Congress looks to curb Chinese infiltration of higher ed

Several Republican lawmakers are backing a new bill that would further tighten the screws on Chinese “Confucius Institutes” in U.S. colleges and universities.

The bill, S.2583, was introduced by Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, and is intended to amend two laws in order to make it harder for the Chinese government to infiltrate higher education. 

Numerous lawmakers have expressed concerns that Confucius Institutes serve as “proxies for the Chinese Communist Party” on American campuses, pushing “manipulative propaganda campaigns” and using “strings-attached” funding to cow professors into conforming with the Chinese government’s priorities.

[RELATED: Lawmakers push bill to limit Chinese influence in higher ed]

According to the Congressional Record published on Tuesday, the new initiative will “amend the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 to limit the exemption from the registration requirements of such Act for persons engaging in activities in furtherance of bona fide religious, scholastic, academic, or scientific pursuits or the fine arts to activities which do not promote the political agenda of a foreign government…”

Likewise, the lawmakers seek to “amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 to clarify the disclosures of foreign gifts by institutions, and for other purposes.”

If passed, the bill would require Confucius Institutes to register as foreign agents and obligate universities to disclose any substantial donations received from abroad. 

Earlier this month, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn also blasted the suspicious activity of Confucius Institutes, arguing that the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, another legislative effort that was introduced last year, will become “an important piece of our overall response” to China’s strategy.

“These institutes are proxies for the Chinese Communist Party,” the lawmaker said at the time. “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.”

The bothersome relationship between the Chinese government and its Confucius Institutes has alarmed many lawmakers and foreign policy experts, who are now calling for colleges and universities to end their association with the China-linked groups. 

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

According to Reuters, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying dismissed U.S. concerns about the Confucius Institutes, arguing that the program is simply designed to foster educational and cultural exchanges between the two countries. 

Hua also blasted critics in Washington, urging them to “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.”

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