Thursday, February 28, 2019

Chinese-funded institutes on U.S. college campuses condemned in Senate report

Benjamin Wermund, Politico, 02/27/2019; note mention of  "public diplomacy" in the below article; on other recent article on the Confucius Institutes in the U.S.,  see also (1) (2)

An undergraduate student shows her watercolor painting.
Image from article

A scathing Senate report released Wednesday says that without major changes, so-called Confucius Institutes paid for by the Chinese government and operating on dozens of American college campuses should shut down.

The bipartisan report by a Homeland Security subcommittee blasts the language and cultural centers at more than 100 U.S. universities as too strictly controlled and a threat to academic freedom. It accuses many American colleges of failing to disclose how much money they've received from the Chinese government — which the report says has spent more than $158 million on schools in the U.S. since 2006. Many colleges didn't reveal they've accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from China despite Education Department guidance that requires reporting of foreign gifts.

And it's not just college campuses. The report notes the rapid growth of so-called Confucius Classrooms, Chinese language classes funded by the Chinese government in more than 500 elementary, middle and high schools in the U.S. The K-12 expansion is a top priority for China, according to the report released by Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and ranking member Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).

The 93-page report says it's all a key part of China's efforts to control its image abroad, and it notes the Chinese government has not allowed the U.S. to do the same in China. "Absent full transparency regarding how Confucius Institutes operate and full reciprocity for U.S. cultural outreach efforts on college campuses in China, Confucius Institutes should not continue in the United States," it says.

The report is the latest example of growing congressional scrutiny of Chinese involvement in the American educational system, including attempts by China and other nations to spy on and steal federally funded research on college campuses. It's a problem facing many research universities, which have to strike a balance between being open and collaborative institutions while also protecting the work they do.

A separate GAO report also released Wednesday drew some contradictory conclusions, including that at 10 universities with Confucius Institutes the GAO reviewed, U.S. university employees reported that they — not China— had full control. Some of them held events on controversial topics like Tibet and Taiwan. The GAO also reviewed 90 agreements establishing institutes at American universities and found some of them included language specifically protecting academic freedom.

Republicans have long been skeptical of Confucius Institutes, but the bipartisan Senate report is the biggest broadside against them — and some of the schools hosting them — yet. The schools are not named.

Portman in a statement cited the “stunning lack of transparency and reciprocity from China" in connection with the institutes. "As China has expanded Confucius Institutes here in the U.S., it has systematically shut down key U.S. State Department public diplomacy efforts on Chinese college campuses,” he said.

Carper in a statement noted the "quiet effort" by China to improve its image in Americans’ minds through its Confucius Institutes.

He said that "while there is no evidence that these institutes are a center for Chinese espionage efforts or any other illegal activity, we must have our eyes wide open about the presence of these institutes in our schools and around young, impressionable students, especially since they were conceived by and are funded by a Chinese government that holds and exports a much different worldview than ours."

The subcommittee is made up of nine senators, including Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and former Republican presidential nominee Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

The report also says"a number" of schools have failed to report their Chinese funding as required by law.

The Education Department requires colleges and universities report foreign gifts of $250,000 or more from a single source. Nearly 70 percent of schools that received more than $250,000 from Hanban, an affiliate of the Chinese Ministry of Education that runs Confucius Institutes, didn't report the funding to the department, according to the report.

Hanban typically provides a U.S. college between $100,000 and $200,000 in start-up costs and around 3,000 books and other materials, the report says. Hanban also picks a director and teachers at no cost to the U.S. university.

Those resources comes with "strings that can compromise academic freedom," the report says.

The Chinese government approves all teachers, events and speakers at the institutes and some American colleges contractually agree that both Chinese and U.S. laws apply in them. Chinese teachers at the institutes sign contracts with the Chinese government pledging not to damage the national interests of China, as well.

"Such limitations attempt to export China’s censorship of political debate and prevent discussion of potentially politically sensitive topics," the report says. "Indeed, U.S. school officials told the Subcommittee that Confucius Institutes were not the place to discuss controversial topics ... As one U.S. school administrator explained to the Subcommittee, when something is 'funded by the Chinese government, you know what you’re getting.'"

The Chinese government, meanwhile, has "stifled" American efforts to establish "American Cultural Centers" on Chinese college campuses, which the State Department in 2010 started giving U.S. universities grants to set up. The Chinese government sought to control the centers that did successfully open, according to the report. One Chinese school refused to allow a center to put on a play about professional boxer Muhammad Ali, for example.

The report calls on the Justice Department to determine if Confucius Institutes are trying to influence the U.S. government or public on behalf of foreign principals, and says those that are should register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. It also calls for the State Department to review visas of researchers and teachers in all Confucius Institutes and K-12 classrooms.

And it urges the Education Department to update guidance requiring schools to report foreign funding. The Education and Justice departments "should conduct oversight and pursue appropriate action against any U.S. schools that willfully fail to comply with reporting requirements," it says.

The report also makes a series of other recommendations, including that Congress should require all U.S. schools to publish any contracts with foreign governments, including all Confucius Institute contracts, online for students and faculty to review.

Notably, the report says American schools should continue to partner with Chinese universities.

"Partnering with foreign universities offers students unique international learning experiences and enhance research opportunities," it says. "U.S. schools, however, should never, under any circumstances, compromise academic freedom. U.S. schools operating in China should inform students about China’s internet censorship and other relevant constraints."

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