Despite the closures of all but 17 Confucius Institutes in the United States, republican lawmakers and conservatives are claiming that there is a ‘residual’ Chinese influence in US colleges.
The conservative National Association of Scholars report, After Confucius Institutes, calls out multiple universities by name for their apparent continuing involvement with various Chinese universities, with Republican lawmakers in turn calling on president Biden to “monitor Chinese influence”.
“In no cases are we sufficiently confident to classify any university has having fully closed its Confucius Institute,” the NAS report claims.
“All four of our case study institutions showed evidence of continued collaboration with the Chinese government,” it continued.
The NAS details this evidence as many universities “closing their Confucius Institutes on paper”, then “simply reorganising their partnerships with Chinese universities and the Chinese government” – and still operating “nearly identical programs”.
“They have been made more important than they are, treated as negative symbols because of the US/China tensions”
The universities mentioned by name for reportedly still operating programs in partnership with former CI partners were the University of Idaho, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, the University of Montana and Purdue University.
Speaking to The PIE, a Purdue University representative was adamant that the institution was “committed to protecting this community and our nation from exploitation by those who do not share our values”.
“We continue to monitor and assess existing engagement and agreements with foreign entities and by maintain and enhancing the protocols and risk assessment criteria used in developing new agreements,” the representative said.
“We do not and will not hesitate to take action and exit any agreement which threatens national security,” he went on to say.
The overlap with government versus academic activities at Confucius Institutes, says Simon Marginson, director of CGHE, is what has tripped up the pivot so far for China since CIs were mostly shut down across the Western world in 2019.
“China has tried to rework and rebadge the CIs, though not very effectively – they have not yet drawn the right conclusion, which is the need to firmly separate academic activity from government activity in Western settings,” he told The PIE.
The University of Montana was stated in the report as possibly finding a new partner in China in conjunction with the Confucius Institute. The NAS included an email in the report from the CI Headquarters to the university finishing with, “As of the detailed handling of the balanced fund, cultural assets and appliances, we will notify you further once the new partner is finalised”. It is unknown what the context of this email is.
The University of Montana, responding to The PIE’s request for comment, also hit back at the NAS’s report saying that its representation of the University of Montana is “inaccurate”.
“UM no longer has any active partnerships with Southwest University of Political Science and Law,” the representative told The PIE.
“The only MoUs signed with SWUPSL were in conjunction with the Confucius Institute and that relationship was ended with UM back in 2019,” they clarified.
Speaking to the Washington Examiner, US senator Marco Rubio hit out at the Biden administration at its ‘lack of action’ regarding the Chinese communist party’s influence.
“If the administration had spent half as much time and money confronting the CCP’s influence in our nation’s education system as they have promoting woke theories on race and gender identity in schools, this would not be a problem,” he said.
He called on nearly two dozen US universities to end their partnerships with Chinese universities “assisting the CCP’s military build-up”.
Marginson said that in reality, the threat was probably not as dire it seemed – but the build-up of it was much more vitriolic than perhaps necessary.
“The scuttlebutt about CIs, has been over the top – they have been made more important than they are, treated as negative symbols because of the US/China tensions – the ‘New Cold War’ as some call it,” Marginson explained.
“It has been associated with racial profiling and prosecution of academics in the US with Chinese names”
“The CIs followed the China model instead of the Western model – in a Western setting, that was ill-advised,” he relented.
Marginson also remarked that there had been a succession of US government orchestrated reports on the alleged dangers of Chinese influence in US universities as part of the decoupling strategy signalled by Trump’s initiative in 2018, which was subsequently reaffirmed by Biden.
“It has been associated with racial profiling and prosecution of academics in the US with Chinese names, many of them US citizens,” he recalled.
In the interest of complete stability, Purdue reaffirmed that the the CI was completely shuttered in 2019, and was run by a faculty member employed by Purdue nearly 15 years before it was opened.
“Purdue has long-existing undergraduate and non-research master student mobility agreements with Shanghai Jiao Ton University,” the representative said.
“There is no current student mobility in these programs and no exchanges are currently scheduled for the upcoming academic year,” he clarified.
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