Republicans claim language program is just a front for Chinese spies

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GOP lawmakers like New York Rep. Elise Stefanik have accused Democrats of 'cozy[ing] up to Communist China' by allowing the program to continue on school campuses.

Congressional Republicans are criticizing the Biden administration for allegedly withdrawing a Donald Trump-era proposal requiring schools to disclose relationships with the Confucius Institute, a partnership between Chinese and American schools — one which Republicans falsely claim is a front for espionage operations by the Chinese Communist Party.

The Confucius Institute is a culture- and language-based public education partnership between host schools and Chinese partner schools, and an opportunity for American students to learn Chinese. It's also partnered with an agency of the Chinese education ministry, Hanban, from which it derives some of its funding. Confucius Institutes are located in both the K-12 education sector as well as on college and university campuses.

"Biden continues embrace of communist China," tweeted Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Wednesday. "First, Biden nominates UN Ambassador who gave a paid speech praising China at a Confucius Institute. Now, Biden rescinds rule requiring disclosure for US universities receiving $$ from Confucius Institutes. [The Chinese Communist Party] is not our friend."

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) tweeted Tuesday, "Confucius Institutes are front groups for the Chinese Communist Party on American campuses. The Biden administration is allowing a foreign influence operation to continue in the shadows."

Retweeting a link to a Washington Examiner piece about Biden's supposed "withdrawal" of the Trump rule, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) commented, "The growing influence of Communist China presents a clear and present danger to American national security. @JoeBiden's decision is reckless and shows just how far he will go to appease the authoritarian regime."

But a spokesperson for the White House told Newsweek that Biden had not actually withdrawn the draft rule, but rather that the rule had been caught in limbo since the Office of Budget and Management had not yet reviewed it by Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.

Since a freeze on "regulatory processes" was enacted when Biden took office Jan. 20, the rule was "withdrawn from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs process automatically and would need to be resubmitted," according to the White House spokesperson.

Meanwhile, late Wednesday in the House of Representatives, House Republicans were outraged when Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee rejected a budget amendment by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) that would have stripped federal funding from schools partnering with Confucius Institutes.

"ALERT: Democrats cozy up to Communist China," Stefanik tweeted alongside a Fox News report about the failed amendment.

"Far-left House Members shot down an amendment in the middle of the night that would prohibit taxpayer dollars from funding Confucius Institutes," tweeted Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). "#China uses these institutes to push communist propaganda through our colleges & universities. This is unacceptable & reckless."

Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA) tweeted Thursday morning, "Once again, Biden embraces China, selling out our education system to the communist regime. The Biden Administration won’t open schools in America, but it will placate the CCP’s propaganda policies on college campuses and K-12 classrooms. Shameful."

Donald Trump's administration made an official declaration in August 2020 that the Confucius Institute was a Chinese Communist Party mission and a propaganda operation. There is no evidence that the program serves as a cover for espionage or any other illegal activity.

However, some other legitimate criticisms have been raised by educational organizations regarding Confucius Institutes in American schools. According to a Newsweek report, the American Association of University Professors and a number of educational professionals have voiced concerns that the program suppresses educational topics that do not conform with its "mission," such as discussion of democracy, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. This has led to more than 40 schools shuttering Confucius Institute programs in K-12 schools.

Restrictions placed on the institutes, often Republican initiatives, have also led to universities being forced to shut down Chinese language programs.

But a Feb. 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office found that censorship or undue Chinese influence on curriculum was not a widespread problem in the program, and that on the whole, instructors partnered with Confucius Institutes reported experiencing academic freedom.

As Newsweek has noted, the Trump administration never prohibited or banned the program Republicans see as dangerous. The rule Biden is accused of revoking only required schools to formally disclose ties with Confucius Institutes.

These Republicans attacks on the Chinese program come on the heels of unprecedented levels of racist hate crimes being perpetrated against Asian-Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's such Red Scare tactics," said University of Maryland political science professor Margaret Pearson.

Republicans, led by Trump, have spent much of the past year singling out China and its government over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, using racist, incendiary rhetoric to blame the country for the current crisis. That language, which mirrors much of the same talk used by Republicans to refer to other China-centric issues, prompted countless attacks and threats of violence against the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

"The U.S. has seen a recurring history of socially entrenched racism towards Asian Americans with spikes occurring during historical times of crisis, including during the coronavirus pandemic," read a study out of the University of Colorado in Denver last August. "Moreover, racist attitudes have been reinforced by institutional-level support, thus promoting a culture of 'othering' towards Asians in America, once again."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.