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Senate takes aim at Chinese schools in US, saying they spread propaganda

Senate takes aim at Chinese schools in US, saying they spread propaganda
China is engaged in a "soft power" offensive encouraging complacency toward the Chinese "threat" via innocuous-seeming cultural programs, and must be stopped – unless they let the US reciprocate – a Senate committee found.

'Confucius Institutes', run by the Chinese government on over 100 American college campuses, are a Trojan horse for Chinese influence in America, according to a report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, part of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which also warned that 519 American public schools are harboring "Confucius Classrooms" aimed at swaying the hearts and minds of children as young as five. 

"Through Confucius Institutes, the Chinese government is attempting to change the impression in the United States and around the world that China is an economic and security threat," the report states. The institutes primarily offer Chinese language classes and cultural events, including cooking classes, performances, and speakers, portraying China, which the mainstream political class in the US sees as its archnemesis, as "approachable and compassionate" instead. There are 525 such Institutes around the world, but the US has more than any other country, and China is on track to open 1,000 more by 2020.

Teachers – selected by the Chinese government via a process the hosting American schools are not privy to – must sign contracts with the Chinese government vowing not to "damage the national interests of China," and US school officials told the subcommittee that sensitive topics like Taiwanese independence and Tiananmen Square were off limits.

Schools participating in the Confucius Institute program sign contracts affirming that "both Chinese and US laws will apply." Beyond that, public disclosure of the contracts is limited, and the Chinese Ministry of Education's Office of Chinese Language Council International, known as Hanban, can revoke the contract should their American partner "severely harm the image or reputation" of the Confucius Institute. From 2008 to 2016, Hanban paid $2 billion to fund Confucius Institutes – and in 2016, it ceased reporting spending.

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At least a few of the Institutes have piqued the attention of the FBI, which is "watching warily" and has even "developed appropriate investigative steps" in some cases. Some teachers have been caught misrepresenting their work as "research" in order to secure visas – and some have reportedly been coached to do so by Confucius Institute directors.

Adding insult to injury, China has been uncooperative in permitting the US to roll out a similar program on its own college campuses, the subcommittee found. From 2010 to 2017, attempts to establish 29 "American Cultural Centers" were scuttled, stymied, and slow-walked, with those that did open controlled and scrutinized for connections with the US State Department (which funded the program).

The lack of "transparency and reciprocity" appears to be decisive for the report's authors, who worry about allowing the Chinese free rein to indoctrinate students with "an incomplete picture of Chinese government actions and policies that run counter to US interests at home and abroad," while the State Department was prevented from doing the same in China. Without a show of good sportsmanship by the Chinese, the committee suggested, Confucius Institutes "should not continue in the United States."

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