Confucius Institutes advance Chinese propaganda on campuses

The Chinese Communist Party's United Front Work Department, which oversees foreign influence activities, advises Confucius Institutes that operate on college campuses worldwide. (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)
The Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, which oversees foreign influence activities, advises Confucius Institutes that operate on college campuses worldwide. (© Ng Han Guan/AP Images)

The People’s Republic of China must now reveal more about its role in supporting Confucius Institutes’ activities on U.S. college campuses, which include propaganda and censorship.

The U.S. Department of State on August 13 designated the Washington-based headquarters of the Confucius Institute network a foreign mission of the PRC.

Under the designation, the Confucius Institute U.S. Center must regularly inform the State Department about the activities of its dozens of institutes across the U.S. by providing information on PRC ­citizen personnel, recruiting, funding and operations in the United States.

With greater transparency, educational institutions can make more informed choices about the influence being exerted on their campuses. They can then decide whether and how these Beijing-backed programs should continue to teach their students.

”The PRC has taken advantage of America’s openness to undertake large-scale and well-funded propaganda efforts and influence operations in this country,” U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in an August 13 statement announcing the designation.

While the institutes present themselves as Chinese cultural centers, they also police rhetoric about China, according to rights groups and the U.S. government.

The Chinese Communist Party operates Confucius Institutes worldwide, with more than 75 in the United States — 66 on U.S. college campuses — and more than 500 programs in U.S. elementary and secondary school classrooms.

A U.S. Senate investigation and rights groups have found the institutes advance the CCP’s agenda, censoring education on politically sensitive topics and compromising academic freedom.

“These are institutes whose curriculum is dictated by an authoritarian government,” said Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch. Richardson added that hiring decisions are partly based on party loyalty.

That’s no surprise considering the PRC’s United Front Work Department, which oversees CCP foreign influence activities, is heavily involved in influencing the activities of Confucius Institutes. Li Changchun, a former CCP ideology czar, in 2009 declared Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup.”

In 2018, Confucius Institutes in the U.S. pressed a university in Georgia to censor a speaker’s biography because of her experience working as a journalist in Taiwan. The CCP considers Taiwan — and many other subjects — to be politically sensitive.

Universities worldwide are tired of CCP interference and are more critically reviewing the programming of Confucius Institutes. Universities in Sweden, Germany, India and elsewhere have either closed Confucius Institutes or are demanding more information on their activities, according to a State Department fact sheet on the U.S. designation.