by Eileen F. Toplansky
Considering their funding source and their objectives, the Confucius Institutes deserve a second look from U.S. regulators.
In April of 2017, Rachelle Peterson of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) published an in-depth study titled "Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education." Her findings reveal China's Trojan horse under the guise of intellectual sharing.
The Confucius Institutes are funded through an agency called the Hanban, which has direct ties to the Chinese government, thus ensuring that China gets to weigh in on topics. There is outright suppression on certain subjects – e.g., praising the Dali Lama, the status of Taiwan, and the persecution of members of Falun Gong.
With "China footing the bill, critics say Confucius Institutes are ready-made platforms for ... promoting an overly rosy image of China while discouraging discussion of the 'three Ts': Tibet, Taiwan and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre." In fact,"[t]he Chinese director of one Institute explained that if a student asked about Tiananmen Square, she would 'show a picture and point out the beautiful architecture.'"
Moreover, any discussion of China's oppression of 10 million Muslim Uyghurs in its Xinjiang province, where up to one million Muslim Uyghurs have been detained in camps, would be verboten.
In 2009, Li Changchun, then the head of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party, called Confucius Institutes "an important part of China's overseas propaganda set-up."
Here's how it works. China makes a generous financial offer, with the Hanban paying and screening teachers, providing thousands of free government-approved textbooks and a general financial operating support of around $100,000 a year.
While American universities receive much desired funding for programs, "China gets an opportunity to mold the way the next generation of Americans thinks about China." Peterson explains that "China is spending an enormous amount of money trying to build goodwill overseas by building schools[.]"
Many nations send teachers abroad as a form of cultural and linguistic diplomacy – e.g., the Alliance Française for French – but there is a distinct difference with the Chinese schools.
China's Confucius Institutes sound similar enough to these Western institutions. But their activities are far more pernicious. Though the Confucius Institutes present themselves as a vehicle for cultural diplomacy, it would be more accurate to think of them as a way for China to subvert American higher education.Confucius Institutes operate in a fundamentally different way [from] their Western counterparts. Whereas Germany, France, Spain, and Britain erect their own stand-alone institutes that offer extracurricular courses, China insists on planting its Confucius Institutes inside existing colleges and universities.
Having begun in 2004, there are now 513 of these Confucius classrooms worldwide in addition to 1,074 located in primary and secondary schools.
On Mark Levin's television show, Life, Liberty and Levin, which airs every Sunday evening, Levin recently hosted author Michael Pillsbury. His book The Hundred Year Marathon documents China's theft of American technology over the past 40 years. At point 22:00-25:48 on the YouTube video, Pillsbury highlights the intrusion of 300,000 Chinese students into American schools of higher learning and explains "the strings attached." Anyone deemed a dissident or defector is banned from speaking as a consequence of agreements that were signed by the hosting school and China.
Thus, "one of the U.S. government's leading China experts reveals the hidden strategy fueling [China's] rise – and how Americans have been seduced into helping China overtake us as the world's leading superpower."
Concerns about intellectual freedom, self-censorship, and lack of transparency regarding the arrangements and hiring practices for Confucius Institute staff are cited as key reasons to stop the Confucius Institutes in U.S. colleges. Moreover, the latest annual report from China Aid, titled "Chinese Government Persecution of Churches and Christians in Mainland China," is further cause for concern.
Universities who now have financial incentives driving their decisions will toe the line. In essence, Confucius Institutes tend to present China in a positive light and highlight inoffensive aspects of Chinese culture. "They avoid Chinese political history and human rights abuses, present Taiwan and Tibet as undisputed territories of China and develop a generation of American students with selective knowledge of a major country" that seeks to overpower America. Call it soft power techniques, and the Chinese are quite adept at this.
More recently, "at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) highlighted the threat posed by China's growing influence[.]" As a result, the University of West Florida announced it would close its Confucius Institute voluntarily. In 2014, The University of Chicago shut down its CI after professors "argued that it limited academic freedom and outsourced important university functions to a foreign government."
NAS policy director Rachelle Peterson summarizes the problems and recommends that the following be done.
American colleges accept China's money to teach Chinese language and culture. But the federal government already awards grants for the same purpose. (See Title VI of the Higher Education Act.) When a college receives Confucius Institute funding, its eligibility for federal Chinese-language grants should decrease proportionately.The public should know how much money foreign governments pour into colleges and universities. The Higher Education Act requires colleges and universities to disclose gifts from a foreign entity totaling $250,000 or more in a calendar year. That threshold should be lowered to $50,000 ... and it should include the fair market value of in-kind gifts. China sends free textbooks and pays the Chinese teachers at Confucius Institutes, plus funds international trips for college administrators. Under current law, these in-kind gifts never get disclosed.
Ultimately, the NAS recommends that universities with Confucius Institutes close them completely. American colleges and universities should not outsource their classes to a foreign government.
Eileen F. Toplansky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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