As ties with China fray, US targets Confucius Institutes

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stepped up the pressure on China on Thursday by ordering the centre which runs Confucius Institutes in the US to register as a foreign mission.

“The PRC (People’s Republic of China) has taken advantage of America’s openness to undertake large-scale and well-funded propaganda efforts and influence operations in this country,” Pompeo said in a statement.

“Today, the Department of State designated the Confucius Institute US Centre as a foreign mission of the PRC, recognising CIUS for what it is: an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on US campuses,” he said.

“Confucius Institutes are funded by the PRC and part of the Chinese Communist Party’s global influence and propaganda apparatus.”

China has opened a total of 75 Confucius Institutes in the US where Americans can learn Chinese and about Chinese culture. Sixty-five of them are located within US universities.

Pompeo said the United States “wants to ensure that students on US campuses have access to Chinese language and cultural offerings free from the manipulation of the Chinese Communist Party and its proxies.”

Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell said the designation concerned the main Confucius Institute centre.

“This is the organisation that actually manages, supports and funds Confucius Centres in the US,” Stilwell said.

“This is not going after Confucius centres per se,” he said, “although we would ask that universities again take a hard look at what those kids are doing on their campuses and then decide for themselves if this is something that supports and advances academic freedom and our democratic values or not.”

“We’re not closing it,” Stilwell said. “We’re simply designating them as what they are, as foreign missions.”

The US move comes amid heightened tensions between the US and China over the coronavirus pandemic, which President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed on Beijing.

The US last month ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston. China retaliated by ordering the closure of the US consulate in Chengdu.

Negotiators from the two countries are set to meet Saturday to discuss their “Phase One” trade deal reached earlier this year.