China’s Confucius Institutes, shuttered in Trump era, resurface with new names

FPI / June 26, 2022

Viewing them as major national security threats, the Trump administration precipitated the closing of some 100 Beijing-linked Confucius Institutes across the United States.

The the National Association of Scholars reported that 28 of the Confucius Institutes replaced their closed programs with similar programs, and 58 maintained close ties to the former Confucius Institute partner.

China was at one time operating 118 of the institutes in American universities in what the Trump administration saw as an overt influence operation by China on U.S. soil.

With a conciliatory, and in China’s view weak, Biden administration, however, the institutes are resurfacing, with new names, according to a new research study, cited by security correspondent Bill Gertz.

According to the 228-page report by the National Association of Scholars, 28 institutions replaced their closed Confucius Institutes with similar programs, and 58 maintained close ties to the former Confucius Institute partner. Five institutes transferred their operations to new hosting organizations.

In China, the headquarters of the Confucius Institutes, the Office of Chinese Language Council International, also known as Hanban, was renamed the Ministry of Education Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation. It has set up a separate organization called the Chinese International Education Foundation to fund and control Confucius Institutes and many of the replacement organizations, Gertz noted in a Washington Times report.

The NAS report said the name changes were part of an effort by Beijing to rebrand its soft power operations through the institutes.

Stanford University, the University of Utah and Wesleyan College in Georgia are among the 17 universities where Confucius Institutes continue to operate, the report said.

During the Trump administration, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stepped up U.S. government efforts to close down the institutes. He called them “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”

The U.S. State Department in 2020 designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a Chinese government entity to be controlled under the 1982 Foreign Missions Act and warned all U.S. college and university governing boards that Confucius Institutes disseminate Communist Party propaganda and exert influence on campuses.

Related: China-watchers alarmed by early Biden move on U.S. campus institutes, February 16, 2021

“The demise of Confucius Institutes, 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,” the report said.

Many of the institutes that were shuttered during the Trump administration were reopened in different forms, such as through U.S.-Chinese “sister” university exchange programs.

China has billed the institutes as a way to promote Chinese culture and offer Chinese-language instruction overseas, similar to the American Spaces program or the United Kingdom’s network of global British Council sites.

Despite the ostensible cultural focus, critics say, the main mission of the institutes has been to influence domestic political issues and target American academics who criticize the Chinese Communist Party’s policies.

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