Biden Swimming against the Tide (and Common Sense) on Conufucius Institutes

In recent years, the growing propaganda efforts by executed by China’s communist government have come under scrutiny by congressional committees, lawmakers, non-partisan organizations, and FAIR too. And Axios recently reported that China has increased by 500 percent its foreign spending in the United States. Now is the worst possible time to assist China in hiding its dealings on American campuses, but that is exactly what the Biden administration is doing.

In late January, the Biden administration withdrew a Trump administration policy that would have required colleges and universities to disclose their ties to the controversial Confucius Institutes, which are funded and governed by the Chinese government. It was hardly controversial and certainly was supported by the findings of a 2019 bipartisan report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations examining the influence of Confucius Institutes at institutions of higher education.

This bipartisan report documents the stunning lack of transparency and reciprocity from China in how Confucius Institutes operate inside the United States.  As China has expanded Confucius Institutes here in the U.S., it has systematically shut down key U.S. State Department public diplomacy efforts on Chinese college campuses,” said Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was then the chairman and is now the ranking member on the committee.

The Confucius rule was part of a broader effort targeting the Chinese propaganda machine, including the Trump administration’s declaration in August 2020 of the Confucius Institute’s U.S. Center as a foreign mission of the Chinese Communist Party.

In February, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that asked if the DHS considers “Confucius Institutes to be an extension of the communist Chinese government” or “purveyors of communist Chinese propaganda.” To both questions, Grassley added, If not, why not? It is almost June and no answer has been provided yet.

In his May 11 Senate speech, the Iowa senator noted the Chinese Minister of Propaganda pointed to the Confucius Institutes as key to their influence plans.

“Yet, even with this clear threat, the Biden administration is silent on the proposed rule other than them getting caught retracting it. What more does the Biden administration need to know before they get the picture?” asked Grassley, who has introduced a bill to make the Confucius rule law.

What makes the Biden administration’s silence so damning is that there is growing consensus on Capitol Hill, as well as among American colleges and universities, that China’s soft power war poses a real danger to the nation. 

Another measure, the bipartisan “Strategic Competition Act of 2021,” would require that foreign grants, contracts, or gifts of more than $1 million would be subject to government approval. Meanwhile, academic institutions, such as the College of William & Mary and Ohio’s Miami University, are joining other schools in voluntarily closing Confucius Institutes on their campuses.

Tufts University in Boston announced on March 17 that it would join the group of 75 universities that have decided to close their Confucius Institutes. According to an updated list compiled by the National Association of Scholars, there are 47 Confucius Institutes active in the United States.

Asked about them at his nomination hearing, current CIA Director William Burns said Confucius Institutes “promote a narrative of Xi Jinping’s China, which is designed to build sympathy for…what is, in my view, a quite aggressive leadership, which is engaged in conduct and conducted…an adversarial approach to relations with the United States.” 

To hammer home Sen. Grassley’s question – what will it take for DHS Secretary Mayorkas and the rest of the Biden administration to get the picture?

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