During a June 21 press conference, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) announced that the Chinese government-backed Confucius Institute (CI) program that infiltrates U.S. colleges has been rebranded as a purported Chinese language learning center in order to circumvent U.S. policy. The previous CI’s parent organizaton, Hanban under the Chinese Ministry of Education, was also rebranded as the Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation (CLEC).
In the past four years, 104 of the 118 Confucius Institutes at American universities have closed. Yet many of the colleges’ CIs have shifted to become Chinese language learning centers in universities. In reality, however, nothing has changed except the name.
Rachelle Peterson, senior research fellow at NAS, told reporters during a press conference, “We looked at all 118 Confucius Institutes that have ever existed in the United States. At least 28 that closed as CIs were replaced with something similar, usually operated in partnership with CLEC.”
Peterson told reporters that, under the guidance of the CLEC, at least 58 schools maintained a relationship with their Chinese sister universities and at least five schools recruited a new host location for their CI program in order to maintain the relationship.
As an example, the report cites Northern State University in South Dakota, which signed an agreement with the CLEC after closing the CI in 2019. Peterson said The center sends Chinese language teachers and pays their salaries and travel expenses, while Northern State University provides classrooms, teacher housing and health insurance, exactly the same arrangement as for the CI program. “Nothing has changed except the name.”
The CCP has said that Confucius Institutes were established to promote Chinese language and culture. The official website of Hanban published a report on Nov 28, 2012, when Li Changchun, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CCP Central Committee, visited the CI headquarters. Li said that the Confucius Institute is a brand that, “has an affinity in itself” and is a “pure culture.” In an earlier official Xinhua report, Li also indicated that the CI is “an important part of the CCP’s grand foreign propaganda pattern.”
CIs have a lot of requirements for their host Western universities. For example, they require the host university to sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose the amount of funding, and to follow the Chinese version of the supplied textbook. The CI basically conducts self-censorship. Increasingly, critics see it as an overseas political propaganda machine for the CCP, and a tool to monitor and interfere with overseas campus speech and activities. For example, in 2009 North Carolina State University canceled a plan to invite the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to speak at the university because the CI protested this action.
The 2020 U.S, Department of State designation of CI as a “foreign mission” was bolstered by the passage of the Confucius Act in March 2021. The act stipulated that schools which maintain CI programs were ineligible to receive most Department of Education funds.
U.S. Republican Congressman Jim Banks (R-IN) said in a recent report released on the CIs that although most of the CIs in American universities have been closed, the CCP’s United Front Work Department continues to promote influence on U.S. college campuses, and he called on Congress and the Administration to take the China threat seriously.
“The mission of the CCP’s United Front Work Department is to influence foreigners and foreign institutions, especially those in the United States, whose work is visible on college campuses across the United States. CIs and Chinese universities establish partnerships with U.S. universities to receive research funding from (Chinese) government agencies. Rep. Banks said that most of the partnerships are not random, and China’s United Front Work Department has specifically targeted university institutions with strong STEM programs, and in recent years, there have been many espionage operations.”
China has always insisted that CIs and similar cultural exchange programs should not be politicized. The CCP’s media Global Times said in an editorial that CIs and similar institutions are a “platform for a comprehensive and objective understanding of China, and China firmly opposes the politicization of academic and cultural exchange activities.”
1. Creaders.net, June 23, 2022. https://news.creaders.net/china/2022/06/23/2497297.html
2. Daily Caller, June 22, 2022.