The United States wants to ensure that students on U.S. school campuses know when Chinese language and cultural offerings are subject to manipulation by the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies. The State Department’s designation of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center, or CIUS, as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) recognizes what CIUS is, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. [college] campuses and K-12 classrooms.”
Confucius Institutes are primarily funded by the Chinese government and are part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.
This designation will not close the CIUS or require colleges or universities to close individual Confucius Institutes. Instead, the designation of CIUS as a foreign mission will ensure transparency by requiring the CIUS to regularly provide to the State Department information regarding Chinese citizen personnel, recruiting, funding, and operations in the United States. Such reporting will allow U.S. schools to make more informed decisions as to influences being exerted on their campuses and whether these Beijing-backed programs should continue to teach their students.
According to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), there are currently 75 Confucius Institutes operating in the United States. There are also around 500 Confucius Classrooms based on K-12 campuses. Most of these are affiliated with one of the university-based Confucius Institutes.
The influence of the Chinese government and impact of Chinese Communist Party ideology on Confucius Institute programming has long been a cause for concern on U.S. campuses. For instance, a 2017 report on Confucius Institutes, or CIs, by NAS found that some CI faculty face pressure to self-censor; contracts between the CIs and host universities are often not publicly available; some universities are presented with financial incentives to not criticize the PRC; and CI materials often present a selective knowledge of Chinese history by avoiding topics related to human rights abuses.
For more than four decades, Beijing has enjoyed free and open access to U.S. society, while denying that same access to Chinese society for Americans and other foreigners in China. The relationship is “wildly out of balance,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell. “Our goal is to get [China] to understand the importance of transparency and openness and sharing, but until that happens, we’re going to take steps to defend ourselves.”