Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Thursday that the State Department has designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a “foreign mission.”
Confucius institutes, present on college campuses throughout the world, have the stated aim of promoting knowledge of Chinese language and culture. However, the institutes are funded by the Chinese government and have been criticized by U.S. officials for allegedly promoting Chinese soft power abroad.
The designation as a foreign mission means that the State Department considers the U.S. Center as controlled by a foreign entity, and the Center will have to report basic information on personnel and property holdings to the department.
“Confucius Institutes are funded by the PRC and part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus,” Pompeo said in a statement. “The United States wants to ensure that students on U.S. campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies.”
Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) applauded the designation.
“Behind the student activities and language programs, the institutes have two more nefarious core objectives: spreading communist propaganda and spying on Chinese students studying in the free world,” Sasse said. “Beijing’s public diplomacy relies on these communist outposts so they should be forced to register as foreign missions.”
There are roughly 100 Confucius institutes currently operational in the U.S., although some of them have closed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. Center of Confucius institutes is based in Washington, D.C. Directors of the Center have previously decried what they see as complaints “reported without any attempt at balance or to learn more about the actual content and perspectives” of institute programs.
The national leadership of American college Democrats and Republicans released a joint letter in May calling to close all Confucius institutes on U.S. campuses, as well as for “full and public disclosure of all ties, both financial and academic, between centers of higher learning and all Chinese state agencies and proxies.”