Senators Portman & Carper Unveil Bipartisan Report on Confucius Institutes at U.S. Universities & K-12 Classrooms

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following an eight-month long investigation, today U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Tom Carper (D-DE), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), unveiled a new bipartisan report that details 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.  The report also details China’s one-sided treatment of U.S. schools and key State Department programs in China, and documents the lack of oversight by the Departments of State and Education of U.S. Confucius Institutes.  

“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 Portman.  “We learned that schools in the United States— from kindergarten to college—have provided a level of access to the Chinese government that the Chinese government has refused to provide to the United States.  That level of access can stifle academic freedom and provide students and others exposed to Confucius Institute programming with an incomplete picture of Chinese government actions and policies that run counter to U.S. interests at home and abroad.  Absent full transparency regarding how Confucius Institutes operate and full reciprocity for U.S. cultural outreach efforts on college campuses in China, Confucius Institutes should not continue in the United States.”

“Given what our country experienced during the 2016 election and what we’re preparing to grapple with in 2020, it is critical that we be vigilant in combatting foreign efforts to influence American public opinion. This bipartisan report highlights the quiet effort by China to improve its image in Americans’ minds through its Confucius Institutes, which operate at our universities and K-12 classrooms across the country,” said Senator Carper.  “While there is no evidence that these institutes are a center for Chinese espionage efforts or any other illegal activity, we must have our eyes wide open about the presence of these institutes in our schools and around young, impressionable students, especially since they were conceived by and are funded by a Chinese government that holds and exports a much different worldview than ours. This report raises awareness about Confucius Institutes operating within our country and China’s goals for those centers. It also highlights China’s resistance to our own cultural outreach efforts in their country.  I hope this report encourages schools hosting Confucius Institute to evaluate how they impact free speech and debate on campus and take steps to ensure academic freedom remains paramount.  It should also propel policymakers to learn how we can fill any gaps that may exist in Chinese language education in the United States to avoid having our schools rely on the Chinese government to assume a role that we should be taking on ourselves.”

Following are the key findings in the report:

  • 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 house them. 
  • Since 2017, the State Department issued four Letters of Concern to U.S. schools for inappropriately using J-1 visas related to Confucius Institutes.  A total of 32 visas were ultimately revoked.  In one case, the State Department revoked 13 visas for Confucius Institute exchange visitors. While the 13 Chinese nationals asserted they were in the U.S. conducting research, they were actually teaching at primary schools. The State Department also found evidence of efforts to deceive its officers.
  • 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.
  • The Department of Education does not conduct regular oversight to determine the level of compliance with required foreign gift reporting by U.S. schools.
  • The Department of Education has not issued guidance on foreign gift reporting by post-secondary schools since 2004.  As a result, U.S. schools told the Subcommittee the reporting requirements were unclear and confusing.
  • While China expanded Confucius Institutes in the U.S. it fails 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 that created partnerships between U.S. and Chinese schools in China because of Chinese government interference. 

Following are the key recommendations in the report:

  • Congress should require all U.S. schools to publish all contracts with foreign governments, including all Confucius Institute contracts, online for students and faculty to review.  Those contracts should have clear and irrefutable provisions protecting academic freedom at the school. 
  • U.S. schools should ensure that Chinese government does not exercise line item veto authority when approving annual Confucius Institute budgets.  U.S. schools must ensure that any foreign government funded activities or research do not hinder academic freedom or present one-sided, selective positions to American students. 
  • U.S. schools should ensure that the Chinese government’s vetting, screening, and interview processes are aligned with their own teacher hiring procedures and protocols.  The process of selecting directors and teachers should be fully transparent to U.S. schools.  U.S. schools should also attempt to recruit Chinese language instructors outside of the Chinese government’s purview.
  • The State Department should review all active Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms for compliance with visa regulations, standards, and practices.  The State Department should collect foreign visa information for J-1 researchers or teachers associated with Confucius Institutes in the United States.
  • The State Department should demand reciprocal and fair treatment of its diplomats and employees in China.  This should include routine access to all U.S. taxpayer funded sites, projects, and events.  The State Department should also complete its own internal review of the effectiveness of the American Cultural Center program.  
  • U.S. schools should demand that the Chinese government be fully transparent about Confucius Institute hiring practices and provide reciprocity to U.S. school programs at Chinese schools.  Given the concerns regarding academic freedom and broader U.S. interests related to China, U.S. schools should be fully aware of any drawbacks associated with hosting Confucius Institutes.  Absent full transparency regarding how Confucius Institutes operate and full reciprocity for U.S. cultural outreach efforts on college campuses in China, Confucius Institutes should not continue in the United States.

Tomorrow, February 28, 2019, PSI will hold a hearing to examine China’s impact on the United States education system.  For a list of witnesses, please click here.  A livestream of the hearing will be available here.