A recent report released by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) surprisingly reported that of the 118 Confucius Institutes (CIs) opened at U.S. universities over the past few years, at least 104 have closed their doors.

However, the report warns, at least 38 universities have reportedly replaced the programs run at the CIs with identical activities, but under a different name.

This would have allowed the universities to continue their relations with the Chinese communist regime that promoted these Institutes, but disassociating themselves from the CIs themselves, which in recent times have been the subject of much controversy and criticism.

Confucius Institutes, the Trojan horse of the CCP

The initiative of the so-called Confucius Institutes began in 2004, based on public partnerships between Chinese educational institutions and schools and universities in the rest of the world. The CIs are funded by the Chinese communist regime and, according to their critics, function as a propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

As an argument for their penetration into the West they use the alleged interest in spreading the Mandarin language and traditional Chinese culture, but according to the accusations, behind the scenes they seek to impose a propaganda system of communist ideals, censoring the truth and imposing a distorted account of reality and social conflicts.

As published in a report by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security committee’s subcommittee on investigations, they are largely funded and run by Hanban, a non-profit organization that claims to be non-governmental but is directly controlled by the CCP.

Complaints against Confucius Institutes

Over the past few years, several countries, non-governmental associations and politicians have denounced the malicious actions of the Chinese regime through its Confucius Institutes. Consequently, many governments have ordered the closure of dozens of these centers, arguing that the marketing machine mobilizes them for communist ideology.

The NAS was one of the leading agencies in the United States to repeatedly express its concern about the penetration of communist ideology in American education.

In the same vein, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released a 92-page report in 2019 criticizing the Confucius Institutes as “part of China’s broader, long-term strategy” to develop “soft power” that “fosters complacency” in the face of China’s increasing demands, illiberal and aggressive policies. In their report they cite a comprehensive NAS investigation in which they allege particular instances of abuse by these institutes.

In August 2020, the U.S. State Department designated the Confucius Institutes as a Chinese foreign mission. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described the CIs as “an entity that promotes Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms.”

According to the allegations, most of the agreements signed between local institutions and Chinese universities ignore the academic freedom that applies in most Western countries.

What is happening with Confucius Institutes today?

After the CIs began to close down in both the United States and Europe in the face of public criticism, China’s Ministry of Education established what it called the Center for Language Education and Cooperation, seeking to replace Hanban as the promoter of the discredited CIs.

Rachelle Peterson, an active member of the NAS, acknowledged that more than 100 CIs had been canceled from universities. Nevertheless, it speaks well of the democratic system and the correct work done by various sectors that for years have denounced the harm done to the education system by this type of foreign institution. 

However, she did not fail to warn that most of them continue to exercise the same activities only under another name and are directly under the control of the regime’s Center for Education and Language Cooperation.

“At least 58 U.S. universities maintain close ties with their former Chinese partner universities,” Peterson said.

By way of example Peterson named the case of Northern State University in South Dakota which closed its Confucius Institute in 2019 and signed an agreement with the Sino-Foreign Language Exchange and Cooperation Center.

The center sends Chinese teachers and even pays their salaries and travel expenses, while Northern State University provides classrooms, faculty housing and health insurance, exactly as it previously arranged with the Confucius Institute. “Nothing has changed except the name,” Peterson said.

Another example detailed in the report is The College of William and Mary, a public university in Virginia, whose Confucius Institute closed on June 30, 2021. However, exactly one day later, with its former partner Beijing Normal University, they signed a “Sister university agreement” to continue Confucius Institute courses under a different name.

In short, the report published by NAS expresses concern that, despite the large number of Confucius Institute closures at U.S. universities, the universities in most cases sought to retain Chinese investment and were only concerned with changing the names or appearance of the CIs. However, they were not about bringing real change to prevent the Chinese regime from interfering in the country’s educational affairs. 

According to the report, the CCP’s response to the CI closures in the United States went from shock and anger to “regret,” and eventually made offers to support alternative programs.

The NAS stops short of making a series of recommendations to the U.S. government, its main demand being that the federal government limits funding contributions to universities that refuse to eliminate CIs as much as possible. 

It also seeks to alert the authorities to give importance and special attention to carefully studying the behavior of Confucius Classrooms, the equivalent of university CIs in elementary schools. 

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