The Confucius Institute – Education, Or Something Else?

Ray Vann Freelance Writer
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As the trade war with China looks to ramp up, it seems an appropriate time to take notice of one of China’s most interesting agencies operating within the United States: the Confucius Institute.

Confucius Institutes can be found on more than one hundred American campuses, and according to the latest estimates there are more than 500 Institutes attached to centers of higher education around the world. On the surface, the mission of these locations is to spread awareness and understanding of Chinese culture, however a deeper look into the group’s activities reveals a more nefarious situation playing out.

The Confucius Institute, as it turns out, is directly funded by a group known as the Hanban, which has ties to the Chinese Government through the Chinese Ministry of Education. And while the Hanban insists that it is not a government agency, many others disagree and the current president of the organization is none other than former Vice Premier Liu Yandong. Yandong, for those unfamiliar with her, had previously worked with the Communist Youth League and served as chairwoman of the All China Youth Federation before becoming Deputy Secretary of the United Front Work Department. In that capacity, Yandong’s primary duty was ensuring that non-communist organizations operating within China stayed in-line with the communist principles espoused by the government.

As if this wasn’t enough evidence, a former member of the Chinese government actually told members of the press that the Confucius Institute was a vital part of Beijing’s mission to build political influence abroad. In a 2009 article in The Economist, former Chinese party boss Li Changchun was quoted as saying that the Institute serves as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up”.

In a separate speech two years later, Changchun also reportedly told a group of Chinese officials “the Confucius Institute is an appealing brand for extending our culture abroad. It has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power,” before explaining that “the ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.”

Furthermore, instructors at the Confucius Institute are also reportedly told to either change the subject when touchy subjects like Tibet or Taiwan come up, or else to reaffirm the PRC’s position that both territories are undisputedly possessions of the government in Beijing. Similarly, maps hung up in several Confucius Institute locations show Taiwan as a province of mainland China.

Despite all of the warning signs, however, the US government seemed to turn a blind eye to the activities of the Confucius Institute (and by extension of the Chinese government) on American campuses for years, but this seems likely to change in the near future. A recent proposal in the House of Representatives, pushed forward by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), is looking to target any organizations that receive funding from foreign governments, and the Confucius Institute falls squarely in its crosshairs.

The bill does not go so far as to single out the Confucius Institute by name, but it does seek to update the WWII-era Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) that could severely curtail the group’s influence. At present, FARA mandates that any agents acting on behalf of a foreign state must disclose their relationships with said government, a regulation made in an attempt to combat the spread of Axis propaganda during the 1930’s. The act, however, leaves a loophole in the world of academia, a loophole which the latest proposal seeks to close.

“This legislation aims to bring greater transparency to the activities of foreign governments operating in the United States,” said Senator Marco Rubio, who introduced the legislation to the Senate in late March. In a further effort against the Institute, Sen. Rubio also sent letters to five universities located his home state of Florida, asking them to close down the Confucius Institutes on their campuses.

“I remain deeply concerned by the proliferation of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in the United States,” Rubio said in his letter to the schools. “Given China’s aggressive campaign to “infiltrate” American classrooms, stifle free inquiry, and subvert free expression both at home and abroad, I respectfully urge you to consider terminating your Confucius Institute agreement.”

“The goal is transparency by the foreign agents themselves and also by the universities,” Rep. Wilson says. “The American people need to know that they are being provided propaganda.”

Ray Vann is a freelance writer

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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Ray Vann