The United States announced Thursday that it would require the center that runs the Confucius Institute to register as a foreign mission of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, alleging the group’s Chinese language courses are part of a widespread campaign of influence and propaganda in the U.S.
In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented the Confucius Institute U.S. Center in Washington as “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on U.S. campuses and K-12 classrooms” and said that the center “has taken advantage of America’s openness.”
The announcement comes of the heels of another spat over the fate of popular video app TikTok. Over the past several months, the U.S. and China have exchanged blows over the coronavirus pandemic, civil liberties in Hong Kong, sovereignty infringement in the South China Sea and trade.
U.S. officials have also warned of increasing attempts by Chinese agents to steal trade and military secrets, especially at universities.
David Stilwell, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, emphasized that the Institute would not be banned.
“We’re not kicking them out,” he said in a briefing. “We’re just highlighting the fact that these folks do work for the Ministry of Education of the [Chinese] Communist Party.”
In May, a bipartisan group of U.S. college campus political organizations — the College Republican National Committee and the College Democrats of America — issued an open letter calling to close all Confucius Institutes in the United States, citing China’s human rights record with particular emphasis on the government crackdown in Hong Kong.
In January, however, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) expressed a different view.
“We do support the type of work done by Confucius Institutes in terms of building libraries, funding Chinese language classes and promoting cultural exchanges,” AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella told VOA. “Our experience has not uncovered any evidence of interference by the Chinese government or infringements on academic freedom.
“China is our greatest collaborator for scientific research, and over-surveillance will have a negative impact on knowledge generation,” she said.