute in Luleå University of Technology officially closed in January, while the last Confucius classroom at Falkenberg Secondary School ended operations in April. The closures came after domestic concern over human rights abuses in China, alongside the imprisonment of Chinese-born Swedish bookseller Gui Minhai.
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