Concern over new President Joe Biden’s cozy relationship and family ties to China has only grown in the early weeks of his administration, with nominees for critical foreign policy positions characterized as soft on the communist nation.
And then there’s his move to erase requirements for transparency about Chinese influence on America’s students in K-12 and college institutions. Last week Biden’s Department of Homeland Security rescinded a proposed rule, initiated at the end of December by the Trump administration, to require U.S. schools to disclose their ties to China-funded or –controlled organizations on their campuses.
Sino influence on our nation’s young people gained a foothold with the establishment of Confucius Institutes at many U.S. universities, as well as Confucius Classrooms for pre-college learners. The programs, funded by the Chinese government, are promoted as vehicles to teach about the nation’s culture and language, but are used as propaganda to soft-sell communism and cloak its evils.
“An agency of the Chinese Ministry of Education, the Hanban, operates the Confucius Institute and provides teachers, institute directors, textbooks, classroom materials, and operating funds,” explained education policy consultant Dr. Carole Hornsby Haynes at the American Thinker. “A five-year contract with the host institution gives the Chinese government total control over staffing and curriculum. Since 2006 the Chinese government has provided more than $158 million to more than 100 U.S. schools for Confucius Institutes.”
Haynes’s article was based in part on a two-year old bipartisan report released by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which found after an eight-month probe that the programs lack sufficient transparency and oversight by the American government, and that the Chinese government fails to allow any reciprocity for U.S. programs on Chinese campuses.
“We learned that schools in the United States— from kindergarten to college—have provided a level of access to the Chinese government that the Chinese government has refused to provide to the United States,” said Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, one of the co-authors of the report. “That level of access can stifle academic freedom and provide students and others exposed to Confucius Institute programming with an incomplete picture of Chinese government actions and policies that run counter to U.S. interests at home and abroad. 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.”
As part of former President Trump’s high-profile efforts to get tough on China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos warned in an October letter to American schools and universities that the Confucius programs are a “real and growing threat” to students.
“Styled as a language and culture program, Confucius Classrooms are in reality an important element of the PRC’s global influence campaign, now reaching tens of thousands of U.S. schoolchildren every day…,” they wrote.
The former Trump cabinet officials explained how the programs neglect, and even suppress discussion about, China’s brutal human rights violations against Hong Kongers, the Uighurs, Tibet, Christians, and others the government deems a threat.
“The presence of an authoritarian slant in curriculum and teaching has never been more concerning, nor more consequential,” Pompeo and Devos wrote.
Many Republican senators in recent years have warned against the threat and propagandizing from the Confucius Institutes as well. In 2018 Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa led a Judiciary Committee hearing into China’s “non-traditional” espionage against the U.S., in which FBI and Justice Department officials testified about threats posed to research labs and universities by researchers with “undisclosed ties to Chinese institutions and conflicted loyalties.” Grassley wondered why Confucius Institutes were not required to register as foreign agents under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
And in October, seven Republican senators urged the College Board to reconsider its relationship with the Confucius Institutes.
“The National Association of Scholars (NAS) issued a report identifying College Board as a target for the Chinese influence campaign…,” the Senators wrote. “The report…alleged that College Board helped place Chinese nationals in U.S. schools through the Chinese Guest Teacher Program, a collaboration between College Board and Hanban. We are concerned that the PRC exploits its partnership with College Board to stifle conversation that might undermine the reputation of the CCP.”
As part of the focus on the Chinese threat, the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act forbade federal funding to support Confucius Institutes. Specifically the law, which is renewed annually, forced universities to make a choice: Keep your institutes or receive language education funding from the Department of Defense.
Thanks to the attention and the ultimatum, the number of institutes at U.S. schools has diminished in recent years. According to the National Association of Scholars, 63 Confucius Institutes remain at institutions of learning in the U.S. – two of which are scheduled to close. At least 29 have shut down over the last six years, according to a year-old Human Rights Watch report.
But now, as Republican senators like Ted Cruz of Texas express concern about his nominees having a “disturbing pattern of being apologists for the Chinese Communist Party,” the Biden administration has rescinded a simple rule that requires more transparency about a propaganda effort that has infiltrated American schools. Why?
“Withdrawing the rule is cause for serious concern and weakens our ability to detect and deter foreign influence efforts by the communist Chinese government,” Grassley wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, asking for an explanation about its action. “… The American public, and most importantly parents, should be able to know whether or not the school their child attends has a relationship with a Chinese government propaganda machine.”