Lawmakers eye crackdown on China’s Confucius Institutes

Lawmakers eye crackdown on China’s Confucius Institutes
© Greg Nash

Three GOP lawmakers are introducing a measure that would require the Chinese government-run Confucius Institutes to register as foreign agents in the U.S.

The measure, dubbed the Foreign Influence Transparency Act, would also require U.S. universities to disclose gifts or contracts from foreign sources worth at least $50,000. 

The Confucius Institutes, which aim to promote Chinese language and cultural education, operate on more than 100 U.S. college campuses.


Some lawmakers have alleged that the program amounts to an effort by China to influence U.S. higher education and academia.

The Foreign Influence Transparency Act, introduced by Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSanders: 'Unfair to simply say everything is bad' in Cuba under Castro Democrats: It's Trump's world, and we're just living in it Cheese, wine importers reeling from Trump trade fight MORE (R-Fla.) and Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonHouse Freedom Caucus chairman endorses Collins's Georgia Senate bid Sunday shows preview: 2020 Democrats jockey for top spot ahead of Nevada caucuses Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (R-Ark.), as well as Rep. Joe WilsonAddison (Joe) Graves WilsonSchumer reminds colleagues to respect decorum at State of the Union speech US officials, world leaders arrive in Israel for World Holocaust Forum  Valerie Plame: 'I'm alarmed' over escalation with Iran MORE (R-S.C.), aims to crack down on foreign influence at U.S. academic institutions.

"If we want there to be free speech and honest debate on our college campuses, then we need more transparency around other countries' efforts to push their interests on U.S. soil," Cotton said in a statement.

Rubio took aim at the Confucius Institutes last month, sending a letter to five Florida schools that pressed them to end their agreements with the programs.

"Confucius Institutes are Chinese government-run programs that use the teaching of Chinese language and culture as a tool to expand the political influence of the PRC," Rubio wrote at the time, using an acronym for China's official name, the People's Republic of China.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China's foreign ministry, told Reuters, however, that the effort to go after the Confucius Institutes were misguided. She defended the programs as legitimate cultural exchanges, and said they are intended to bolster friendships.

"We hope these people can abandon these outmoded ideas and get their brains, along with their bodies, into the 21st century, and objectively and rationally view the trends of the time in global development and China’s development progress," she said, according to the news service.