As tempers flare between the U.S. and China, the Confucius Institute is labeled as a Chinese propaganda mission.
The Confucius Institute (CI), the Chinese government-run worldwide educational program, has been labeled by the United States as a foreign propaganda mission. The institute provides programs overseas in an effort to expand the Chinese culture in foreign countries, as well as hosts public events and lectures. It labels itself as a nonprofit.
The designation comes at a time in which the Trump Administration has been cracking down on China’s influence in the U.S., and is meant to require CI staff to register and adhere to limitations similar to those placed on diplomatic embassies. Just months ago, the U.S. ended the American Peace Corps program in China, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said China is a “major security threat.”
The CI is “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on American classrooms and campuses.” Pompeo said, adding, “The United States wants to ensure that students on U.S. campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies.”
Many American students have turned to the institute. However, the government contends language institutes can easily target learners and make it effortless to further the establishment’s more sinister, behind-the-scenes plan. CI has been accused of “pressuring host universities to censor speeches considered politically sensitive to Beijing,” according to the U.S. government, which had already similarly labelled nine Chinese state media as foreign propaganda missions.
Tensions flared between the U.S. and China after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and the Trump Administration has openly accused Beijing of concealing the virus’ origins, which first emerged in China in late 2019. It has also accused the country of spying online and stealing American intellectual property related to a coronavirus vaccine.
Many have indicated Trump is attempting to start a Cold War with China after the presidents said on July 4, China “must be held fully accountable” for the spread of COVID-19 and moved to severe ties with the World Health Organization (WHO), accusing it of having “abetted shortcomings in China’s initial response to the outbreak.”
“I think we’re in a dangerous and precipitous spiral downward, not without cause, but without the proper diplomatic skills to arrest it,” said Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society. “The severity of the confrontation has jumped the wall from specific and solvable challenges to a clash of systems and values.”
According to official data, there were 548 Confucius Institutes around the world by the end of 2018. The CIs are joint ventures between the host school, a partner university in China, and Hanban, an agency tied to China’s education ministry. The program aimed to have 1,000 CIs by 2020 to fulfill its self-proclaimed “Confucius revolution,” and meet demand in other countries to learn the Chinese language. At the same time, the Trump administration has taken steps to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students and researchers in the United States with ties to universities affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army.