Beijing has been spreading Chinese Communist Party propaganda on college campuses throughout the United States via the benign-sounding Confucius Institute for years.
Now, however, the Trump administration is making universities count the cost if they want these ties to continue.
The institute, launched in 2004, describes itself on its website as a nonprofit organization that “promotes the value of global education.”
“We support the teaching and learning of Chinese language and culture in the United States and enable people-to-people exchanges, deepening cross-cultural understanding and language development,” it says.
Last month, the State Department designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a “People’s Republic of China (PRC) foreign mission controlled by a foreign government.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo elaborated, saying the CIUS is 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.”
Undersecretary of State Keith Krach, in a letter to American university governing boards, explained the goal of the designation is to “provide much-needed transparency by requiring CIUS to regularly provide information to the State Department about Confucius Institutes’ PRC citizen personnel, recruiting, funding, and operations in the United States.”
Helen Raleigh — an immigration policy fellow with the Centennial Institute in Colorado who was born and raised in communist China — told The Western Journal the Confucius Institute is a “wolf in sheep’s skin.”
“Its goal is to help the Chinese government promote its propaganda and to portray, to tell the story the Chinese government wants to make and to suppress the discussion about aspects of China that the Chinese government doesn’t want to people to talk about, such as the internment of the Uighurs, the suppression of the Tibetans … and the Tiananmen Square Massacre,” she said.
The Confucius Institute works its way onto campuses through the money it brings to the table.
“You see the Chinese government comes to each campus, college campuses, saying, ‘Hey, all you have to do is just provide us the land. We are going to provide the funding and we’re going to provide teachers, we’re going to provide the teaching material. You don’t have to do anything,’” Raleigh explained.
“But guess what?” she continued. “In exchange … you have to accept the content and how the Chinese teachers from the Confucius Institute, what they are going to teach.”
Raleigh recounted that the institute then leverages its position on university campuses not only to dictate what happens in the courses it teaches but also to pressure the schools to not cross China’s Communist Party line.
For example, in 2009, North Carolina State University canceled a planned appearance by the Dalai Lama, a Tibetan spiritual leader, after the Confucius Institute director on campus allegedly warned it could negatively impact the school’s relationship with China, Politico reported.
The Dalai Lama advocates for the independence of Tibet.
Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian, writing for Foreign Policy, recalled the strange encounter she had with Luo Qijuan, the co-director of the Confucius Institute at Savannah State University in Georgia, following a keynote address the journalist delivered in 2018.
At the event, Allen-Ebrahimian received an award for co-founding an association of journalists who report on China.
“In a banquet hall full of journalism students, I spoke on issues I’d been writing about for years: the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Chinese government repression of Uighurs and Tibetans, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on news outlets and the internet,” she reported.
“When the event ended, Luo came over to scold me. Speaking in Chinese, she asked why I had criticized China. I should have given students a good impression of China, she said. Didn’t I know that Xi had done so much for the country, that his anti-corruption campaign was working?”
“You don’t know the situation now,” Luo told Allen-Ebrahimian. “Things have gotten better.”
The reporter listed several reasons that Luo’s claim was not true, including the jailing of human rights lawyers, the construction of a high-tech surveillance regime to monitor the Chinese population, the implementation of strict internet censorship and the denial of free elections guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong.
Some universities have chosen to close their Confucius Institutes rather than allowing the Chinese communist government to continue to operate its propaganda operation on their campuses.
In 2018, Texas A&M University closed its Confucius Institute too.
Last year, the federal government added some teeth into its efforts to encourage American universities to shut down their Confucius Institutes, through a provision in the 2019 U.S. National Defense Authorization Act.
The legislation “includes a special clause restricting the Department of Defense’s language study funding if a university hosts a CI on campus,” Raleigh wrote in The Federalist.
“Since money talks, about 35 American colleges and universities closed CIs on their campuses by early 2020,” she said. “There are still 86 Confucius Institutes remaining in the United States as of May 1, 2020, including seven at K-12 public school districts.”
Some of the prominent universities that still host a Confucius Institute, according to the group’s website, are George Washington University; University of Maryland, College Park; the State University of New York; Columbia University; the University of Michigan; Purdue University; the University of Minnesota; Arizona State University; the University of California, Los Angeles; and Stanford University.
Raleigh applauded the Trump administration’s more forceful approach to China, saying past administrations’ efforts to make Beijing more open and democratic have failed.
“Instead, [the U.S.] has just been taken advantage of,” she told The Western Journal. “So now you have an administration basically willing to stand up and say, ‘Wait a minute, our relationship is not fair, equal and reciprocal. If you’re not going to change, I’m going to start taking action.’”
It’s been a long time coming, but thank God the U.S. finally has a leader who sees the Chinese communist government for what it is: a repressive regime hell-bent on dominating America and the world.