China Plants New ‘Trojan Horse’ Within Key US Ally Saudi Arabia


Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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China opened its first Confucius Institute in Saudi Arabia on June 4, at a time the United States is cracking down on the soft power centers for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The first institute in Saudi Arabia was opened at the Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, Chinese state media outlet Xinhua reported. The university partnered with China’s Shenzhen University and will purportedly allow Saudi students to learn more about Chinese language and culture.

Critics say that isn’t the real reason the CCP has opened Confucius Institutes all around the world. Observers on both sides of the political aisle in the United States have accused the CCP of using the supposed educational apparatuses to influence campuses in a pro-China direction, keep tabs on Chinese dissenters living abroad and conduct surveillance and intelligence operations.

“The Confucius Institutes are the modern equivalent of a Trojan horse, seemingly benign and apolitical, but committed to shaping our understanding of an authoritarian adversary out to undermine America’s leading role in Asia and around the world,” a 2021 report from the conservative Heritage Foundation reads.

Isaac Stone Fish wrote in the left-leaning magazine The New Republic (TNR) that the institutes are “examples of political interference on U.S. campuses.”

China openly admits what the Confucius Institute is really for. Then-CCP Politburo Committee member Li Changchun called them “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda apparatus” in 2009, according to TNR. During a 2011 speech at the Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing, he said “using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical.” (RELATED: Beijing On American Campuses: Here’s Every College With A Confucius Institute)

More than 100 chapters of the institute have been opened in the United States since its founding in 2004, although a number of them have been closed down as efforts to spread awareness about their danger have intensified. Lawmakers passed a provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to bar government funding for universities that host the institutes.

Saudi Arabia has increasingly been warming up to Beijing. China recently brokered a deal for Saudi Arabia and Iran to re-establish diplomatic relations, and President Xi Jinping has made a concerted effort to strengthen China’s influence in the Middle East.