American universities closed down most of the more than 100 Beijing-linked Confucius Institutes around the country yet many continue operating under new names and programs that promote Chinese propaganda and soft power, according to an academic research report.
A total of 118 Confucius Institutes were operating at U.S. universities and 104 have closed or are in the process of closing, the report by the National Association of Scholars says.
However, the Chinese government is continuing to influence American universities using alternative organizations and methods, the report states.
“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 concludes.
One of the most successful tactics has been to rebrand similar Chinese-funded program under different names, and many closed institutes were re-opened in different forms, such as U.S.-China “sister” university exchange programs.
According to the 228-page report, 28 institutions replaced their closed Confucius Institute with a similar program, and 58 maintained close ties to the former Confucius Institute partner.
Five institutes transferred their operations to a new hosting organization.
In China, the headquarters of the Confucius Institutes, Office of Chinese Language Council International, also known as Hanban, was renamed the Ministry of Education Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation, and has set up a separate organization called the Chinese International Education Foundation to fund and control Confucius Institutes and many of the replacement organizations.
The report said the name changes were part of an effort by Beijing to rebrand its soft power operations through the institutes.
Stanford University, University of Utah and Wesleyan College in Georgia are among the 17 universities where Confucius Institutes continue to operate.
Confucius Institutes are ostensibly Chinese language and cultural centers located on university campuses and in some schools.
The main targets of the institutes are opposing American academics that are opposing the Chinese Communist Party and to influence issues such as anniversaries marking the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, U.S. support for Taiwan, and Chinese repression in Tibet.
“We also exposed secret contracts universities had signed with the Chinese government, granting the Hanban power to hire teachers, select curricula, and exercise veto power over all Confucius Institute programs and events,” the report said.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in 2020 that Confucius Institutes are part of Beijing’s soft power structure to influence universities and their administrators, often with funding.
The institutes in the United States “are efforts to censor or drive China-friendly speech in a decidedly unorthodox way,” Mr. Wray said.
“It is an effort to bring students together to ensure that the Chinese narrative makes its way into and dominates the conversation on universities,” Mr. Wray told the Hudson Institute.
During the Trump administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stepped up U.S. government efforts to close down the institutes that were seen as organs of the Chinese Communist Party to influence American universities.
Mr. Pompeo said Confucius Institutes are “part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”
The 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.
The State Department also warned all U.S. college and university governing boards that Confucius Institutes disseminate CCP propaganda and exert malign influence on campuses.
According to the report, American universities have been eager to replace Confucius Institutes with similar programs and many Confucius Classrooms, that operate in K-12 schools, continue operating despite the closure of the institutes.
Many staff members of the institutes have moved on to similar Chinese influence programs at the same university and textbooks and materials conforming to state Chinese propaganda continue to be used on campuses where institutes were closed.
“Many institutions, upon closing a CI, were forced to refund money to the Chinese government, sometimes in excess of $1 million,” the report said.
Additionally, some universities that are required under federal law to disclose foreign gifts and contracts have not revealed their Chinese funding.
“Some, including those for the University of Michigan and Arizona State University, have been retroactively edited to make continued Chinese funding anonymous,” the report said.
The report conducted in-depth case studies of Chinese soft power activities at the University of Washington, Western Kentucky University, Arizona State University, and Purdue University.
In the case of the University of Washington, the Confucius Institute there was formed after a meeting in 2006 between Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and then-Chinese President Hu Jintao at the home of Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
The report said that the Confucius Institute developed an unusually close relationship with several corporations including Microsoft.
The university has since severed ties with the Confucius Institute but sought legal loopholes that allowed the school to skirt federal transparency laws, the report said.
“Western Kentucky University installed as its founding Confucius Institute director, Wei-Ping Pan, a leading expert in coal technology, at just the time the Chinese government was targeting coal technology for improper transfer to China,” the report said.
The report recommended that all universities close the remaining Confucius Institutes and withdraw from the replacement programs, including the sister university program.
Also, the report urged Congress to amend the recent law banning Confucius Institutes to include an additional ban on the replacement Chinese programs.
To counter Chinese government influence operations, the federal government should impose a tax on funds U.S. educational institutions receive from China and to restrict federal funding to American universities that are engaged in academic research with China and its civil-military fusion program.
Confucius Classrooms below the university level also should be restricted.
The National Association of Scholars is an independent organization of academics and others that seek to promote reasoned scholarship and civil debate at American colleges and universities.
The report was co-authored by Rachelle Peterson, Flora Yan, and Ian Oxnevad, researchers at the National Association of Scholars.