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Confucius Institutes Rebrand to Circumvent U.S. Policy, Report Finds
By News Release @ 8:08 PM :: 1426 Views :: Ethics, World News, First Amendment, Higher Education

Confucius Institutes Rebrand to Circumvent U.S. Policy, Report Finds

National Association of Scholars Press_Release, June 21, 2022

New York, NY; June 21, 2022 — Colleges and universities continue to host Chinese-funded programs, similar to Confucius Institutes, under new names even after public and legislative scrutiny, concludes a new report from the National Association of Scholars.

After Confucius Institutes: China’s Enduring Influence on American Higher Education finds that Chinese government-funded Confucius Institutes rapidly closed after state and federal officials found them to be sources of censorship, propaganda, and espionage. Of 118 Confucius Institutes in the United States, 104 have closed or are in the process of closing. But at least 64 colleges and universities have reopened a Confucius Institute-like program under a different name or maintained close relationships with the Chinese entities that cosponsored Confucius Institutes.

“Five years ago, with Outsourced to China, NAS detailed how the Chinese government uses Confucius Institutes as central nodes in its overseas influence campaign,” said Rachelle Peterson, senior research fellow at NAS and coauthor of After Confucius Institutes. “Now, we show that despite the demise of Confucius Institutes, colleges and universities have naively signed up for very similar programs under new names.”

“The Chinese government has executed an end-run of U.S. public policy,” said Ian Oxnevad, a program research associate at NAS and coauthor of After Confucius Institutes. “In the wake of laws targeting Confucius Institutes, the Chinese government has deftly reorganized its program.”

Flora Yan, a research associate and a coauthor of the report, noted that “the most popular reason colleges give for closing a Confucius Institute is to replace it with something else.”

After Confucius Institutes reports on every Confucius Institute in the country, including case studies of Arizona State University, Purdue University, Western Kentucky University, and the University of Washington. Online, at https://data.nas.org/confucius_institute_contracts, NAS also offers a database of documents regarding Confucius Institutes and their replacements.

Effective reform of American higher education by state legislatures and Congress is necessary to counter China’s long term influence operations. The report encourages reforming foreign gift reporting requirements, instituting new rules to make foreign funding less attractive, and simplifying Freedom of Information Act procedures.

NAS is a network of scholars and citizens united by a commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. Membership in NAS is open to all who share a commitment to these broad principles. NAS publishes a journal and has state and regional affiliates. Visit NAS at www.nas.org.

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NAS: After Confucius Institutes (Excerpts)

Executive Summary

In the last four years, Confucius Institutes have rapidly closed down across the United States. Amid pressure from the FBI, the Department of State, Congress, and state legislatures, colleges and universities have terminated their agreements for these Chinese language and culture centers sponsored by the Chinese government. Of 118 Confucius Institutes that once existed in the United States, 104 have closed or are in the process of doing so.

The demise of Confucius Institutes (CIs), one of China’s most strategic beachheads in American higher education, has not deterred the Chinese government from seeking alternative means of influencing American colleges and universities. It has used an all-of-the-above approach to protecting its spheres of influence on American higher education, ranging from full-throated defenses of Confucius Institutes to threats. Among its most successful tactics, however, has been the effort to rebrand Confucius Institute-like programs under other names….

Praising Alternative Plans

Some American universities had announced replacements for the CI. Seven times Hanban/CLEC/CIEF responded approvingly, and once a Chinese university did so….

“I am more than happy to learn that you plan to strength [sic] the tie with Beijing Foreign Studies University,” CI Headquarters wrote to the University of Hawaii. “I hope your efforts will come to fruition.”151

Penalties on Confucius Institute Buildings

Three institutions owed penalties for early withdrawal from their Model Confucius Institute contracts: the University of Maryland, the University of Hawaii Manoa, and Western Kentucky University….

The University of Hawaii Manoa in 2015 signed an agreement with Hanban for the Dedicated Site for the Model Confucius Institute. The university agreed to set aside 6,000 square feet on the first floor of Moore Hall in the south makai wing, to be renovated and decorated with a budget of $1.25 million. Hanban provided $1 million; the University of Hawaii provided $250,000. The Confucius Institute was to use the space for 30 years.198

The agreement set forth withdrawal penalties per year, but when the University of Hawaii closed its Confucius Institute in 2019, it disagreed with Hanban about applying the formula. Hanban believed the promised 30-year period began upon completion of renovations (resulting in a refund of $913,000), while the university suggested the timeline started with the signing of the agreement (for a refund of $866,667).

Hanban reiterated its belief that its calculation was correct, but offered that “Out of our goodwill to maintain a good relationship… we intend to agree with your calculation.”199 Hanban’s letter closed with an exhortation to “maintain” a relationship with Beijing Foreign Studies University (the University of Hawaii’s CI partner), as well as an invitation: “When the circumstances become more favorable in the future, we would be more than happy to support the UH to re-embrace the CI program.”200 ….

What Happens to Confucius Institute Books and Supplies?

Hanban (and later CLEC and CIEF) generally asked colleges and universities to choose between mailing books and supplies back to China, or giving them to another Confucius Institute or Confucius Classroom. But in some cases, when Hanban (and CLEC and CIEF) wrote to a college acknowledging a CI closure and giving final instructions, it made no comment on books and supplies. This is the case for some (though not all) institutions that maintained partnerships with Chinese universities or transferred CI programs in-house, such as the University of Texas Dallas, the University of Hawaii Manoa, and the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.

The standard request regarding books and supplies is to prepare “the equipments [sic] and assets purchased with the funding from the Headquarters, the books and cultural appliances provided by the Headquarters and CI’s plate.”209 (The “plate” refers to a plaque with the CI logo.) Either “the Headquarters will collect” these appurtenances, or the institution may “transfer the above assets to a local partner institution under friendly discussion if necessary.”210 …

The University of Hawaii Manoa invited at least two CI staff to remain on campus past the closure of the CI. The university offered each the title of “Visiting Colleague” in the Department of Second Language Studies in the College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature, but required each to provide his own funding.225 ….

read … Full Report

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