Confucius Institutes are clearly sponsored by Beijing: Confucius Institutes (CIs) are organizations primarily located on U.S. college and university campuses that push out skewed Chinese language and cultural training for U.S. students as part of Beijing’s multifaceted propaganda efforts. The PRC government partially funds these programs, under guidance from the CCP’s United Front Work Department. On August 13, 2020, the Department of State designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center (CIUS), which serves as the Washington D.C.-based de facto headquarters of the Confucius Institute network, as a foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China. The opacity of this organization and its state-directed nature are the driving reasons behind this designation.
This action will not close the CIUS, nor will it require U.S. colleges or universities to close individual Confucius Institutes. Instead, designating the CIUS as a foreign mission will ensure much needed transparency by requiring the CIUS to regularly provide information to the State Department about PRC citizen personnel, recruiting, funding, and operations in the United States. With greater transparency, educational institutions can make more informed choices about the influence being exerted on their campuses and whether and how these Beijing-backed programs should continue to teach their students.
- The Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), an organization affiliated with the PRC Ministry of Education, has historically served as the Beijing-based parent organization of the Confucius Institute U.S. Center and, through it, supports many of the individual CIs. Filings with the Internal Revenue Service indicate that CIUS is directly funded by Hanban.
- There are currently 75 Confucius Institutes operating in the United States, 65 of which are active on U.S. university campuses, with the rest functioning as standalone organizations.
- There are around 500 Confucius Classrooms based on K-12 campuses. Most are affiliated with one of the university-based Confucius Institutes.
Beijing’s influence on U.S. campuses: 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, as has the governing arrangements of individual Confucius Institutes which often lack transparency. Confucius Institutes “are an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup,” said Politburo Standing Committee ideology czar Li Changchun in 2009.
- A 2017 report on CIs by the National Association of Scholars found that some CI faculty face pressure to self-censor, contracts between the CIs and host universities are often not publicly available, that some universities are presented with financial incentives to not criticize China, and CI materials often present a selective knowledge of Chinese history by avoiding topics related to human rights abuses.
- A 2019 study by researchers from the University College Dublin, summarized in an Op Ed in the Washington Post, found that after a Confucius Institute opens, there is a statistically significant shift in the tone of local media stories in the PRC’s favor in the area where the CI is located. In 2014, the American Association of University Professors warned that Confucius Institutes further the political goals of Beijing’s leadership and threaten “the independence and integrity of academic institutions.”
- The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) found that Confucius Institutes operate with heavy oversight from the United Front Work Department, the Chinese Communist Party’s overseas propaganda and influence operation, noting that the former head of the United Front currently chairs the Confucius Institute’s Beijing headquarters.
- According to media reports, in 2018 a keynote speaker at Savannah State University had a reference to Taiwan deleted from her bio at the request of the co-director of the university’s CI.
Colleges are rethinking Confucius Institutes: Universities across the country and around the world have already begun to take a closer look at the programming of Confucius Institutes as part of a larger review of the scope of Beijing’s influence over higher education institutions globally.
- Over the past two years, dozens of colleges and universities in the United States have decided to break ties and close their Confucius Institutes.
- Universities in Sweden, Germany, India, and elsewhere have either closed their Confucius Institutes or are taking steps to mandate greater transparency from them.
- Shared concerns about the actions of the PRC government are part of the reason why the State Department and others in the U.S. government have stepped up engagement with universities on risks to research, threats to academic freedom, disclosure of foreign funding, and other matters. We encourage all relevant higher-education stakeholders — administrators, boards of directors, state governments, etc. — to review their relationships with China and especially with the PRC government to ensure they are protecting their institutions.