Portman Urges Biden Administration to Reconsider Decision to Withdraw Rule Protecting American Students from Chinese Influence Operations

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) urged the Biden Administration to reconsider its decision to withdraw a rule proposed by the Trump Administration to require American schools and universities to disclose partnerships with Confucius Institutes and Classrooms. In February 2019, Portman, as Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), released a bipartisan report detailing the lack of transparency in how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes—which are located at more than 100 American colleges and universities and have received more than $150 million in support from the Chinese government. These Confucius Institutes are controlled, funded, and mostly staffed by the Chinese government. Portman released the following statement: 

“The Biden Administration’s decision to withdraw this rule is deeply disappointing and surprising considering the serious nature of China’s efforts to expand its influence operations inside the United States.  I urge them to reconsider. As the bipartisan report which I co-authored in 2019 documents, there is a stunning lack of transparency about how Confucius Institutes operate inside the United States. We learned that schools in the United States—from kindergarten to college—have provided a level of access to the Chinese government that can stifle academic freedom and provide Confucius Institute students with an incomplete, and sometimes inaccurate, picture of Chinese history, government actions, and policies that run counter to U.S. interests at home and abroad. Our PSI reported documented how China and the Chinese Communist Party provides no reciprocity and has systematically shut down key U.S. State Department public diplomacy efforts on Chinese college campuses.  Absent full transparency regarding how and where Confucius Institutes operate, Confucius Institutes should not operate in the United States and be allowed to influence American students.”

Among the key findings from Portman’s 2019 PSI report:

  • While China expanded Confucius Institutes in the U.S., it failed to provide appropriate reciprocity for U.S. officials and educators in China. The State Department documented at least 80 examples of Chinese inference with American public diplomacy efforts from January 2016 to July 2018. The State Department shut down an entire public diplomacy program to create partnerships between U.S. and Chinese schools in China because of Chinese government interference.
  • Since 2006, the Chinese government has provided more than $158 million to more than 100 U.S. schools for Confucius Institutes.
  • The Chinese government controls nearly every aspect of Confucius Institutes at U.S. schools, including its funding, staff, and all programming. It even has veto authority over events and speakers.
  • The Chinese government also funds teachers for Confucius Classrooms in the United States, which teach Chinese language and culture in kindergarten through 12th grade schools. There are over 1,000 Confucius Classrooms worldwide and more than 500 in the United States. Expanding the Confucius Classroom program is a priority for the Chinese government.
  • There is little transparency in the selection of Chinese directors and teachers that staff Confucius Institutes. They are vetted and hired by the Chinese government, and U.S. universities choose from a pool of applicants approved by the Chinese government.
  • Chinese directors and teachers at Confucius Institutes pledge to protect Chinese national interests. Chinese teachers should “conscientiously safeguard national interests” and their contract terminates if they “violate Chinese law” or “engage in activities detrimental to national interests.”
  • Some U.S. schools’ contracts with the Chinese government include non-disclosure provisions and require adherence to both U.S. and Chinese law.
  • The State Department does not collect visa information related to Confucius Institutes. As a result, the State Department does not know how many Confucius Institute teachers are here or which U.S. schools host them.
  • U.S. schools failed to comply with statutory requirements to report foreign gifts to the Department of Education. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. schools with a Confucius Institute that received more than $250,000 in one year for Confucius Institutes failed to properly report that information to the Department of Education.