North Florida College (NFC) closed its Confucius Institute, a Chinese-funded organization that FBI Director Christopher Wray issued a warned against during a February Senate hearing.
Wray informed U.S. senators about the Chinese government using students to collect information.
“I think in this setting I would just say that the use of nontraditional collectors, especially in the academic setting, whether it’s professors, scientists, students, we see in almost every — in almost every field office that the FBI has around the country, it is not just in major cities, it’s in small ones as well,” Wray said. “It’s across basically every discipline.”
Wray noted the academic setting’s naivety about Chinese students being intelligence concerns, which itself became an issue for the college.
“They’re exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere,” Wray said.
The FBI had been looking at the institute, the FBI director said at the hearing.
“After reviewing the classes, activities and events sponsored over the past four years and comparing them with the mission and goals of the University, it was determined that they weren’t aligned.”
Confucius Institutes have been set up by the Chinese government to “adopt flexible teaching patterns and adapt to suit local conditions when teaching Chinese language and promoting culture in foreign primary schools, secondary schools, communities and enterprises.” Currently, 110 colleges have this institute on its campus, according to its website.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wrote a letter earlier this year to four Florida colleges urging them to close these institutes on their campuses.
“There is mounting concern about the Chinese government’s increasingly aggressive attempts to use “Confucius Institutes” and other means to influence foreign academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s history and present policies.”
Another concern Rubio expressed about these institutions was the ability trying to “political influence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”
South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson and Rubio introduced a bill in March called the “Foreign Influence Transparency Act.” The bill would require organizations like the Institute to register under the 1938Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) if it advances a foreign government’s political agenda.
“The goal of this legislation is to increase transparency between foreign governments, universities, and communities,” Wilson said. “The American people have the right to know if they are consuming propaganda that is being produced by a foreign government.”
This bill has not gotten out of the Constitution and Civil Justice subcommittee.
The National Association of Scholars released a 183-report in 2017 detailing why colleges should close Confucius Institutes. In the report overview, it calls these institutes “part of the Chinese government’s overseas propaganda efforts.” Also, it found Confucius Institutes avoiding Chinese human rights’ abuses and political history.
“Confucius Institutes are tied directly to the Chinese government and participate in China’s global effort to shape its image and to mobilize Chinese nationals living abroad,” according to the report overview.
As far back as 2014, the American Association of Professors (AAUP) expressed concern about the institute. The AAUP wanted universities to stop their involvement in Confucius Institutes until schools had unilateral control of the institute.
Chinese students represented almost 32 percent of all international students with 328,547 during the 2015-2016 school year, according to TIME.