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How The Chinese Communist Party Infiltrated US Academia

(Nicolas Asfouri - Pool/Getty Images)

Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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In the past 15 years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has made useful idiots out of the academic managerial class tasked with running our colleges and universities. After former President Donald Trump’s administration fought back against the CCP’s encroachment into American academia, it seems President Joe Biden is willing to play along with Beijing’s propagandizing.

The Chinese government began establishing Confucius Institutes on American college campuses throughout the country, oftentimes footing the bill for textbooks, teachers, and materials for courses on Chinese language and culture, in 2005, according to the Confucius Institute U.S. Center website. Because of the Confucius Institutes’ relationship to the Chinese government, which enforces speech codes and is currently carrying out a genocide against Uighur Muslims, some of their practices and contracts with universities remain rather secretive.

However, what is known about Confucius Institutes and their practices have resulted in a number of public officials and studies issuing warnings against what influence these establishments could have. The Trump administration took action to curtail the influence the Chinese government had on university campuses via regulation, as reported by Axios. The Biden administration seems to have reversed course and left the door open to a bevy of unknown consequences.

Confucius Institutes on college campuses, and their counterparts for lower-schooling levels called Confucius Classrooms, have been offering courses in Chinese language, culture and history since 2005  — often for academic credit, the Confucius Institute U.S. Center website says.

More than 100 teaching and research centers that operate under the Confucius Institute banner were operational on American higher education campuses in 2017, according to a study into Confucius Institutes by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) titled, “Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education.”

Those 103 Confucius Institutes are funded by the CCP’s Office of Chinese Languages Council International, which is better known as the Hanban, according to the study. Beyond the over 100 Confucius Institutes on American college campuses operated by the Hanban, the Hanban had Confucius Classrooms at 501 primary and secondary schools across the country in 2017. Put together, these 604 institutions operating in the United States represented 38% of the Confucius Institutions and Classrooms in the world — the most of any country — in 2017.

The Chinese government has devoted an abundance of resources into extending the Confucius Institute program. In 2016, the number of Confucius Institutes and Classrooms rose by 35% in the United States, and by 40% worldwide. The efforts were so successful that the Hanban went forward with opening The Confucius Institute U.S. Center, located in the heart of the nation’s capital.

Before Confucius Institute instructors are “dispatched” by the Hanban to the United States or their final destination, the Hanban screens and trains the teachers, according to an archived post titled “What are the functions of Confucius Institute Headquarters?” from Hanban News.

The Confucius Institute Constitution, which was once available on the Hanban’s website but is now available via WebMachine’s archives, implies that Chinese law is applicable on the premises of these educational outposts, and many Confucius Institute staff members are cited as censoring topics forbidden in China. An extreme example of this phenomena is that several instructors told the NAS that they would deflect questions about the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 by focusing on the area’s architecture, much like how CCP officials have deflected when shown video of Uighur Muslims being loaded onto trains to be sent to concentration camps and asked about it.

Li Changchun, the former Chairman of the CPC Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilization that used to spearhead the CCP’s propaganda efforts, said Confucius Institutes were “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up,” in 2009, as noted by the Economist.

Despite this obvious threat to the academic freedom that undergirds the purpose of the American university structure, Confucius Institutes are attractive to American universities because the Hanban often foots the bill, according to the NAS study. The NAS study also said the Hanban pays for the institutes’ teaching staff — which often comes straight from CCP screening as aforementioned — and even provides the instructors with housing. Beyond labor costs, the Hanban provides textbooks, supplies and six-figure annual grants to cover the Confucius Institutes’ operating expenses as well as subsidize other labor costs, the study added.

On multiple occasions, members of the U.S. intelligence committee have testified about the threats posed by Confucius Institutes in the United States. Former FBI Director Christopher Wray warned the Senate Intelligence Committee in February of 2018 of the impact of CCP-controlled Confucius Institutes and said the FBI was “watching warily” a number of Confucius Institutes and CCP sponsored academics brought to the U.S., as reported by McClatchy.

“I think the level of naiveté on the part of the academic sector about this creates its own issues. They’re exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere. But they’re taking advantage of it,” Wray said at the time.

In subsequent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2019, Wray said “part of China’s soft power strategy and influence” is setting up Confucius Institutes in the United States. Wray went on to say Confucius Institutes “offer a platform to disseminate Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party propaganda, to encourage censorship, to restrict academic freedom.”

Immediately following Wray’s testimony, Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley wrote letters to the University of Missouri and Webster University, arguing “Confucius Institutes are more than a means of cultural exchange.”

“Hanban is governed by the leaders of twelve Chinese ministries, including those handling foreign affairs, state media, and propaganda. Partnering universities sign contracts that prohibit them from ‘tarnishing the reputation’ of Hanban, and Hanban sends teachers and textbooks from China that are designed to promote a positive image of the PRC and suppress any discussion of the ‘three Ts’: Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen Square. These Confucius Institutes are, in short, a tool for China to spread influence and exercise soft power in its rivalry with the United States,” Hawley’s letter read in part. (RELATED: Trump Administration Designates Confucius Institute As Foreign Mission In Response To Chinese Communist Party Influence)

In the waning days of the Trump presidency, the administration submitted a proposed rule titled “Establishing Requirement for Student and Exchange Visitor Program Certified Schools to Disclose Agreements with Confucius Institutes and Classrooms” to the Department of Homeland Security. The Dec. 31, 2020 submission would have required American universities and colleges to disclose their ties to Confucius Institutes, and offer more transparency into the agreements between the CCP controlled entity and American universities that are subsidized by the American taxpayer.

However, the rule was withdrawn from consideration on Jan. 26, 2021, but no further specifics were given as to why the new administration would not go forward with the rule change.