Lawmakers hailing from both sides of the aisle in Washington are shifting their focus to an increasingly relevant threat towards national security and academic freedom: Confucius Institutes.
Funded by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), these institutes have expanded to over 67 individual university campuses nationwide, with an additional 500 Confucius Classrooms at K-12 schools. Ambiguously labeled as cultural centers, Confucius Institutes have simultaneously proven themselves to be a vehicle of China’s political agenda through propaganda and intelligence gathering. Within these classrooms, historical events are only permitted to be discussed through a rosy lens towards the Chinese government, while documented events such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, or the current human rights abuses against the Uyghurs, are prohibited from the entirety of classroom discourse.
An eight-month-long investigation by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations resulted in a bipartisan report which “details the lack of transparency in how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes.” During a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray confirmed that the FBI has observed China use “nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting, to engage in espionage” and will continue to take “investigative steps at Confucius Institutes.” Additionally, the U.S. Department of State designated Confucius Institutes as “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms.”
Arizona hosted several Confucius Institutes in its history, with established institutes at both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. However, a policy known as the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2019 prohibited universities from receiving funding for Chinese language study from the U.S. Department of Defense while also hosting a Confucius Institute. Due to this policy, Arizona State University discreetly announced the closure of its Confucius Institute in May of 2019. Expecting to receive $750,000 per year over the next five years from the Pentagon for the Language Flagship Program, Arizona State University applied for a waiver to this law, but the Pentagon denied the request as long as the school allowed for the Institute to remain open, according to spokeswoman Katie Paquet. University of Arizona’s Confucius Institute, established in 2008, also closed in July of 2020 due to “changes in federal law and policy.”
A member of Arizona’s Congressional delegation, Rep. Paul Gosar, is currently taking a legislative stance to defend academic freedom and limit foreign influence in higher education through his recent introduction of the Higher Education Transparency Act. With a goal to increase transparency, the bill would require American universities to make any agreements with foreign entities, including Confucius Institutes, known to the public. According to a recent press release, Rep. Gosar expressed the vital importance of conserving American values of freedom, such as tolerance and open discourse.
Rep. Gosar stated, “Institutions of higher education (IHEs) are the stepping stone for the development of the minds of the future leaders of America. It is important that colleges and universities are a place for the robust debate of ideas and absent of foreign influences, including those with ties to communist regimes.
“Unfortunately, foreign entities disguising themselves as cultural education institutions raise many concerns about academic freedom and autonomy on our public universities. In particular, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) funded Confucius Institutes operate on dozens of campuses across the United States and serve as a platform to advance China’s political agenda by allowing it to export its state censorship, control academic staff, choose curriculum, and restrict free speech and debate in college classrooms.
“I am pleased to introduce this legislation requiring American universities to be transparent about any agreement they have with foreign entities, including Confucius Institutes, which are seeking to leverage influence on American college campuses. Students educated at our colleges and universities deserve transparency when making choices about the institution they plan to attend and classes they wish to take,” Gosar concluded.
The Bill can be seen here.