- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2019

China has invested more than $150 million over the last decade to establish propaganda-spewing Confucius Institutes at American colleges and universities, using the ostensible cultural centers as a tool to stifle debate in the U.S. about the communist regime’s policies, according to a new Senate investigative report Wednesday.

More than 100 Confucius Institutes have opened on U.S. campuses, and another 500 Confucius Classrooms have been started in American primary and secondary schools, serving as a conduit for “Chinese government-approved programming” to students as young as kindergarten.

Some of the American schools have eagerly bought into the operation, while others have grown wary of Chinese censorship, according to the audit by the Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations.

The probe found most of the schools are breaking Education Department rules by failing to report the Chinese investment and also found the State Department is woefully slow in policing the institutes.

Just two of them have been subject to audits, and they were so rife with visa fraud that in just those two institutions, 32 visas were revoked.

Investigators said the Chinese people said they were conducting research, when in fact they were teaching young children. The department even found evidence of systematic deception to try to scam the visa program, investigators said.

Yet at the same time, China blocks American attempts to run cultural centers there, preventing some from opening and meddling in others’ programming.

“We learned that schools in the United States — from kindergarten to college — have provided a level of access to the Chinese government that the Chinese government has refused to provide to the United States,” said Sen. Rob Portman, chairman of the investigative subcommittee. “That level of access can stifle academic freedom and provide students and others exposed to Confucius Institute programming with an incomplete picture of Chinese government actions and policies that run counter to U.S. interests at home and abroad.”

Mr. Portman and Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the panel, have scheduled a hearing Thursday with two State Department officials, one from the Education Department and an investigator from the Government Accountability Office.

Investigators said that while some U.S. schools are skirting disclosure rules and visas may have been wrongly issued, they didn’t find evidence that the institutes and classrooms themselves violate U.S. law.

But they said Congress may want to pursue legislation to impose more transparency, such as requiring the institutes to register as foreign agents.

The subcommittee also said the State Department should review all Confucius Institutes and classrooms to make sure they’re complying with visa laws.

The Confucius Institutes, named after the famed Chinese philosopher, began in 2004 as part of Chinese outreach to the globe. The work is overseen by the Chinese Ministry of Education’s Office of Chinese Language Council International, known as Hanban.

Each college signs a contract with Hanban that governs the Confucius Institute operations, and so do the director and teachers at each institute. They promise not to “violate Chinese laws,” not to do anything “detrimental” to China, and to “conscientiously safeguard national interests,” the investigation found.

Starting an institute costs up to $200,000 for books, materials and space, and operating costs run about $100,000 per year, not including staffing, the investigation found.

Some academic freedom activists have been sounding alarms over the institutes for several years, and a few schools have cut ties.

Mr. Carper, Delaware Democrat, said at a time when foreign meddling in U.S. political affairs is on everyone’s mind, the country needs to be vigilant about China.

“While there is no evidence that these institutes are a center for Chinese espionage efforts or any other illegal activity, we must have our eyes wide open about the presence of these institutes in our schools and around young, impressionable students,” he said.

But a new report from the Government Accountability Office released Wednesday afternoon struck a much less alarmist tone.

GAO investigators looked at 10 universities with Confucius Institutes and found in each case the directors were employees of the American schools, and each said they, not China, “had full control” of their activities.

Some said they had even held events on controversial subjects such as China’s treatment of intellectual property, the status of Taiwan and Chinese policy in Tibet.

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