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China’s Confucius institutes disappearing from US campuses, but could be reappearing in different names

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(TibetanReview.net, Nov03’23) – Almost all of the China-funded Confucius Institutes in the US have closed, reported the bloomberg.com Nov 2, citing a new report. It said all but five of the institutes, which were created in 2004 to promote Chinese language and culture, are now closed, the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) was cited as saying. However, the US has been warned that the institutes could be reappearing in different names.

Earlier, in 2019, GAO found 96 Confucius Institutes operating in 44 states. At the time, only six states had no colleges or universities with the centres. The institutes taught classes in Chinese culture and language and were run by their host university faculty and administrators with assistance from faculty at Chinese partner universities, the report noted.

The report cited FBI Director Christopher Wray as calling them at that time “a source of concern” saying the bureau viewed them as “more a part of China’s soft power strategy and influence.”

The GAO is an independent, nonpartisan government agency within the legislative branch that provides auditing, evaluative, and investigative services for the United States Congress. It is the supreme audit institution of the federal government of the United States.

Citing Kimberly Gianopoulos, the director of International Affairs and Trade at the GAO, the report said the main reason that US colleges abandoned the Confucius Institutes was language in the 2019 and 2021 defence authorization bills which warned that schools could lose federal funding if they kept the institutes.

“There were statements in those pieces of legislation, which basically said, ‘OK, higher-learning institutions, if you’re receiving money from the PRC to support these Confucius Institutes, then you are at risk of losing federal funding for research that’s happening on your campuses,’” Gianopoulos has said, referring to China by its formal name, the People’s Republic of China.

But Confucius Institutes have also been targets of vigorous protests by Tibetans and other rights activists who contended that they were meant to promote communist Chinese propaganda and stifle discussions about issues like human rights and democracy in China as well as those such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Falun Gong.

Still, the report cited more than 60% of school administrators as saying that “to a great extent” they viewed the potential loss of federal funding as the reason for closing the institutes.

Gianopoulos has said the number of Confucius Institutes would probably be down to “one or two by the time 2024 rolls around.”

“They’re really going away,” she has said.

But Rep. Seth Moulton, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has expressed concern about reports that the institutes were reopening under different names. He has said the closings don’t mean the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is giving up on trying to influence American higher education.

“Instead, we’ve seen the CCP ratchet up efforts to steal American research, and continue to coerce critical voices to toe the Communist Party line,” Moulton has said. “Whatever they are called, US universities need to adopt structural reforms that ensure that the CCP is unable to infiltrate, influence, and undermine American higher education.”

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