Lawmakers push bill to limit Chinese influence in higher ed

  • Members of Congress are continuing to sound the alarm about "Confucius Institutes" set up at American universities with funding from the Chinese Communist Party.
  • Lawmakers are concerned that the institutes "attempt to influence for what are essentially manipulative propaganda campaigns" through "strings-attached" funding that can be used to cow scholars into conformity with the Chinese line.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) believes that a recently introduced bill will play a key role in eliminating Chinese government infiltration of U.S. colleges and universities.

According to the Texas lawmaker, the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, a bill that was introduced in November of last year, is “an important piece of our overall response” to the threat posed by China-funded Confucius Institutes. 

"These institutes are proxies for the Chinese Communist Party."   

[RELATED: UT rejects funding from group linked to Chinese Communists]

“Recently, there have been calls to investigate China’s involvement in American college campuses through the so-called Confucius Institutes,” the legislator explained on the Senate floor, according to the Congressional Record published Thursday.

“These institutes are proxies for the Chinese Communist Party,” he continued. “They offer schools financial benefits in exchange to set up shop in close proximity to U.S. researchers and students whose views they attempt to influence for what are essentially manipulative propaganda campaigns—ones that conveniently whitewash over the Communist regime’s less flattering attributes and their troubling history of human rights abuses and belligerence in places like the South China Sea.”

If voted into law, the legislation mentioned by Cornyn will “modernize and strengthen the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States,” allowing it to “more effectively guard against the risk to the national security of the United States posed by certain types of foreign investment, and for other purposes.”

The suspicious link between the Chinese government and the Confucius Institutes on college campuses has been in the spotlight this year, with numerous officials and foreign policy experts urging schools to end their partnership with the Beijing-funded organizations. 

According to The Washington Free Beacon, the Central Intelligence Agency recently warned of China’s foreign influence campaign, issuing a classified report that outlined the threat posed by the operation.

"The [Chinese Communist Party] provides ‘strings-attached' funding to academic institutions and think tanks to deter research that casts it in a negative light," the CIA wrote in an unclassified part of the report obtained by the Beacon. "It has used this tactic to reward pro-China viewpoints and coerce Western academic publications and conferences to self-censor. The CCP often denies visas to academics who criticize the regime, encouraging many China scholars to preemptively self-censor so they can maintain access to the country on which their research depends."

[RELATED: Chinese student scorned by peers for praising free speech]

Likewise, the FBI has recently launched an investigation of the Confucius Institutes, warning lawmakers about the dangers of the foreign-funded groups in February.

“We do share concerns about the Confucius Institutes,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said during a Senate hearing last month, as reported by The Washington Times. “We’ve been watching that development for a while.”

Rachelle Peterson, a policy director at the National Association of Scholars, told Campus Reform that the funding for the Confucius Institutes in America comes from high echelons of the Chinese foreign policy apparatus.  

“Confucius Institutes are directly tied to the Chinese government and they offer courses that fall in line with the Chinese Communist Party’s official version of Chinese history,” she said. “So they are a threat to the integrity of American higher education and they jeopardize the intellectual freedom of students in the U.S.”

While addressing the issue in the Senate, Cornyn also praised the effort of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who has been been a vocal critic of the China-funded Confucius Institutes. 

“I know our colleague, the junior Senator from Florida, Mr. Rubio, who co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, has called on schools that host Confucius Institutes to end those partnerships, and he is right to do so,” Cornyn said. “Steady and stealthy forms of information warfare should be a perpetual concern, especially when none other than Gen. Joe Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that by 2025, China will pose the greatest threat to U.S. national security of any nation.” 

[RELATED: Report: Chinese-funded institutes in U.S. curtail academic freedom, promote espionage]

“The bipartisan bill Senator [Dianne] Feinstein and I have introduced is an important piece of our overall response to this threat,” he continued. “It has been endorsed by the administration and is supported by the current Secretaries of Defense and Treasury, as well as the Attorney General. Let’s not hold this up any longer.”

In an interview with Campus Reform, Peterson explained that U.S. could target the Confucius Institutes by mandating greater transparency of foreign donations, forcing colleges and universities to choose between U.S. and Chinese funding, and amending the Foreign Agents Registration Act “to make it clear that propaganda is not exempt from this law.” 

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Nikita Vladimirov
Nikita Vladimirov | Correspondents Editor

Nikita Vladimirov is a Correspondents Editor for Campus Reform. Prior to joining Campus Reform, he wrote for The Hill, where he extensively covered the latest political developments in U.S. and around the world. A 2016 national finalist for the Society of Professional Journalists' "Mark of Excellence Award," Nikita now resides in Washington D.C. and contributes to the Washington Examiner. His work has appeared on the front pages of The Drudge Report and The Hill, and has been featured by leading media organizations including Fox News, MSN, Real Clear Defense and many others.

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