Senator Rubio Calls Attention to Confucius Institutes

Rachelle Peterson

This morning, in a Senate hearing on worldwide threats to the United States, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) drew attention to Confucius Institutes, the Chinese government-funded centers on American colleges and universities. In response, FBI Director Christopher Wray acknowledged that the FBI has been monitoring and investigating Confucius Institutes, which he said constitute “one of many tools” China is using to compromise American national security.

NAS’s 2017 report, Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, found that Confucius Institutes undermine academic freedom and teach a distorted version of Chinese history and culture. We recommended that all universities close their Confucius Institutes, and we called on Congress to implement a series of reforms to curtail China’s influence. We also urged Congress to investigate whether Confucius Institutes jeopardize American national security. We thank Senator Rubio for drawing attention to this important topic in today’s hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In addition, last week Senator Rubio sent a letter to five institutions in Florida that host Confucius Institutes or Confucius Classrooms. Citing NAS’s report, he noted growing concern that China uses “Confucius Institutes and other means to influence foreign academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s past history and present policies.” He added that “the PRC continues its efforts to interfere in multilateral institutions, threaten and intimidate rights defenders and their families, and impose censorship mechanisms on foreign publishers and social media companies. For reasons outlined below, I respectfully urge you to consider terminating your Confucius Institute agreement.”

In today’s hearing, Senator Rubio stated, “it is my view that [Confucius Institutes] are complicit in these efforts to covertly influence public opinion and to teach half-truths that are designed to represent Chinese history, government, or official policy in the most favorable light.” He asked FBI Director Wray whether China was using these Institutes to “exploit” the “naïve view among some in academic circles” regarding the true purpose of the Confucius Institutes. The discussion of China begins at about 1 hour 14 minutes into the hearing.

FBI Director Wray testified that China is using “nontraditional collectors,” including “professors, scientists, students” at American universities to collect intelligence for the Chinese government. He noted that the problem is nationwide: “It’s not just in major cities. It’s in small ones as well. It’s in basically every discipline.” He also acknowledged the problem of American professors and college administrators, whose “level of naivete” prevents them from safeguarding against China’s initiatives.

Director Wray also confirmed that the FBI is watching Confucius Institutes. “We do share concerns about the Confucius Institutes. We’ve been watching that development for awhile.”

NAS urges Congress to continue to investigate Confucius Institutes and to enact legislative reforms. We call on all colleges and universities that host Confucius Institutes to terminate the agreements with the Chinese government immediately and to take steps to close their Institutes.

Image Credit: Public Domain

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